The 2023 season has been fairly eventful. Older players are fading away and the youngsters, from Elly de la Cruz to Josh Jung, are taking the league by storm in ways that have the old guard rolling in their graves. Baseball has changed not only on the player level but also on the team. The Astros and Dodgers have relatively faded while the Marlins and Reds are turning heads. To make matters even more puzzling, some of the league’s biggest spenders and teams that just a few months ago appeared to have so much promise are among baseball’s most struggling teams. The Mets, Padres, Mariners, and Cardinals are the teams that fall best into those categories, and there are some very clear problems and other more perplexing ones at the roots of those teams’ struggles.
With the number-one largest payroll — and it is not even close — in baseball, the Mets entered Spring Training with considerably high expectations. Then, when Edwin Diaz succumbed to a torn ACL during the World Baseball Classic, there were those who declared the season to be over. But for every naysayer, there was a realist who looked at New York’s roster even without Diaz and recognized how stacked it was. Although Billy Epler failed to improve the lineup over the offseason, the Mets were in possession of starting rotation that was headlined by two bonified aces.
The Mets ended up having a decent first month, ending April with a 15-12 record. They followed that up by going 14-15 in May and are on pace for an abysmal June with a 7-17 record.
So what went wrong?
New York is 15th in baseball in runs scored (360) and 18th in OPS (.718). Only three hitters with at least 250 plate appearances have been above-average hitters by OPS+ and only Brandon Nimmo has an OBP over .350. Aside from the brief time that he was injured, Pete Alonso has performed and has a .831 OPS with 24. Nimmo has followed his contract extension with a stellar first half as well with 27 extra-base hits and a .818 OPS. Things really begin to fall off a cliff when it comes to the lineup’s highest-paid player. Francisco Lindor has slashed just .224/.307/.448 season. That does not cut it.
It is not that the Mets were supposed to be a top-five offense in MLB, but for what they are, they underperforming. Still, with an offense in the middle of the pack, the team was expected to owe much of their success to their pitching staff. Troubles, however, begin popping up early with New York’s pitching.
It was not long before the first pitch was thrown on Opening Day when it was reported that Justin Verlander was banged up. The veteran starter’s first start ended up occurring on May 4th. Since then, he has been all but inconsistent. with a 4.11 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. Max Scherzer has not been bad, but he has not been very good either. He has had several starts in which he looked like his old self, but other times, he is out on the mound allowing five or 6 runs.
Kodai Senga, David Robertson, and Brooks Raley have all been quite good and the Mets would be far worse off without them. Nevertheless, they are not enough to save a team with this many all-around issues.
With the loss tonight, it becomes official:
The New York Mets will not win a single series in the entire month of June.
— Ben Verlander (@BenVerlander) June 30, 2023
Everything seemed to be looking up for the Padres entering this season. The team put together a solid playoff run, then signed Xander Bogaerts, and then extended Manny Machado to top it all off. Exceeding the luxury tax by nearly $50 million and being over the threshold for the third consecutive year, the front office sent a message of being all-in. That all-in mindset, however, has not quite translated into much of any on-field production as the Padres sit in fourth place and seven games below .500 as of Thursday morning.
So what went wrong?
San Diego’s pitching staff has allowed the sixth-fewest runs in MLB. Yu Darvish is the only member of the staff with an ERA north of 4.50 that has pitched at least 20 innings this season. From top to bottom, Padres’ pitching has been sound. The lineup, on the other hand, has been the complete opposite.
“The Padres lineup is a powerhouse.” That statement was most likely uttered by countless baseball fans when looking at San Diego’s lineup before the season. The problem is that as a unit, the lineup has not nearly lived up to those expectations. Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. are more than pulling their weight, but at the same time, the two veterans who were paid the big bucks to be the backbones of the lineup, are severely underperforming.
Xander Bogaets hit .200 in May with four extra-base hits. A good first month is the only reason the shortstop has overall been an above-average hitter this season. Machado and his 94 wRC+, on the other hand, cannot be called above average. Aside from his defensive metrics, the third baseman’s numbers are significantly down across the board. San Deigo is 20th in baseball in runs scored with just 338, and the team ranks 16th in OPS.
It just feels like the Padres are finding ways to lose ballgames right now.
The Padres have blown a 4-0 lead and are at risk of getting swept by the Pirates and losing their fifth in a row pic.twitter.com/mCceL6xOxG
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) June 29, 2023
The Mariners have been building and improving over the past few years, and after cracking into the postseason for the first time in 21 years, it felt as if they were on the cusp of something special heading into 2023. The reigning AL Rookie of the Year was there to stay, Luis Castillo would be leading a rotation comprised of some more than solid arms, and Andrés Muñoz was poised to soon earn the closer role.
To make matters even better, Seattle even had a top pitching prospect in Bryce Miller who would soon be arriving to bolster the rotation. With the Astros losing some of their talent over the offseason, it was plausible to predict the Mariners to become division champions. Instead, the Mariners sit 10 games back in the NL West and three games below .500. After finishing April four games below .500, the team had a great May going 17-11. Unfortunately, they followed that up by going .500 in June.
So what went wrong?
Seattle’s pitching staff has not quite lived up to the expectations. After a slow start, Castillo has picked himself back up and now holds a 2.86 ERA. Logan Gilbert has slipped a bit with 94 ERA+ and the rotation’s fifth spot has been problematic. But still, as a whole, the staff is still in the middle of the pack with a 4.03 ERA.
Put simply, the Mariners’ offense is the problem. Julio Rodríguez is finally starting to heat up after a bit of a sophomore slump but still holds just a .720 OPS. Somehow Jared Kelenic has become the team’s most productive bat with a 117 wRC+ with most of the other hitters hovering around average in that category.
Teoscar Hernández has really been a dark spot. Acquiring the outfielder was supposed to be the move that pushed the team over the top, but he experienced an abysmal start to the season with only 17 extra-base hits through the first two months. Thankfully for the Mariners, Hernandez has had a very good month of June.
The recent success of Hernandez and Rodriguez, among others, earns the Mariners the spot of being the most likely team in the article to turn it around. It will be a steep uphill battle. The whole American League is a powerhouse and even with three wild card spots, it will be a journey. Their division will also be a bumpy route having to surpass the Angels, Astros, and the MLB leader in run differential.
Teoscar Hernandez with a 2-run bomb to put the Mariners in the lead pic.twitter.com/o0eGnqu1AX
— Dillard Barnhart (@BarnHasSpoken2) June 28, 2023
The Cardinals won the NL Central last year all while Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado finished first and third in NL MVP voting respectively. After being knocked out of the postseason in a rather quick fashion, John Mozeliak’s offseason got underway. St. Louis went ahead and signed Willson Contreras to fill the vacancy left by Yadier Molina’s retirement. That was it for big moves, but top prospect Jordan Walker was expected to be a large part of the 2023 Cardinals and, with the retirement of Albert Pujols, Nolan Gorman would finally have a permanent spot in the lineup. Expectations could not have been higher when, just a few days before opening day, it was announced that Walker had made the opening day roster.
St. Louis’ season never particularly got off the ground so it is hard to say that things ever unraveled for the team. The Cardinals won just three of their first 10 games and were 10-19 by the end of April. As of Thursday morning, the team sits in last place in their division and 13 games below .500.
So what went wrong?
Similar to the Mets, if one of a team’s biggest supposed threats on offense is not performing like a threat, it will hold that back. Arenado’s numbers are down across the board: his offense and his defense. The third baseman hit just five extra-base hits in the first month and has since been digging himself out of that hole. Arenado is walking less, striking out more, and has dropped to the 22nd percentile, from the 99th last year, in outs above average.
Making matters worse, St. Louis’ prized offseason acquisition has an OPS+ of 84. Contreras has not been able to get it going on offense. Although, unlike Arenado, Contreras’ peripherals have not regressed, so there may be hope for his bat. His catching, however, is a whole other story. Near the end of his time in Chicago, Contreras’ work with pitchers was often called into question, but his offensive performance was always a constant. With both parts of his game now in question, it calls into question the front office’s judgment. In mid-May of this season, it was announced that Contreras would be moved off regular catching duties.
Bob Nightengale reported that the reason was “The starting pitcher…no longer wanted to pitch to him.” At the time, the pitching staff held a 5.40 ERA. A week later, someone changed their mind and moved Contreras back into the regular catcher spot. Over the last 30 days, the Cardinals are 28th in ERA at 5.27. While I am not prepared to blame Contreras for the pitching woes, there is no denying that the only reported reason for moving Contreras has gone unsolved.
Let's talk Mets, Cardinals and Padres… pic.twitter.com/A5AKLlMp6S
— MLB Now (@MLBNow) June 29, 2023
Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)