As we near completion of the first quarter of the season, The Athletic’s baseball staff has named both a surprise player and an underperformer from each of the league’s 30 teams. Now it’s time to turn our focus onto the teams themselves.
Technically, every club still has a shot to do something special. Yes, even the Reds. They have been so atrocious that they threw a fake no-hitter and somehow found a way to lose. They have the fewest victories in baseball. But here’s a fun fact: as of Thursday, according to FanGraphs’ playoff odds, the Reds have a better chance of making the postseason than three other clubs (A’s, Nationals and Orioles).
Nobody’s saying it’s going to happen, of course. But this is a reminder that there’s still time for things to turn around for other clubs that have stumbled out of the gate — and for the air to come out of the balloon for teams that have started quickly — with the outcome dependent upon how they answer the Big Burning Question that is hovering overhead.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Can the pitching keep this up?
New pitching coach Brent Strom has worked wonders so far, coaxing elite performances out of Merrill Kelly, Madison Bumgarner and especially Zac Gallen. Even the back end of the rotation, Zach Davies and Humberto Castellanos, have pitched reliably well. If the Diamondbacks are going to keep being surprisingly competitive, they’ll need to continue pitching surprisingly competitively. Eyes are fixed on Bumgarner and Gallen in particular.
Atlanta Braves: Do they have enough offense or outfield defense?
With Eddie Rosario recovering from laser eye surgery (out at least six more weeks) and with Ronald Acuña Jr. slowed by a groin strain after being activated from IL two weeks ago following knee-surgery rehab, the Braves need others to step up and pick up the slack created by the departure of first baseman Freddie Freeman, who was one of MLB’s best overall hitters and clutch hitters, and by the free-agent departures of World Series MVP Jorge Soler and Joc Pederson, who along with NLCS MVP Rosario provided a major boost to the outfield and lineup after being traded to Atlanta last July. The outfield defense has been poor with Marcell Ozuna best suited for DH duties but forced to play left field more with Rosario out and Acuña in and out of the lineup.
Baltimore Orioles: How will the prospects fare upon arrival?
No one expects the Orioles to be in the playoff hunt in 2022. But this is the year that several of their heralded prospects are supposed to make it to the majors. Righthander Kyle Bradish was the first this season, and he struck out 11 batters in the third start of his MLB career. Catcher Adley Rutschman will be the headliner, but righthander Grayson Rodriguez, lefthander DL Hall and outfielder Kyle Stowers, among others, could be on their way in 2022.
Boston Red Sox: If this continues, will the Red Sox completely dismantle?
At this point, the Red Sox are fighting simply to avoid last place in the American League East. After playing for the AL pennant a year ago, they expected to be much better than this. There’s surely time to make a run at the expanded playoff field, but if the Red Sox can’t turn it around, their potential fire sale could be epic. Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Nate Eovaldi, Christian Vázquez, Kiké Hernández and Michael Wacha are all eligible for free agency. Would the Red Sox trade all of them? Would the fanbase ever recover?
The Red Sox have had a brutal start to the season, particularly on the offensive side. They’ve shown glimpses of breaking out of the early-season slump but will they be able to do so in time or will it be a summer sell-off in Boston?
Chicago Cubs: How much can they get back at the trade deadline?
This won’t be as dramatic as the sell-off at last year’s trade deadline, when president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer unloaded Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Báez and Craig Kimbrel within a 24-hour period. But clearly no one in the Wrigley Field clubhouse should feel untouchable, and the Cubs haven’t performed at a level that will compel the front office to hold onto players who are positioned to become free agents after this season. That means All-Star catcher Willson Contreras is very likely wearing a different uniform in August. How far will the Cubs go this time? What about Kyle Hendricks or Marcus Stroman? Will someone make Hoyer an offer he can’t refuse?