Three weeks into the new season, the questions surrounding the surprisingly poor starts of several teams expected to be playoff contenders are starting to become concerns.
The two teams that first come to mind are long time AL East rivals Boston and the New York Yankees.
Through Monday, Boston was 6-11 and the Yankees 6-9 as they prepared to meet for the first time this season in a short two-game series at Yankee Stadium.
Boston’s issues revolve mainly around its poor pitching from both the starters and relievers. Ace Chris Sale plus Nate Eovaldi, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez have each made three starts. Each has an ERA of 7.96 or higher and a WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched) of 1.54 or higher and none of the quartet is averaging more than 5.0 innings per start.
Only the oft-criticized David Price is off to a solid start with a 3.79 ERA and 0.95 WHIP while averaging a fine 6.3 innings per start.
For the Yankees the issues are injuries. No team has been hit as hard by the injury bug as have the Bronx Bombers. With starting shortstop Didi Gregorious already sidelined since late last season until perhaps the middle of this season, five other starters are now on the renamed “Injury List” (formerly known as the “Disabled List).
Catcher Gary Sanchez, 3B Miguel Andujar, OF Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton are already on the IL and early Tuesday morning it was announced that oft injured 1B/DH Greg Bird was going on the IL. And Gregorious’ replacement, Troy Tulowitzki, is also on the list as well as starting pitcher Luis Severino and key reliever Dellin Betances.
Cue up the theme from M*A*S*H as the Yankees take the field to face their bitter rivals.
Recall that Boston won 108 regular season games last season en route to their fourth World Series title of the millennium while the Yankees finished a ‘distant’ second with 100 wins.
Both teams are on an early season pace to finish well short of those numbers but the concern is less for the Yankees than for the Sox. Injuries are a part of the game but eventually all of the injured New Yorkers should return.
The concerns about Boston’s pitching are more serious and might not be quickly fixed. Add in that last season’s closer, Craig Kimbrel, remains an unsigned free agent who, if signed by the Red Sox, would have severe luxury tax implications, and the Sox’ situation may not be much improved by the first key milepost of the season, Memorial Day.
Mets at Cardinals: Both teams are off to winning starts and play in strong divisions. The Mets have gotten more from their offense than was expected by many at the start of the season but their strong starting rotation has struggled.
Jacob deGrom’s record-tying streak of 26 consecutive “Quality Starts” ended with a poor effort last week against Minnesota in which he lasted just four innings while allowing six runs and was followed this past Sunday with a dull effort in Atlanta. Both Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler have struggled as well.
St Louis’s rotation has not fared much better although young Jack Flaherty is emerging as their ace and has posted solid early season stats. Paul Goldschmidt has cooled greatly since his hot early start but he remains the key bat for the Cards.
Look for both deGrom and Syndergaard to find their form in this series and both can be backed at prices of -130 or less unless either opposes Flaherty in which case under a total of 7 or higher is the preferred play. In starts by other than deGrom or Syndergaard look to back the Cardinals as underdogs or favorites of -125 or less.
Red Sox at Rays: The strong early start of the Rays has gone somewhat under the radar. After winning 90 games last season the 12-4 Rays currently sit atop the AL East and are the only team in the division with a winning record (they lead second-place Baltimore — yes, Baltimore — by 5.5 games).
This series gives the Red Sox a chance to make up much needed ground, but winning two of three won’t come easy. The Rays continue to employ an ‘opening pitcher’ in some games but their top three pitchers — Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow — are each averaging over five innings per start and have each posted ERA’s below 2.25 and WHIPs below 1.20. Both Snell and Glasnow have strikeout to walk ratios of 7.0 or better.
Look to back Tampa Bay as an underdog in any game or as favorites of -120 or less in starts by Snell, Morton or Glasnow against other than former Ray David Price, who may be played if made the underdog. Look at under totals of 8.5 or higher in any matchup.
Braves at Indians: This is a compelling series between teams expected to contend for the playoffs. Atlanta’s chances rest on whether the pitching staff will provide adequate supports for a solid offense. Cleveland’s prospects involve the reverse — whether its strong pitching staff will get enough run support from an offense that lost several key bats from last season.
The Indians have lost starter Mike Clevinger for perhaps three months or longer and former ace Corey Kluber has struggled. Trevor Bauer is the de facto ace of this staff.
The preference will be to back the hosts throughout this series and play Atlanta when favored by -125 or less or if made the underdog against Bauer, Kluber or Carrasco. Cleveland’s offense cannot be trusted as the Tribe is averaging just 3.6 runs per game. That makes it difficult to make a recommendation on playing totals throughout this series. So the preferred route will be to look for the Braves to win at least two games of this three-game series.