With one day left in April, we’ve already seen a wide gulf emerge within the American League standings. Three clubs (the Red Sox, Yankees, and Astros) are on pace to surpass 105 wins, while six teams are also currently on pace to win fewer than 70 games. By comparison, only six teams in all of baseball failed to surpass the 70-win plateau in 2017.
Obviously, it’s still very early, and there’s plenty of baseball still to be played for these struggling teams. Three teams, however, will head into May in the basement of their respective divisions, and in those cases, a slower start could be much harder to overcome. The Rangers, Royals, and Orioles all faced rather tricky paths to contention even in the best of circumstances, and their poor April records may force them to make some hard decisions about how long they’re willing to go before considering selling pieces at the trade deadline.
Let’s check in on the three last-place teams to see which has the most potential to make April simply a “slow start” en route to a respectable or even a contending season…
Rangers (11-18): With Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and Rougned Odor all on the disabled list, Texas fans are beginning to have some unpleasant flashbacks to the team’s disastrously injury-plagued 2014 campaign. Still, while the injury bug explains the lack of offensive production, the Rangers’ pitching situation has looked as shaky as it appeared to be heading into the season. Other than the surprise continuation of Bartolo Colon’s late-career renaissance, it’s been mostly bad news for both the rotation and the bullpen, with Martin Perez, Matt Moore, Matt Bush, Alex Claudio, and Kevin Jepsen all getting off to particularly tough starts.
The team’s big infield trio may not all be back until June, so can the Rangers at least tread water until then? It doesn’t help that the rest of the AL West teams are all at the .500 mark or better, though the Angels (+5), Mariners (-2), and A’s (+3) are all nothing special in terms of run differential. (Of course, Texas is a miserable -39 in that department.) The Rangers will need more arms to step up if they are to turn their season around, plus some internal reinforcements have already come in the form of Delino DeShields and Tony Barnette, who are both back after lengthy DL stints of their own. Top prospect Willie Calhoun could also provide more help for the lineup, though Calhoun is off to a quiet start at Triple-A this year.
Orioles (8-20): The Orioles and Rangers share pretty similar tales of woe. Baltimore has also been hurt by a tough division, a lack of quality starting or relief pitching, plus several key injuries — Zach Britton and Mark Trumbo have yet to play a game, while Jonathan Schoop, Tim Beckham, and Colby Rasmus are all on the DL. Manny Machado’s individual brilliance has been tempered by a lack of hitting from almost everyone else on roster, with Chris Davis standing out as the single worst position player by fWAR (-0.6) in baseball so far this season.
Dan Duquette unofficially cited Memorial Day as the date when teams begin to evaluate where they really stand in a season, so the O’s therefore have just under a month to get on track. That might be enough time to get at least some of the injured parties back, plus it’ll give time for Alex Cobb to hopefully start rounding into form given that the late-to-sign righty has a 13.11 ERA over his first three starts. On paper, Baltimore has too much hitting talent to be as bad as they are at the plate, so you figure that at least some type of positive correction is in store.
Royals (7-20): The Royals held off on a full-fledged rebuild over the winter, though their decision about whether to try for another playoff run may have been made for them by their lousy April. The Royals entered Sunday’s play with the fewest runs in the majors, as only Mike Moustakas and Jorge Soler were putting up good numbers at the plate, and some quality returns by the starting rotation have been undermined by arguably baseball’s worst bullpen. Even with closer Kelvin Herrera still boasting a perfect 0.00 ERA through 9 2/3 innings, the road to Herrera has been plagued by potholes, as the relief corps is collectively at or near the bottom of the list in just about every major statistic.
One bright side for the Royals? Their competition. The AL Central has been baseball’s worst division through the first month, with the first-place Indians holding just a 14-12 record. As bad as Kansas City has been, the Royals are still just 4.5 games back of the second-place Tigers. Since the White Sox and Tigers are rebuilding and the Twins are struggling to recapture their 2017 form, there is some opportunity for the Royals to regain some ground if they can beat up on their division foes.
Which of the AL’s last-place squads do you think has the best chance of recovering from its shaky April? (Link for app users)