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But here's the bad news for the Phillies, the Giants and the Nationals:
It ain't that early.
It's late enough that Rumblings and Grumblings is declaring those teams to be already officially in trouble anyway.
The Giants and Phillies started this season 1-6. They don't even want to know that just one team in the last 30 years -- the 1995 Reds -- made the playoffs after a 1-6 start, and no team has made the World Series after a 1-6 start since 1948.
And then we have those bumbling, stumbling Nationals. They're now 1-8 for the year. And the heck with the postseason precedents. Of the 37 teams since World War II to get off to that awful a start, only four even recovered to make it back to .500.
So there's a clear moral to that story: Ugly starts like this almost always turn into ugly seasons. Or at least really, really disappointing seasons. So it might be early if you're merely studying the calendar. But for all three of those teams, the danger signs are flashing. Just take a look:
Problem No. 2: Offense
Not once in the 50 seasons since the Giants moved to San Francisco have they scored fewer runs than the 20 they've managed in their first nine games. How about these numbers, through Wednesday: Team batting average .232. Team on-base percentage .289. Team slugging percentage .307. Versus left-handed pitchers: .130/.259/.174. Runners in scoring position: .214 average, with no extra-base hits. Late and close: .179 average, with one RBI.
Problem No. 3: The ace
Granted, it's a little early to pronounce judgment on Barry Zito's mind-warping seven-year, $126 million jackpot. But in Zito's first start, he got just six swings and misses in 86 pitches. In his second start, it was only seven swings and misses in 100 pitches. Which might explain why one scout said this week: "Barry Zito was the single worst signing of the winter. He's just not a top-of-the-rotation guy anymore."
There ought to be enough starting pitching here to prevent this season from gurgling totally down the plumbing system. But we're so used to this team finding a way to contend, it was startling to hear one AL executive say this week: "Outside of a couple of pitchers, there's not much I like about the Giants."
Problem No. 2: Situational hitting
Offense is supposed to be this team's strength. But when you hit .179 with men in scoring position, you're just asking for the kind of disaster that has ensued. "We've had unacceptable offensive production," said assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. "Unacceptable. We've had opportunities to break games open, and we haven't done it. And by not scoring more runs, we're putting more pressure on our relievers, because they've had no margin for error. Then we blow a couple of saves, and everything just snowballs."
Problem No. 3: Dumb baseball
They've run into big outs, rushed through at-bats with men on base and had all kinds of inexplicable defensive issues. Which was exactly what wasn't supposed to happen after they overhauled half the coaching staff. "A big part of this blame has to sit on the players' shoulders," Amaro said. "These are players who have played in the big leagues for a while now. They've got to know when to take the extra base and when not to. They've got to know when to swing at a 2-and-0 pitch and when not to."
If you've followed this team, you know the two things you can count on every April are Easter egg hunts and another April debacle by the Phillies. They've now started 2-6, or worse, in three of the last four years. But while they found ways to get back into contention the previous two times, that's a precarious tightrope to walk this year, when the Braves and Mets appear 100 percent for real.
"We'd better get it going," Amaro said. "Or we're going to find ourselves selling suntan lotion in September."
"I've been watching that team, just to see if we might want to [trade] for someone when they start selling," said one front-office man. "I still haven't come up with that someone."
We're not sure how many games this team is going to lose. 100? 110? 118? But wherever they end up, the Nationals already have done something that's just about impossible:
Over their first nine games, 714 hitters marched up to home plate. Not one of them stepped into the box while the Nationals held a lead. (The only time they led in the one game they won, remember, was the moment the winning run crossed the plate in the ninth inning.) That's gotta be a record that will never be broken.
Alex Rodriguez is one of three active players who have hit at least 30 homers in every season since 1998. Can you name the other two? (Answer later.)
We're not counting Chris Carpenter's new "five-year," $63.5-million deal with the Cardinals on that list, by the way. That's because the team essentially just added three years and $44.5 million to the two seasons, and $19 million, Carpenter had left on his previous contract. But Carpenter's elbow issues are causing major buzzing about whether it's safe to commit major dollars to any starter for five years. One AL front-office man on Zambrano: "To me, he's not a very stable guy to commit to. But if the Cubs don't do it, I guarantee you the Mets will pay him $25-30 million more than the Cubs are willing to pay. Omar [Minaya] loves that guy."
So what MLB is looking at in the future is to have teams in cold-weather cities play their out-of-division games in April against teams that are at least nearby. That way, if a game does get weathered out, it wouldn't require a 2,500-mile commute to make it up on an off day. But it's harder to commit to that than it looks, Feeney says. The trouble is that every year's schedule has to be different -- "and every change has a ripple effect on the rest of the schedule. So sometimes, when you look at the overall schedule, you cringe and hope for the best." Nevertheless, baseball has to anticipate these potential weather fiascos and change its April schedule priorities. If it doesn't, it deserves all the grief it takes.
In the meantime, you're probably going to see a couple of games on the Indians' and Mariners' current schedule get moved around, because that's the only way they can make up these four games. The Indians are balking, as they should, at playing any "home" games in Seattle. And most of the teams' common days off occur in the middle of somebody's homestand. So a couple of Monday games likely will get moved to Thursday, or vice-versa, to create more openings. But no matter how this gets figured out, both of these clubs are going to have their depth, and patience, tested by this ordeal far more than they deserve.
Oh, and don't read anything into this. But more people showed up for the Indians' first game in Milwaukee (19,031) than attended six Brewers games in Milwaukee last April. Maybe they were hoping Willie Mays Hayes would show up.
Manny Ramirez and Carlos Delgado.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.