In the entertainment industry for families, summertime is known for two things: blockbuster films and going to the ballpark. The rules changes, creating more action and a shorter run time, have undoubtedly made the game easier for families to access for the kids with a shortened attention span in the MLB this season. At the box office, The Super Mario Bros. Movie continues to dominate worldwide, setting record-setting numbers, so it’s only fitting we break down some of the starts to the season with a crossover comparison that’s universal to all of our childhoods: in terms of Mario Kart.
We’re officially over a month into the season, and while it may appear to be a small sample size in the grand scheme, the beginning momentum can determine outlooks and mindsets in the macro. It’s a race, just like the racing game we played that dominated every at-home social gathering ever.
Some of the teams that we thought would be cruising at the front of the race, using all of their power-ups as front-runners, have gotten off to some slow starts.
To evaluate whether or not there’s cause for concern, we’ll categorize it as a spin-out, as in being cursed from the very beginning when you accelerate before the race, hitting a slight banana peel, a minor bump in the road that isn’t cause for concern, or an approaching Koopa Shell, where if something doesn’t change quickly, we’re entering dangerous territory.
New York Yankees // Approaching Koopa Shell
That’s right: the LAST place New York Yankees to start the year.
Okay, the Yankees are still technically over .500 at 18-16, and Gerrit Cole has looked like an ace aside from the blown 6-0 lead he had over the Rays last week to get his first loss of the year. They’ve also got the injury plague to start the year- their titans of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton on the IL, as is tradition; their touted free agency gem Carlos Rodon has chronic back problems and has yet to make a start, along with Frankie Montas, Josh Donaldson, Luis Severino, Harrison Bader, and Oswald Peraza to name a few others who have missed time. The slow start has led us to the annual “State of Everyone Needs to RELAX” Address from GM Brian Cashman.
We can say that the Yankees, the premier 27-ring franchise, will have the assets and resources to go out and make a move. We can say that this is a team that made the ALCS last year with relatively the same roster when fully healthy. All that may be true, especially as early on in the year it’s been.
However, last season, they weren’t in the same division as the Rays, who look unbeatable; the Orioles, who suddenly look like one of the best young and up-and-coming teams with sustainable success; the Blue Jays, who have yet to officially catch fire despite having some of the best on-base hitting in the majors, and the Red Sox, while they were not expected to have this much success early on and have been winning miraculously, have been scoring at will and have a better record!
The AL is getting crowded with good teams very fast in the second year of expanded playoffs, and if they don’t recover from this spin-out from the beginning early, it could be a season where they can’t recover.
New York Mets // Approaching Koopa Shell
It’s starting to feel like vintage Mets here.
Preseason, the story was that the Mets spent an ungodly amount of money on the roster, and even with the medical debacle with Carlos Correa, this is a team that still signed Justin Verlander, Brandon Nimmo, Kodai Senga, Jose Quintana, Tommy Pham, and David Robertson while also extending Edwin Diaz. They get no amount of sympathy for missing out on the Correa sweepstakes.
It all started to fall apart when Edwin Diaz went down with an unlucky celebration injury in the World Baseball Classic. Then Justin Verlander started the year on the IL. Then Max Scherzer not only started to get lit up before getting suspended for 2 starts for a “sticky” situation and then got lit up again following the suspension, allowing 6 earned runs to the Tigers. They invested money into their ship, but the wood on the ship is worn and old for what we expected.
They’ve started the year below .500 at 17-18, not catching their stride so far, having the same record as the Marlins, while the division rival Atlanta Braves, whom they expected to go toe-to-toe with this season have been the most dominant team in the NL.
Now, because we know the heights of what this team can reach, with the rotation clicking, with Pete Alonso looking like an on-base and power-hitting MVP candidate and the amount of money and assets that Steve Cohen could hypothetically shell out a massive deal to improve the roster at the deadline.
It is an approaching Koopa shell, though, in that if Scherzer fails to get his mojo back, the roster shows their age, and they simply can’t catch the Braves in the division without making a major move. The Mets simply need to get out of their own way to avoid getting knocked down by a shell before crossing the finish line.
St. Louis Cardinals // Spin-out
The Cardinals had everything to be excited about heading into this season in a winnable NL Central. They had the NL MVP winner and runner-up on their roster, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado; they signed Willson Contreras from their rival Cubs in free agency to replace Yadi, arguably the best-hitting catcher at the time, they called up 20-year-old top prospect, Jordan Walker because of how well he was performing in Spring Training, and they were expecting to finally get a healthy season out of ace, Jack Flaherty. They designed their kart with all the fancy get-ups for one of the premium franchises in baseball.
l that never loses, so this spin-out has been quite the shocker as King Bowser has appeared to have fallen.
It all started with the embarrassing comments sophomore manager Oli Marmol made, crucifying Tyler O’Neill’s lack of hustle publicly to the media, only for him to fire back in a public feud. Not understanding your players to the point where they already are calling you out isn’t all that encouraging, but this is the premier franchise, so we looked past it!
Then came the Arenado regression– he’s batting .241 with only 7 total extra-base hits on the year.
Flaherty has done nothing but struggle- 2-4, a negative 0.4 WAR, a 6.29 ERA, and has only gone 6 innings twice. This was a pitcher who finished with 13 MVP award votes in 2019 at age 23. Flaherty was supposed to be the stabilizer to their questionable rotation, deemed the only weakness. That weakness is in the bottom-5 in essentially every pitching category and has only 7 quality starts altogether on the year.
They are rumored with tinkering with sending Contreras to the OUTFIELD now as opposed to catcher because of a possible lack of chemistry on the defensive end, they’ve sent Jordan Walker back down to the minors, and there’s no telling how much control Marmol has on this clubhouse going forward after getting off to the worst start in the National League for a franchise that knows nothing but the spoils of crossing the finish line and making the podium.
Chicago White Sox // Spin-out
Flashback to 2020 during the COVID-shortened season, the White Sox arguably had one of the deepest top-to-bottom and up-and-coming rosters in baseball that were going to be AL favorites in 2021- their only issue was Tony LaRussa awfully mismanaging bullpens in their postseason loss to Oakland; we thought they’d be a franchise on the rise at least for the next half-decade.
They haven’t been able to get out of their own way since then, and this has been utterly a season of never-ending nightmares on and off the field.
Despite finally getting rid of the corpse of a manager, LaRussa, Chicago went into the year having lost Jose Abreu to free agency, and star closer Liam Hendriks revealed that he would be fighting cancer. On top of that, their moves were signing Andrew Benintendi to the largest contract in franchise history (only $75 million, but still hitting .265 currently) and acquiring Mike Clevinger, the guy who put his cancer-fighting teammate at risk in Cleveland during the time of social distancing and also is an alleged domestic abuser as the news came out after his contract was signed. Not a great start off the field.
Then, in a very winnable AL Central, they got off to a 7-21 start and rattled off a 10-game losing streak capped off by having a no-hitter through 6 innings by Lance Lynn, then proceeding to lose the game 12-3. Their leading-qualified hitter is hitting only .265, no starting pitcher has over 2 wins, they’re bottom-5 in essentially every pitching metric, and just as they get good news about Liam Hendriks and Tim Anderson coming back, they lose Eloy Jimenez to an appendectomy. They spun out from the very beginning before the Rainbow Road could even trip them up.
Houston Astros // Slight Banana Peel
Sure, the World Series favorites have started off the year in third place in the AL West. Their division rival Rangers and Angels have gotten off to a hot start while they’ve hovered around .500 for the majority of the year, while the Mariners are another powerhouse team on the rise that is trying to find their footing.
Houston is dealing with a World Series hangover in the absences of Jose Altuve, Chas McCormick, Michael Brantley, and Luis Garcia out for the year now. It’s their worst start this late in the season since the seven-year run of utter domination.
Trust the organization.
They still have the bare bones of a team that will be in contention when the hangover is over, they get healthy, and they get hot at the right time. We already saw them sweep the dominant Atlanta Braves on the road when everything was clicking, and their rotation of Hunter Brown, Cristian Javier, and Framber Valdez has given them the 4th-best starter ERA in the majors. Their biggest offseason acquisition, Jose Abreu, is off to an atrocious start, worst in the majors according to WRC+. Still, his veteran leadership alone as a clubhouse guy will count when they start to play more meaningful baseball.
The players that have played on the biggest stage, a dominant rotation that knows how to develop arms, and a manager you trust in Dusty Baker will power them through this early-season slump. They’re just in need of a “get right” series. Wait until September, right before the postseason, when they’ll play nine games against Oakland and Kansas City just in time to go on an October “I told you so” run.