What’s Gone Wrong? Teams that are Unexpectedly Struggling

Which teams have disappointed their fans with a rough April?

Under the current 12-team playoff structure, and even when we had 10 teams qualifying, around half the teams that play in October fail to repeat from year to year. Outside of a few franchises with long competitive cycles, deep pockets, or both, we can always count on surprising teams making a run, even if they become one-hit wonders. On the other side of the spectrum, this means that at least a few teams end up disappointing us for a number of reasons. Especially now, that projection systems are given a ton of weight and prognosticators spend a lot of time trying to predict baseball, it is tough to see teams underperform.

With this in mind, the end of April has already given us a fair share of surprises and disappointments. The old adage holds that you cannot win a division in April, but you can certainly lose it. The teams discussed in this article may not be that far off, but their hopes have taken a hit when it comes to contending, meaning that they need to right the ship as fast as possible. While a few untimely injuries and players not performing as expected help explain these early swoons, they can also be attributed to the natural vagaries of baseball.


Arizona Diamondbacks – 14-17 record – 38.1% playoff odds


After a shocking playoff run that took them all the way to the World Series, it became clear that the Diamondbacks had quickly emerged as a contender in the NL. With a core built around speed, timely hitting, and a scary top of the rotation, Arizona was a clear notch below the Dodgers in the West, but certainly a safe bet to battle for a wild card spot. So far in 2024, the team has not lived up to that expectation.

The optimistic view for Arizona says that their +26 run differential (5th in the NL) posits better days coming, as the team is about 5 wins below where they should be. However, most of that was built through three lopsided wins that saw Arizona outscore their opposition 47-3, while the rest of their games have not seen that kind of offensive consistency. To wit, the Dbacks have yet to post a winning streak longer than two games, while most of their lineup has scuffled. The biggest culprit in terms of failed expectations has to be Corbin Carroll, as the reigning rookie of the year has a .292 OBP with only four extra-base hits so far.

The pitching staff has been bottom-half in terms of ERA, with Zac Gallen being more solid than spectacular, and now having to carry a bigger load as Merrill Kelly and Ryne Nelson have hit the IL. The late addition of Jordan Montgomery can become the X factor for Arizona’s playoff hopes, even as it is hard to think that the southpaw can navigate a full season after not going through a traditional spring training. While the Dodgers have been predictably excellent, nobody else in the West has stepped up, and the Dbacks are pretty much alive on their quest to defend their pennant, but there are still plenty of concerning signs for this squad.


Tampa Bay Rays – 14-18 record – 30.9% playoff odds


For many seasons, people around baseball have been trying to predict when the Rays will finally run out of tricks up their proverbial sleeve. Despite paper-thin payrolls, long IL stints, and plenty of player turnover, Tampa Bay has made the playoffs every season since 2019, including a pennant and a couple of AL East titles in the process. While they were expected to run it back and battle in the most difficult division in baseball, the first month of the season was not kind for the Rays, who now face long odds in search of yet another playoff appearance.

After trading ace Tyler Glasnow to the Dodgers and placing almost a full rotation of arms on the IL, Tampa suddenly found themselves with a shortage of pitchers, which has been abundantly evident in the early going. With a 4.63 staff ERA that ranks 25th in the majors, what had traditionally been a strength for the franchise has become a liability. The rotation has been decent, even as Zach Eflin has taken a step back and Ryan Pepiot is still coming into his own, but the bullpen has been an abject disaster, with a 5.55 ERA that is the worst mark in the sport and six blown leads.

To make matters worse, the offense has been full of calamities. Isaac Paredes has been the lone standout among the regulars, with Amed Rosario’s offensive contributions being offset by his defensive limitations. However, Randy Arozarena (35 OPS+) and Yandy Díaz (70 OPS+) have been abysmal, while most of the team’s role players are more adequate than difference-makers. Even as manager Kevin Cash is still doing his usual job of maximizing matchups and the Rays have not bottomed out, it has become apparent that they may not have the talent to turn it around. Knowing how this franchise operates, 2024 may become a retooling year, especially considering the numerous returning pitchers that Tampa will have throughout the season.


St. Louis Cardinals – 14-17 record – 29.4% playoff odds


In a similar case to the Rays, the St. Louis Cardinals had become a model of consistency and competitiveness. With four straight playoff appearances from 2019 to 2022 and decades of relevancy, it was shocking to see the Cardinals drop to 91 losses in 2023, with many seeing that season as a fluke. After signing several free agents and giving a vote of confidence to their embattled manager, many expected St. Louis to rebound in 2024. Instead, it appears that last season may have been the start of a new trend for this franchise, and that they need some deep soul-searching and a true roster overhaul.

While the Cardinals had a competent offense last season, it has fallen off a cliff after a rough April, with a collective .638 OPS that ranks 28th in the league. There are many culprits in this story, as veterans and youngsters have struggled alike. No St. Louis batter has reached 5 homers or 20 RBI, with only catcher Willson Contreras posting above-average production in at least 100 plate appearances. Youngsters Victor Scott II and Jordan Walker were demoted to the minors after combining for only 14 hits over 132 PAs, while stalwarts Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt have combined to hit 3 homers in 254 trips to the plate.

To add to the offensive malaise, St. Louis’ strategy of signing veteran right handers to solve last year’s pitching woes has predictably backfired, even as the bullpen has kept them in many close games. Sonny Gray aside, giving the ball every fifth day to the likes of Kyle Gibson and Steven Matz is practically waving the white flag. With the NL Central being more competitive than usual, the Cardinals could probably be realistic and trade some of their prized talent at the deadline, starting with closer Ryan Helsley and even including someone like Goldschmidt.


Houston Astros – 10-20 record – 48.4% playoff odds


Over the past decade, the Astros have been the closest thing we’ve had to call a dynasty. With a couple of titles and annual trips to the ALCS made routine, Houston built an enviable core that survived free agencies, big trades, scandals, and most of baseball randomness. While the Rangers are the defending champs and the Mariners have a well-rounded roster, the Astros still came into 2024 as the heavy favorite in the AL West, only to produce a truly ugly April that has suddenly got everyone wondering if this is the end of the road.

The dissonance of the Astros in 2024 has been remarkable, as they have been able to trot out legitimate MVP candidates and aces along with some of the worst performers in the sport. Jose Altuve and Kyle Tucker have combined for 30 extra-base hits, with each of them having an OPS above .950, and yet the team still gave 77 plate appearances to José Abreu and his not-a-misprint .099 average before sending him to the minors, and Alex Bregman needed 110 trips to the plate before hitting his first homer. Ronel Blanco pitched a no-hitter and carries a 1.65 ERA, and yet Houston is 27th in staff ERA and has blown a lead in half of their losses.

However, Houston’s playoff odds still provide a path for the team to return to October, trusting the roster’s pedigree to figure it out. Injuries have also played a part in this turbulent start, but Framber Valdez and Justin Verlander recently returned to the rotation, where they will finally be able to provide support to the surprising Blanco. Nevertheless, it is clear that something feels off with this version of the Astros. Maybe there is some credence to the fact that Dusty Baker’s retirement removed some structure that rookie manager Joe Espada has not been able to implement, or probably a veteran roster is finally showing its age after all those playoff runs. Regardless of the root cause, many fans have patiently waited for Houston’s downfall, and they might finally get their wish in 2024.


Featured Image by Aaron Asbury (@aarongifs on Instagram)

Pablo Figueroa

Pablo Figueroa is a Baseball Writer here at Pitcher List, with experience as a writer since 2013. He lives in Aguascalientes, Mexico - proud home of Los Rieleros. When he´s not thinking about baseball , he's a husband, owns two dogs, watches random episodes of The Sopranos , plays padel, and works on his day job to pay the bills.

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