After three weeks of play, it’s to be expected that some MLB fans are going to hit the panic button, especially if their teams aren't living up to expectations of contention.
General managers, though, would be wise wait a few more weeks before making any wholesale changes.
Two teams picked to run away with their divisions, the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels, are both struggling to stay at .500. However, neither team nor its respective fan base has anything to worry about just yet.
General managers Jim Hendry of the Cubs and Tony Reagins of the Angels are both dealing with similar problems to start the 2009 campaign. Injuries rank at the top of both of their lists.
For the Cubs, Milton Bradley has just one hit—a home run, granted—and has been limited to pinch-hitting duty for the past two weeks with a groin injury.
For most of that stretch, at least one other position player has been on the shelf at the same time. Most of the time, it’s been third baseman Aramis Ramirez.
When Bradley has been able to pinch hit, he's been removed immediately in favor of Joey Gathright as a pinch runner. This effectively has reduced manager Lou Piniella's roster to 23 available players instead of the usual 25.
Either it’s time for a disabled list stint for Bradley, or Gathright needs to start contributing with his bat.
As for the Angels, both tragedy and injury have plagued their roster early this season. With the passing of young pitcher Nick Adenhart, the Angels were bereft of one of their top pitching prospects, and a great kid to boot.
Manager Mike Scioscia is also dealing with injuries to starters Kelvim Escobar, Ervin Santana and John Lackey. None of those three have pitched a single inning this season.
On top of all of that, the heart of the Angels order has been disrupted by to Vladimir Guerrero’s torn pectoral.
The Angels expect to see all of those players return over the next six to eight weeks.
Both the Cubs and Angels find themselves in early holes. The Cubs are three games back on the archrival St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, who have come out the gate red hot, even without the aid of oft-injured starter Chris Carpenter.
And the Angels are looking up at the Mariners, who are clicking just fine between strong starts by Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez, Adrian Beltre's contract year success, and the return of Ken Griffey Jr.
Still, this is no time to panic.
There are five months and 145 games left to get healthy and make up ground. Too often, we’ve seen general managers panic early in the season and begin to make changes to a roster that hasn’t been given a chance to perform.
The Angels have a tremendous advantage simply by playing in the AL West. They only have three other teams to compete with for a division title and a playoff spot.
The Oakland Athletics need to be close come July, or general manager Billy Beane will trade away his best parts, notably, Matt Holliday. The Mariners are off to a great start, but health has been a major issue in the past for their two aces that have started 2009 so well.
The Texas Rangers have all the offense in the world and a hitter-friendly home park. Still, their pitching is well below average and we’ve only seen the Yankees successfully attempt to compete with only offense over the last decade. Pitching and defense still win divisions and pennants.
The Cubs, on the other hand, face the only six-team division in baseball. Lucky for the North Siders, the 2009 NL Central is comprised of five very average ball clubs and one exceptional team.
Before the Cardinals fans start jumping down my throat, we all said the same thing about the Cardinals before this season started: “If Chris Carpenter is healthy, the Cardinals have a chance to compete.”
I completely agree.
Right now, Carpenter is going to be out until at least June, and maybe July or August. The Cardinals bullpen is still struggling to find a reliable closer because closing by committee almost never works.
The most dangerous hitter in baseball, Albert Pujols, is playing without a true leadoff hitter, a lack of cleanup support and a cluster of players trying to learn new positions while battling for playing time. Tony LaRussa is a great manager and can do more with what he has than most.
But please. Skip Schumaker is not the answer. Neither is Rick Ankiel.
The young Reds pitching staff will struggle to keep the ball in their home ballpark while the young Reds hitters will have trouble scoring outside of Great American Ballpark. And, there’s Dusty Baker. But that’s a whole ‘nother 900 word article.
But don’t panic Cubs fans. In the 120 games that Milton Bradley plays while he’s healthy, he’s going to get on base. He’s going to hit homers. He’s going to play with intensity.
Just lay off the media, Milton. You can’t win that battle.
The only area that the Cubs need to evaluate is their bullpen. Who is the closer? Do they have a left-hander that can throw strikes? Is David Patton really ready for the major leagues?
After that, the numbers will play out. The starters are going to win games. The lineup has the numbers to produce 800 runs on the season.
The Los Angeles Angels; however, are going to struggle all year along to fill their rotation with healthy starters. Escobar has already had two setbacks in his rehab process, and Santana and Lackey will only be good for around 25 starts.
Pitching is going to be crucial for the Angels to have success in their division and the American League in general. The young players that they’ve been able to hold on to over the years are finally starting to develop offensively. Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick are starting to produce consistently.
With offensive juggernauts like Texas and Oakland in the division, and six dates a piece with Boston, Tampa, the rotation and bullpen will need to win some games for Los Angeles to win its third straight division title.
But amidst all these tangled numbers and disabled list reports are two teams with more options and superior talent to that of the other teams in their division.
Far superior, actually.
For Hendry and Reagins, this is not the time to make a move. This is the time to stand by your guns, and not screw up your season in April. If I’m wrong at the end of May, then these two will have to start doing some work.
Until then, let the players play and the managers manage.
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