MLB

MLB Grades: Rays, Red Sox, Padres, Giants ace quarter-mark report cards; Dodgers, Yankees not far behind

If we did these monthly, the D-Backs may well have gotten an A through April. They were 14-12 and were playing good baseball. Alas, they have totally fallen apart in May. They are a sub-par offensive team with an injury-riddled rotation and a bad bullpen. The good news is Ketel Marte is back and Madison Bumgarner has been very good since a terrible first three starts (don’t worry about the last outing in Coors Field). Overall, though, it’s been bad, especially with how fast everything fell apart. Grade: D The Braves entered the season, rightfully, with World Series aspirations. They haven’t been over .500 all year. Not even for a single day. Ronald Acuña is playing like an MVP, but he hasn’t gotten a ton of help. Marcell Ozuna in particular has been terrible. The pitching side is concerning, too, with Mike Soroka suffering a setback in his attempted return from Achilles surgery. Drew Smyly and Max Fried have been bad. Charlie Morton has been mediocre. Huascar Ynoa was a godsend, but he hurt himself punching a wall. The bullpen has issues as well. This just isn’t good enough for their level of talent and expectations. Grade: D+ John Means threw a no-hitter and has looked the part of ace. Trey Mancini is back from cancer and playing very well. Cedric Mullins is a good hitter and is very fun to watch. Freddy Galvis might be playing himself into “trade bait” material. Through May 5, the Orioles were 15-16 and might’ve even earned an A. They’ve totally fallen apart since. Still, this is probably about the pace we expected from them, even if the sequencing is weird. It’s not a total flop due to the stuff I mentioned above. Grade: C Most people picked the Red Sox to finish in fourth place in the AL East. They’ve been at or near the top of the standings since a season-opening sweep at the hands of the lowly Orioles. J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are a force of a three-headed monster for the offense. Even with Chris Sale still on the shelf recovering from Tommy John surgery, the rotation has done some good work. Matt Barnes is anchoring the back of the bullpen quite well, too. Is Alex Cora really this much of a difference-maker? Grade: A  The 11-15 April with problems all over the place is starting to become a distant memory. The offense is showing itself to generally be reliable. The rotation still has issues, but Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies look like they’ve fixed their problems and the bullpen is lights out right now. The Cubs are 13-7 in May and all seven losses were by exactly one run. At this rate, those pining for a sell-off might be holding their breath too long. Regardless, the Cubs have totally turned the tables on a possible F. Grade: B The White Sox had to deal with losing Eloy Jiménez nearly immediately before the start of the season and recently lost Luis Robert for most of the rest of the season. They’ve dealt with early bullpen meltdowns and some mistakes from the dugout while Tony La Russa shakes off the rust. Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel haven’t been good. However, Carlos Rodon, Lance Lynn and Dylan Cease have been great for the rotation while Yermín Mercedes has been a revelation for the lineup. There have been issues, yes, but overall this has been very good. Grade: B+ The Reds were supposed to be contenders. They started 6-1 and the players kept talking about how special the clubhouse was. The work they got early from Tyler Naquin and that they’ve continued to get from Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos has been exceptional. And yet, they’ve been pretty terrible since those first seven games. They can’t find any consistency in the rotation and the bullpen has been full of landmines, too. Grade: D Terry Francona sure is something, isn’t he? He’s been saddled with a terrible offensive team, two of his starting pitchers are injured and they are still 25-20. The rotation has been good, but the best starter ERA belongs to Aaron Civale at 3.30. No, the work here is being done by the bullpen. Cleveland relievers have a collective 2.68 ERA this season. They have talent out there, but the person managing them sure has a talent for getting the most out of his ballclub. Put a sticker on Tito’s paper. Grade: A- Ownership and the front office essentially gave up on the season before it started by trading Nolan Arenado and setting the table for the same thing to happen with Trevor Story this coming July. Then the general manager was fired and not replaced. It seems like the actual on-field product takes a back seat after all that. Unsurprisingly, the Rockies are one of the worst teams in baseball. They’ve actually been good at home, just historically-awful on the road. Grade: D+ We figured this would be a lost season pretty quickly in terms of the 2021 standings and it has been, though we should point out they’ve won nine of their last 14. The progress this season was always going to be measured on how the state of the franchise progressed regarding players who might be part of the next contender. It’s been a mixed bag, but Casey Mize is having a great month, Spencer Turnbull looks good and Matthew Boyd is pitching well enough to get a good return in July. There’s a bit less good news on the position-player side, though. Grade: C- After starting 6-1, the Astros found themselves at 7-10 after dealing with a COVID outbreak. They’ve mostly been one of the better teams in baseball since then, but just got swept by the Rangers. They aren’t in first place, but overall they’ve been one of the best offenses and pitching staffs in the AL. They’ve been good, but arguably should be better. Grade: B- Sequencing is a funny thing, right? Sitting 22-23 for the Royals is probably slightly above expectations most people had for them coming into the year. It includes a season-altering 11-game losing streak, though. Other than that, the Royals would’ve had an A+. There are a lot of high points (Salvador Perez! Carlos Santana was a good signing, too), but where is Andrew Benintendi‘s power? Where is Jorge Soler? In all, though, it’s been pretty successful compared to where they are as a franchise right now. Grade: B+ Instead of simply wasting Mike Trout‘s golden years, they are now wasting Shohei Ohtani having a historic, incredible two-way season. Injuries to Trout and Anthony Rendon are mitigating factors, of course, but the pitching — aside from Ohtani, of course — is unacceptably pathetic. The staff ERA is 5.25. What a joke. Grade: F They had a stretch of miserable baseball where they lost 15 times in 20 games. Other than that, though, they are 24-3. There have been some key injuries and several players aren’t playing up to their capability. And yet, they have one of the best records in baseball. How do we square them playing like an A+ for 27 games and playing like an F for 20? That’s tough, right? Grade: B After a 1-6 start — highlighted by being screwed out of the game in the sixth loss — the Marlins have righted the ship and sit within very close striking distance of first place in the NL East. They’ve mostly done it without Starling Marte, too. Jesús Aguilar has been a great middle-order anchor while young Jazz Chisholm is an exceedingly fun up-and-comer. The youngsters in the rotation have impressed, especially Trevor Rogers. Don Mattingly has hit his stride with all the new bullpen pieces new general manager Kim Ng grabbed in her first offseason, too. There’s a lot to like here at this point. Grade: A- The 17-10 start was A+-worthy but they promptly fell apart after that. Things seem to be getting back on track. They’ve gone most of the year without a healthy Christian Yelich while Keston Hiura was brutal early (he just got back from the minors) and there were also injuries to Lorenzo Cain and Kolten Wong. Behind a pair of aces in Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes (and it could grow to three if Freddy Peralta keeps this up), it feels like there are better days ahead and this bad stretch is safely in the rearview. We’re only grading what we’ve seen so far, though. Grade: B- The won the AL Central each of the last two years and many people had them taking it again. Instead, they are one of the worst teams in baseball. They might be starting to turn things around right now, but they’ve dug a giant hole for themselves. Since we’re talking about grading, we’ll put this in those terms: This is the worst student in baseball so far in 2021. Grade: F No team in baseball has been ravaged by injuries to the extent the Mets have. James McCann had never even played first base in the minors, much less the majors, before Monday night. Monday he started there. They also had eight postponements when they had only played eight games. Francisco Lindor has been terrible after being acquired and signing his big extension. McCann has been awful. Hell, pretty much the whole offense has been. And yet, the Mets are in first place. How am I supposed to grade that? One could argue that they should have better taken advantage of the rest of the division playing poorly and had a much bigger lead. I will also say, them enduring all this makes it seem like a really hot August-September is on the table. Grade: B It’s the Yankees, so the expectations were always going to be high. This team was picked by many to win the AL East and even the AL pennant. As such, it’s a bit disappointing they aren’t in first place, I guess. Since a 5-10 start they’ve gone 23-9 and that’s the best record in baseball in that stretch. The offense is capable of better, notably in the power department where they are slugging a paltry .381. The pitching has been exceptional, though, and the trajectory here suggests the upside of a pennant is there. Grade: B+ The A’s started the season 1-7 and they now occupy first place. The 13-game winning streak was a big help, but they’ve actually been a pretty subpar team aside from that run. Of course, those 13 games count just the same as any other 13. The low-average, power-heavy offense means they’ll be inconsistent through the year and that’s proving to be the case. Overall, given the losses in the offseason and the rough start, they are to be commended for being in first. It’s also a bit of a hollow resume to this point for a first-place team with the negative run differential and so much reliance on a two-week stretch. Grade: B  They seem to alternate between stretches of looking like a playoff contender and a bottom-dweller. They’ve dealt with injuries, sure, but overall it has the feel of a collection of a few great players with an uninspiring supporting cast. Sometimes it feels like they should be better, but maybe they’ve just been showing us, big picture, what they are: A mediocre baseball team. Grade: C The one thing we all thought we knew for certain in the NL Central heading into the season was that the Pirates would finish last. They are right on schedule. They showed a brief glimpse of exceeding expectations when they won 11 out of 16 in April. Other than that stretch, though, they’ve gone 7-23. But hey, what did we expect? Grade: C With injuries to the likes of Fernando Tatis, Trent Grisham, Austin Nola, Dinelson Lamet and a quick COVID shutdown for several key regulars, the Padres haven’t been full strength all season. What they have done is show that they can stand toe-to-toe with the Dodgers and hang around toward the top of the standings. There are positive signs all over this roster that their good play will continue, too. Grade: A That series sweep at the hands of the hated Dodgers this past weekend was a punch to the gut, for sure. Still, if we had said coming into the season the Giants would start 28-19, we’d absolutely say they deserve an A. What they are getting out of Kevin Gausman, Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani (prior to Sunday’s ERA-crushing meltdown) has been incredible. How about Brandon Crawford‘s big season and Buster Posey being in Terminator mode so far? What a great start. Grade: A The Mariners seem to tease their fans often, right? Without going back and looking it up, I feel like I remember several years where they contended for a while and then fell apart. This time around, they started 13-8. By record, they’ve been the worst team in baseball since. The offensive numbers are brutal. The pitching is a little better, but overall not good. There’s certainly reason for the locals to keep watching this team (Jarred Kelenic, Kyle Lewis, etc.), but on a team level it’s going to be another long year. The longest playoff drought in baseball remains intact. Grade: D Before they visited San Diego, the Cardinals were 23-15 and had the look of one of the best teams in baseball. They’ve been in a bit of a rut since. It’s good that they’ve beaten up on bad teams — that’s what good teams do — but the 6-11 record against teams over .500 is a bit troubling, no? Still, this has the look of a well-rounded ballclub and they are in first place for a reason. Grade: B+ The defending AL champs just keep reloading. They were sitting at .500 through 38 games, but they’ve now won 11 in a row, a stretch that includes sweeps of the Mets and Blue Jays. Despite being four games out heading into this month, they are sitting in first place. They are 6-3 against the Yankees. I believe the saying is “with flying colors.” Grade: A+ They weren’t built to contend this season and there have been some low lows, but they’ll also do competent things like sweep the Astros and win seven of nine (May 1-9). How about that Adolis García, huh? The hunch is they’ll continue to be a non-contender while having the occasional burst of good play. There are worse things. Grade: C+ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is having *that* season. The offense as a whole is good and exciting with Teoscar Hernández again raking, Bo Bichette showing he’s legit and Marcus Semien proving an excellent addition. They could sure use George Springer healthy, of course. Injuries have bothered the pitching staff and that bullpen remains a work in progress. The Jays get downgraded here because they had a big chance to make a dent in the East powers and so far have gone 1-6 in the past two series against the Red Sox and Rays. They might’ve had an A before that, but this was a big test that they totally bombed. Grade: B- The Kyle Schwarber pickup has worked. The Josh Bell one, not so much. In “Big Three” news, Patrick Corbin hasn’t worked and Stephen Strasburg has been hurt while Max Scherzer is still dealing. Trea Turner is possibly having a career year while Juan Soto feels disappointing until we realize he’s only 22 and we’ve just been really spoiled by him. The Nats are in last place, but only two games out after starting 1-5. Grade: C+



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