At the start of the MLB season, four of the most popular picks to make it to the World Series were the San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals, Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Today, just one of those teams, the Nationals, is even at .500, with the rest being among the worst teams in baseball.
So what went wrong for this no longer formidable four? Injuries played a role, as all four teams saw at least one key player miss significant time. For most, ineffectiveness of previously talented players hurt, but it was exacerbated by a lack of quality depth.
The defending World Series champion Giants started the year by competing for the title of best pitching rotation. With Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito filling the bottom slots of their rotation, the Giants looked to have the deepest rotation in baseball.
From day one that proved to be untrue. Staff ace Matt Cain struggled immediately, giving up nine earned runs in his second start of the season.
Comeback extraordinaire Ryan Vogelsong lost all command, while the two Cy Young winners continued their struggles from previous years.
Today the Giants have just one opening day starting pitcher with an ERA below four, Madison Bumgarner.
He's propped up the staff with his 2.84 ERA, yet Cain (4.43), Lincecum (4.55), Zito (5.81) and Vogelsong (5.58) have all been miserable.
The Giants were built on starting pitching and manager Bruce Bochy’s ability to utilize a bullpen to its full potential. With a weak offense, the struggles of the starting pitchers have sunk their season.
The team with the best record in baseball in 2012, the Nationals, looked to be even better on paper heading into 2013.
What couldn’t be accounted for on paper was injuries. The Nationals' best players — Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and Stephen Strasburg — all missed significant time due to injury.
But every team has injuries, what made the Nats situation so bad was their bench.
Three of the Nationals' four main bench players have been among the worst players in Major League Baseball in wins above replacement, as Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi and Chad Tracy have all struggled.
When the Toronto Blue Jays made a blockbuster trade this offseason with the Miami Marlins for Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson and later traded for NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, they were an easy World Series pick.
But those new acquisitions didn’t pan out. Reyes was injured almost immediately while all three new pitchers have been ineffective. All three have ERAs above four.
In fact, the Blue Jays only have one pitcher who has started a game for them with an ERA below four, and that’s unknown Chad Jenkins, who only has three starts.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the second year in a row have the best player in baseball in WAR in Mike Trout and will miss the playoffs both years. Superstar free agent signings Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton have been terrible and the team’s role players have been largely ineffective.
The worst is yet to come for the Angels, as the Pujols contract was backloaded to allow for payroll flexibility in 2012-13. Pujols will be owed $23 million in 2014 and that number will increase $1 million every year after that until 2021, when Pujols will be 41.
All four teams have been disappointments in 2013 and have varying outlooks for the future. At this point in the season all four should be building toward that future.