Ah, spring. The start of a new season. Life begins again, and hope springs eternal. No team is eliminated from playoff contention. Fans of most teams can at least dream of playoff glory. There is baseball on in the afternoon and at night. For many, these are happier times.
Yet time marches on, and with it, doom for 20, and ultimately 29, of these teams. Perhaps no fan base can be truly panicked this early in the season—there’s too much time for things to go right. But for most, it won’t. For most, this way lies folly and despair.
Perhaps you watch for the journey and not the destination. Perhaps you watch for the friends you make along the way. Congrats on your healthy perspective. This column is not for you.
This is for the rest of us, those who bemoan every baserunning error on Twitter, who decry every managerial snafu as pure idiocy, and who, against our better judgement, read the comments. We are not truer fans than our more relaxed compatriots. But we are quicker to find reason to panic.
Just as was the case last year, these rankings are completely subjective. You can disagree with me, of course, but you will be wrong.
Panic Level 0: Life Is Good!
Houston Astros (4-1)
Universally lauded as the Best Team In Baseball, the Astros are sitting pretty. They’re loaded with talent, they’re young, they’re off to a fine start, and they just defeated the dreaded Every Year 29 Teams Don’t Win The World Series Curse. If you’re an Astros fan who’s panicking right now, you’re beyond help. You’re fine.
And here we see the rest of the division favorites. The Nationals are … well, I don’t want to jinx them, but let’s just say they are playing with a more full roster than they’re used to enjoying. The Yankees and Cubs made major offseason acquisitions to bolster their already playoff-caliber teams. The Indians and Dodgers did not, but they too look to remain very good.
Sure, the Cubs couldn’t take a series from the Marlins. And sure, a bunch of Indians are already hurt (what else is new). And yes, the Dodgers apparently replaced Kenley Jansen with Jered Weaver. But there’s too much talent on these rosters for their respective fans to be nervous.
At least not yet.
Panic Level 1: Cautiously Optimistic?
The presumptive next-best teams in the Junior and Senior Circuit, respectively, the Red Sox and Diamondbacks are talented, playing well, and both look poised to improve upon last year’s marks. The Red Sox added J.D. Martinez and have (hopefully) full years of David Price and Carson Smith. The Diamondbacks lost J.D. Martinez, but now feature an actual bullpen and have finally admitted that Yasmany Tomas isn’t a regular. No one in Boston is ever relaxed, nor is anyone in the same division as the Dodgers, but both of these teams have reason for optimism (or, as it’s known in New England, only mild pessimism).
Ah, the NL’s second tier. The Brewers had a phenomenal offseason if you just completely and utterly disregard their pitching staff. It would be fair for you to do so, as that seems to have been their plan as well. The Mets remain Baseball Twitter’s punchline, but don’t overlook the high-end talent all over this roster. Mets fans have every reason to expect the worst, but with even marginally better injury luck (I know, but humor me), they could easily surpass 90 wins.
The Cardinals are annoyingly good. Marcell Ozuna is good. Greg Holland is good. They did a genuinely decent thing by trading Stephen Piscotty back home. They’re gonna end up with a Wild Card spot. You’re gonna hate it. The Rockies of 2018 are basically the Rockies of 2017, just with a better bullpen. That sounds disparaging, but the Rockies of 2017 were actually pretty decent.
The secondary teams in the AL are … less exciting isn’t fair, but less talented may be. The Twins added credible arms to their rotation and to their bullpen, but lack star power outside of an impending Byron Buxton breakout. Still, they’re a fairly deep and well-rounded team. The Angels have the opposite problem—they have supreme talents and then pretty much nothing. Their lineup may be quite good, but their rotation might be a tire fire. Orioles fans know something about that combination, and making Chris Tillman and Andrew Cashner pitch in Camden Yards at this point in their careers seems almost cruel.
One of these teams will probably make the playoffs. One of these teams will probably fall off a cliff. It figures to be a tense first few months for the fan bases of all.
Panic Level 2: Already Dead Inside
This entire tier is reserved for teams that knew they’d be trash when the year began. After all, when you don’t have any expectations to begin with, how panicked can you get? Still, there are different types of suckiness, and the Braves, Padres, and White Sox have the comparatively good kind. They are closer to emerging from their rebuilding than they are beginning them anew. Premium talents like Ronald Acuna, Fernando Tatis Jr., Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, and others should all make their debuts this year. It’s bad now, but there are brighter days ahead.
Then there’s this type of suckiness. This, my friends, is bad. The Tigers only blew up their team last season, while the Royals and Marlins waited until this offseason. None of these teams will sniff playoff contention while we’re still in the 2010s. As for the Reds, well, they may be the most directionless (least directional?) team in baseball. They have the makings of a semi-decent offense and a blue chipper on the way in Nick Senzel, but they’re vying with the Marlins for the least pitching talent in organized baseball. The clock is ticking on Joey Votto’s career, and it’s likely to run out before the Reds are relevant again. Womp womp.
Panic Level 2.5: Rays Tank
Tampa Bay Rays (1-3)
[Billy Beane does 19 things to get his team slightly cheaper but slightly worse]
“mm yes, I see it”
[Nats sign Scherzer]
“makes no sense.”
— Craig Goldstein (@cdgoldstein) January 19, 2015
Just replace “Billy Beane” with “Erik Neander” and “Max Scherzer” with, I don’t know, Eric Hosmer, I guess. You could argue that the Rays should be “dead inside,” but I think what they’re doing is a little worse than neutral. Plus, I mean …
Announcing… The Ray Tank!
Our new blog will have behind-the-scenes stories, photos, and more.
I mean, c’mon.
Panic Level 3: Winter Is Coming
This is perhaps overly pessimistic, but if you’re a Pirates or a Blue Jays fan, how happy can you really be? The Pirates blew up the nucleus of a very competitive roster for no other reason than to save money. They did not get better, despite their solid start, and it’s tough to envision a scenario in which they can hang around with the class of the NL Central.
The Blue Jays have a better squad on paper, but Troy Tulowitzki has entered the David Wright Memorial Retired Whether He Knows It Or Not Hall of Fame, and Josh Donaldson can’t throw. That seems … bad? To not be able to throw as a third baseman? Factor in the firepower both of these squads have lost over the past few years, and well, I’d have a pit in my stomach if I pulled for either of them. Wouldn’t you?
Oh look, it’s most of the AL West. There are like four good starting pitchers between these three teams, and odds are by the time you read this, at least two of them will be hurt. There aren’t any center fielders in this division either, so that’s a neat combination. These teams are just sad, a collective reminder of the fun talent of yesteryear. Felix Hernandez is showing a pulse, and Adrian Beltre will be deserving of our adoration for as long as he can take the field. But none of these teams has a shot at displacing the Astros, and you have to squint to see them making the playoffs at all.
Maybe one or two can sneak up these rankings, but they’re more likely to end up with the …
Panic Level 4: This Is Fine Dog
Uh oh. I won’t pull any punches with the start to Gabe Kapler’s managerial career, mostly because he already would’ve pulled said punches after 60 pitches. But it’s been rough. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that Kapler is simply ahead of his time. There’s another argument to be made that there is no time for what Kapler is trying. It almost has to get better from here, at least?
As for the Giants, well, it super doesn’t have to get better from here. Madison Bumgarner is hurt. Jeff Samardzija is hurt. Mark Melancon is hurt. Will Smith is still on the disabled list. It’s not great. At a time when so many teams are tearing it all down, you have to admire Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean for their willingness to pry their contention window open just a little longer. But with very little young talent on the field or in the upper minors, the Giants really have to win now if they want to win at all. If their fans are panicking, well, you can sort of understand.
Thank you for reading
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