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State of the Union - The Underachievers
Brandon Warne | Wednesday April 27th, 2011
Come back, Johan. The Mets really miss you. (Getty)
Come back, Johan. The Mets really miss you. (Getty)
As April comes to a close, it's easy enough to glance at the standings today and try to project out the rest of the season.  The dreamer in some of us wants to believe the Cleveland Indians can hang onto the American League Central lead, or that the Florida Marlins will be able to outlast the Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

Hot and cold starts always send fans into a tizzy, as fantasy owners rushed to pick up Willie Bloomquist early in the season, and openly lamented selecting Albert Pujols with their top pick as he sputtered out of the gates. Like Bloomquist, whose .306 batting average is as empty as they come, or Pujols, who has since rebounded to get his slugging percentage over .500, teams also can shoot out of the gates to a pace they simply cannot continue.

Keeping this dynamic in mind, let's take a quick peek at a few of the teams that have sputtered out of the starting block, and project if their start is simply dumb luck, or a harbinger of things to come.

The New York Mets continue to be a club that simply can't buy any luck.  That won't stop them from trying, however, as their $142 million payroll is among the highest in the game.  At 9-13 entering Tuesday's slate of action, the club no doubt has a very poor "bang for the buck" factor.  The offense hasn't been all bad though, as Ike Davis, Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran have all been very solid contributors, each checking in with OPS+ (OPS adjusted for home park) digits exceeding 100.  What has hurt the Mets, who are seventh in the NL in team OPS, is that they've garnered little to no production out of the rest of the starting lineup, including the recently dispatched Rule-5 pickup Brad Emaus.  He provided a .424 OPS before he was returned to the Toronto Blue Jays, and subsequently traded to the Colorado Rockies.

The pitching, however, is what has plagued the Mets so far this season and looks to continue to falter.  The rotation has featured R.A. Dickey at the top, with fellow castoffs Chris Young and Chris Capuano in a staff that's combined for a 4.55 ERA, good for 13th overall in the National League.  The bullpen, namely Francisco Rodriguez and a few others, has been fairly good, but the club no doubt can't wait for Johan Santana to come back.  The club currently projects him to be back around mid-season, perhaps before the All Star break.  Chances are, that'll be too little, too late. 

The Minnesota Twins 9-12 start has surprised many fans, but perhaps more surprising to fans and pundits alike has been that pretty much every key contributor to what projected to be a solid offense has missed significant time thus far in 2011.  Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and Delmon Young, or in other words, the hitters who batted second through fifth on opening day, have combined to miss 37 games over the club's first 21 dates.  As a result, the club has combined to hit .244/.298/.336, with the collective .634 OPS good for 13th among American League ballclubs, and 71 runs scored placing the team dead last in the league. 

On the pitching side, the starters have performed adequately outside of ace Francisco Liriano, but a Jekyll-and-Hyde bullpen hasn't done the team any favors, as Joe Nathan had to beg out of the closer's role, passing it on to Matt Capps who has been decent, but by no means a lockdown performer.  Oddly enough, the best reliever has been starting rotation flunky Glen Perkins, who is unscored upon in 10 appearances, spanning 9.2 innings.  It's interesting to note that the radar gun in his most recent appearance, which was no doubt running a bit hot, was registering Perkins' fastball between 95-97 mph.  Fangraphs.com agrees that he's added some heat, as his average fastball is up to 92.4, up two full ticks from his days as a starter.  He's always shown more effectiveness out of the pen, and is rewarding the club's trust thusly. 

After missing out on the playoffs in 2010, the San Diego Padres, who have started out 9-15 entering Tuesday's tilt, are the final club that we'll focus on.  Offensively, the Friars have been downright dreadful, combining to hit .209/.292/.312, all of which are dead last in the NL.  A big part of the issue has been strikeouts; the Pads have fanned 198 times, or about nine times per game so far.  Each of the regulars, and Jorge Cantu, the club's top utility man, have fanned 10 or more times.  Certainly, the fact that the club has taken the second most free passes in the NL can cover up for a few extra whiffs, but in a ballpark as spacious as the venerable Petco Park, simply putting the ball in play should be more than enough for the team to overcome these offensive woes.  They certainly won't continue to flirt with a .600 OPS all season, but with Adrian Gonzalez residing in Beantown for the forseeable future, the offensive cupboard is somewhat bare in San Diego.

As bad as the hitting has been in Ron Burgundy's hometown, the pitching has been impressive.  The club ranks first in ERA, second in runs allowed and walks allowed, and fourth in home runs allowed.  The bullpen, fronted by closer extraordinaire Heath Bell, has been outstanding as usual, with eight relievers pitching to ERAs 3.00 or lower thus far.  In the rotation, everyone but Mat Latos has been lights-out, and he's the one that is likely the least worrisome, provided he can overcome early season injury woes.  To summarize, this San Diego club doesn't have a ton of offensive talent, but they can no doubt contend in the NL West if they can simply start putting the ball in play in their cavernous home digs. 

Brandon WarneBrandon is a 2010 graduate of the Journalism program at Northwestern College in St Paul, Minn. He also writes for TwinsMVB.com and GameOnTVMN.com. Warne also played baseball at Northwestern, and continues to play Class-A Amateur Ball in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Follow him on Twitter @brandonwarne52 or feel free to e-mail him at brandon.r.warne@gmail.com.