Five biggest problems for contending teams

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
11:18
AM ET
Carl Crawford isn't going to hit .156 all season. Adrian Gonzalez will hit home runs. But here are five legitimate issues that teams predicted to be contenders are facing right now.

Franklin
Franklin
1. Cardinals closer. Ryan Franklin lost the job with two losses, four blown saves and four home runs allowed in eight innings. The Cardinals lost all four of those games, so they could easily be 17-7 now instead of 13-11. Mitchell Boggs became the closer, saved three games, and then picked up a blown save and a loss Tuesday night in Houston. Eduardo Sanchez, a 22-year-old rookie, picked up the save Wednesday night, although in dubious fashion by allowing two runs. Despite all this, the Cardinals are in first place with the second-best run differential in the majors, thanks to an offense that leads the NL in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. In the end, I actually think Tony La Russa will sort things out. Boggs has a 15/3 SO/BB ratio in 12 2/3 innings, Sanchez has a 14/1 ratio and Fernando Salas and Jason Motte are also pitching well.

2. Francisco Liriano. As bad as Minnesota's offense has been (only the Padres have scored fewer runs), I'm just as worried about Liriano, so good a year ago but struggling with his control in 2011 (18 walks in 23 2/3 innings). There were trade rumors surrounding Liriano in spring training, which makes you wonder if the Twins had concerns about his health. His average fastball velocity is down from 93.7 to 92.1, which isn't a major concern ... for now. Considering the state of their offense, the Twins need Liriano to return to ace-like production.

Tejada
Tejada
3. Miguel Tejada and the Giants defense. Make what you want of defensive metrics, but logic tells you the Giants have issues on defense: old man Tejada at shortstop, pondering Pat Burrell in left, Andres Torres on the DL, not-exactly-Brooks Robinson Pablo Sandoval at third, and Aubrey Huff, who was moved back to first base after his adventures in right field. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) has the Giants as the third-worst defensive team so far (although it grades Sandoval well at third). Considering Tejada isn't hitting either, how long will the Giants stick with him?

4. The Rangers bullpen. Darren O'Day just landed on the 60-day DL with a torn labrum in his hip. Even when Neftali Feliz returns from the DL, there could be issues. The pen has compiled a 4.02 ERA, 24th in the majors so far, but I point to a mediocre 44/30 SO/BB ratio as a sign that this pen is treading a fine line. Throw in the ages of Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes and you have another red flag. And while much has been made about Nolan Ryan urging Rangers starters to work deeper into games, the reality was Texas starters were just 11th in the AL in innings pitched in 2010. They'll need a deep and effective bullpen.

5. White Sox on-base percentage. Everybody has been focused on the Sox' bullpen problems, but I'm wondering if the Chicago offense is overrated. Yes, the Sox will hit plenty of long balls, but how many of those will be solo home runs? Juan Pierre, A.J. Pierzynski and Alexei Ramirez are notorious non-walkers and rookie third baseman Brent Morel has yet to draw a free pass. Oddly, Alex Rios isn't hitting (.163, no homers), but has 10 walks.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.

David Schoenfield | email

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