Can these 2013 playoff teams turn around their losing 2014 seasons?
It's only May 22, but six teams that played beyond Game 162 last year are showing signs that they may have a hard time doing the same this year. Here's an alphabetical look at each of those clubs -- Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Texas -- and whether or not they can turn their seasons around. (NOTE: All stats are through May 21.)
Boston Red Sox
2013: 97-65, 1st place AL East, won World Series
2014: 20-25, 4th place
What's gone wrong? Other than David Ortiz, the lineup has underperformed, ranking 11th in the American League in runs per game (4.1) and home runs (36). The rotation, with exception of Jon Lester, has been similarly disappointing, ranking 11th in the AL with a 4.37 ERA.
Can it be fixed? Re-signing Stephen Drew to play shortstop allows Xander Bogaerts to move to third base, thus filling the lineup's biggest hole. Boston should be able to count on more power from Bogaerts and Mike Napoli (seven home runs combined), more playing time from Shane Victorino (who missed three weeks with a hamstring strain) and improvement from Dustin Pedroia (career low .740 OPS). As for the rotation, John Lackey has pitched better than his 4.01 ERA, and Felix Doubront's recent shoulder injury lets the team audition a replacement for him or the struggling Clay Buchholz. Still, after going from 69 wins in 2012 to 97 last year, it wouldn't be surprising to see Boston settle somewhere in the middle this year.
2013: 90-72, 3rd place NL Central, lost Wild Card Game
2014: 21-24, 3rd place
What's gone wrong? With the exception of third baseman Todd Frazier, everyone in the Reds' lineup has been underperforming, hurt or both. As a result, Cincinnati has dropped from third-best in the NL in runs scored per game last year (4.3) to third-worst (3.6) this year. The bullpen hasn't been helping, ranking dead last in the NL with a 5.00 ERA with seven blown saves and nine losses .
Can it be fixed? The return of closer Aroldis Chapman from the DL fleshed out the team's end-game alongside Jonathan Broxton (0.75 ERA) and Sam LeCure (1.40), but the Reds are still without an effective lefty set-up man. As for the lineup, Cincinnati just got Jay Bruce back from the DL only to lose Joey Votto to a quadriceps strain. Still, with Devin Mesoraco hot and healthy, the lineup will get a big boost if Bruce can get going and Votto returns in a timely fashion.
Despite the struggles of Homer Bailey and the season-long absence of Mat Latos, who has been sidelined after having offseason elbow and knee surgeries, the Reds have fewer questions in the rotation than any of the other teams listed here. As a result, Cincinnati might have the best chance of righting its ship.
2013: 92-70, 2nd place AL Central, lost Wild Card Game
2014: 22-25, 5th place
What's gone wrong? In the wake of his move to third base, Carlos Santana has cratered at the plate (.146/.303/.268), and Nick Swisher isn't hitting either. The real problem, however, has been the starting rotation, which ranks 27th in baseball with a 4.75 ERA. Tasked with replacing Ubaldo Jimenez, Danny Salazar went 1-4 with a 5.53 ERA before being shipped back to the minors, while Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister also sport ERAs over 5.00.
Can it be fixed? The Indians already made one improvement in the rotation by swapping out Carlos Carrasco for Josh Tomlin, and they may have made another by replacing Salazar with Trevor Bauer, whose two starts this season have both been quality. Corey Kluber has been a nice surprise thus far and Masterson was an All-Star last season. That leaves McAllister, who may be replaced as well after three straight disaster starts and a 9.51 ERA in his last six turns — not that Cleveland has any particularly compelling replacements.
As for Santana, he has had no luck on balls in play this year (an impossibly low .167 BABIP). That's guaranteed to fix itself to some degree, though his low line-drive rate and high pop-up rate suggest there's bad contact to blame as well. With Lonnie Chisenhall finally hitting, the Indians may want to put an end to the experiment of having Santana play third base, at least until his bat comes back around.
2013: 94-68, 2nd place NL Central, lost NLDS
2014: 19-26, 4th place
What's gone wrong? See Cleveland above: Pittsburgh has a couple holes in its lineup (shortstop and rightfield) and a dreadful starting rotation that has produced just five wins all season and a 4.60 ERA that is the second-worst in the NL.
Can it be fixed? Right field could be improved by promoting top prospect Gregory Polanco, who is currently hitting .374/.435/.598 in Triple A, but the Pirates seem determined to wait until they're out of the Super Two danger zone. However, their anticipated rotation reinforcement is gone with top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon done for the year with Tommy John surgery. That leaves the likes of Brandon Cumpton and Vance Worley, who was recently activated in Triple A, as the team's top alternatives for Wandy Rodriguez (0-2, 6.75 ERA before being designated for assignment on Thursday), Edinson Volquez (1-4, 4.72 ERA) and the pumpkinized Francisco Liriano (0-4, 4.86 ERA). The Bucs did well to add Ike Davis at first base in late April, and made two significant moves to fill in lineup holes down the stretch last year. If they can be aggressive about adding pitching from outside the organization in June, that and Polanco's eventual arrival could turn things around.
Tampa Bay Rays
2013: 92-71, 2nd place AL East, lost ALDS
2014: 19-28, 5th place
What's gone wrong? The Rays were built on starting pitching, but injuries have taken a huge bite out of their rotation. Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson have combined for five starts, with Moore out for the season after having Tommy John surgery. David Price has an insane 12.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but bad luck on balls in play and a high home run rate have spiked his ERA to 4.28, while Chris Archer and Hellickson's replacement, Jake Odorizzi, have been more conventionally disappointing. The rotation problems have impacted the bullpen, with Tampa Bay's relievers having thrown more innings total (162) and per game (3.6) than any other 'pen in the majors.
The Rays are also 13th in the league with just 3.9 runs scored per game. That's more the result of widespread mediocrity in their lineup than one or two glaring holes, but Evan Longoria (.253/.322/.371) and Wil Myers (.244/.314/.369) have disappointed thus far and Ben Zobrist is out with a dislocated thumb.
Can it be fixed? Cobb will return from the DL to start against the A's on Thursday, Hellickson is making progress toward a June return and Price's luck seems likely to even out. Offensively, Longoria should perk up, and it figures that Myers, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year, will too. But there's not much optimism to be had elsewhere, especially with Moore lost for the year. In the bullpen, closer Grant Balfour has walked more men than he has struck out, Heath Bell has been released and Joel Peralta looks his age at 38. Offensively, there wasn't much expected from the lineup in the first place. The only thing keeping this from being a lost season for the Rays? Their division is so weak that they're only six games out of first despite having the AL's second-worst record.
2013: 91-72, 2nd place AL West, lost tiebreaker for wild-card spot
2014: 22-24, 4th place
What's gone wrong? The way the Rangers see it, the Rays have it easy, injury-wise. Texas lost three key players before the year even began (lefty starter Derek Holland, second baseman Jurickson Profar and catcher Geovany Soto) and rotation members Martin Perez and Matt Harrison were recently sidelined for the season. Now the team is facing the possibility of a DL stay for the game's most durable player, Prince Fielder, who has a herniated disc in his neck that has apparently been sapping his power (he's slugging .360).
Meanwhile, the Rangers' rotation replacements have been a disaster. Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross came over from the bullpen to help out, but Scheppers posted a 9.82 ERA and lasted only four starts before landing on the DL with elbow inflammation, and Ross has put up a 4.78 ERA in his nine starts. Sore-armed Alexi Ogando (6.86 ERA) hasn't helped, and intended closer Neftali Feliz has yet to pitch this season because of injury. Meanwhile, the lineup ranks 13th in the AL in runs scored per game (3.9) as big-money free agent Shin-Soo Choo (.918 OPS) is the only man making a significant contribution. Can it be fixed? The Nicks, Martinez and Tepesch, have pitched well in limited rotation exposure and Adrian Beltre (.759 OPS) should improve. Holland, Profar and Soto are likely to return in the second half, but none of them is guaranteed to perform up to expectations. Fielder's neck injury could wipe out most or all of the rest of his season, and Perez and Harrison won't be back at all. With the A's and Angels looking like two of the best teams in the AL and the Mariners holding their own, the Rangers' season may already be over. (UPDATE: Fielder will indeed miss the rest of the season, as could Profar.)