You can explain away a few rough patches over the course of three months, but after 162 games of underachieving, managers and players can’t pretend they lived up to expectations.
In the 2015 season, there were a large number of teams picked by experts, fans, and Vegas to win their divisions (and even win the World Series) that found themselves in last place approaching the halfway mark. Then things truly spun out of control. Forget about upsetting fans who expect the best as, say, the Nationals did after their bumpy start. At least Washington came close to a playoff spot, disastrous as the end was.
Other teams bottomed out from the get-go and continued their free fall after the All-Star Break. A glance at every division except the NL Central — where the boringly consistent Cardinals continue their reign — reveals underdogs at the top and the favorites way down the list, some of them with their title aspirations already gone.
These are the flops, failures, and busts that caught our attention. Here are the seven most disappointing MLB teams of the 2015 season.
7. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers seemed too good to fail. Detroit’s lineup was stacked with the greatest hitter in the game in Miguel Cabrera and power up and down the lineup, while David Price fronted a pitching staff that had considerable depth. They ranked fourth in MLB payroll with $173 million committed to players at the start of 2015.
So how did this team end up in last place with a -114 run differential and a record below .500? Even with Yoenis Cespedes (while in town) and J.D. Martinez mashing along with Cabrera, Detroit ended up 15th in runs scored. The contributions from Ian Kinsler (.296, 11 HR), Alex Castellanos (.255, 15 HR), and the oft-injured Victor Martinez (.245, 11 HR in 120 games) were on the slim side. Meanwhile, the pitching staff ranked 28th in ERA with Price as the team’s only reliable option. Shane Greene (4-8, 6.88 ERA) and Anibal Sanchez (10-10, 4.99 ERA) were bad, negating the surprising start by Simon. (He also ended poorly.)
As a result, Detroit got blown out as often as it blew out the opposition. A series versus the Yankees from June 19 to 21 offered the perfect illustration. Even with the team’s 12-4 pounding of Masahiro Tanaka in the finale, the Tigers left town losing the series two games to one. They were outscored 25-17 over three games.
6. Cleveland Indians
About two thirds of ESPN and CBS Sports experts picked the Indians to win the AL Central, and there was reason to think big. Corey Kluber was coming off his Cy Young season and Carlos Carrasco joined Trevor Bauer as hurlers with breakout potential. The team had a winning formula in place in 2014, missing the playoffs by just a few games. Brandon Moss would add pop to the sometimes anemic lineup. It could work, folks reasoned.
In 2015, neither side of the Indians team contributed enough and the team ended up one game above .500 (39-41 at home) for third place in the AL Central. Kluber’s 16 losses served up the most horrifying statistic of the season on a team that ranked eighth in ERA after a strong second half. The offense was significantly worse at 18th in runs scored. It all added up to a 13-game deficit behind the Royals, whose division it was to lose.
5. San Diego Padres
Since noisy offseason acquisitions always bolster expectations, San Diego had high hopes for the 2015 season. Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Justin Upton all joined the Padres to add power and depth to the lineup. James Shields and Craig Kimbrel joined a pitching staff that featured Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, giving the Pads a shot at contending for a Wild Card. (Heck, even MLB expert emeritus Tim Kurkjian had San Diego in the playoffs.)
Well, Matt Kemp was a disaster for the Padres in the earlygoing; Wil Myers was hurt most of the season and a terrible center fielder when healthy; and Andrew Cashner wen 6-16 with a 4.34 ERA. All told, San Diego was little better on offense, worse on defense, and closed the year in fourth place in the NL West with a record below .500. After longtime Padres manager Bud Black was fired, the attention returned to the field for a subpar team that should have been better.
4. Miami Marlins
Like some other non-contenders from 2014, Miami added offense (Dee Gordon, Martin Prado) and pitching (Mat Latos, Dan Haren) in hopes the team could break through with its talented young core. That hasn’t happened. Latos (4-7, 4.48 ERA) was especially disappointing while the injury to Henderson Alvarez and horrible performance of closer Steve Cishek put the Marlins in an early hole.
Outside of Giancarlo Stanton’s monster start (25 HR in 70 games before the injury) and Dee Gordon’s breakout performance (.333, 58 SB), the Miami offense was dreadful, ranking 29th in runs scored. There is still room for improvement in 2016, but Miami’s offense and injuries dragged the team down in 2015.
3. Chicago White Sox
While you could argue teams like the Marlins or Padres were long shots from the start of the season, the White Sox looked like they had a chance with Jeff Samardzija joining the rotation and David Robertson stepping in as closer. Instead, Chicago’s AL representative competed for last place in its division with an ugly (-79) run differential. The club ended 19 games behind Kansas City in fourth place.
Calls to fire manager Robin Ventura grew loud at times, but you can find the problems on the field. Samardzija (11-13, 4.96 ERA) was surprisingly bad; Jose Quintana (9-10, 3.36) was better, but not enough to bring back the team from the brink; and the Chicago offense ranked 28th in runs scored out of 30 MLB teams (29th in slugging). There is no pop on this team outside of Jose Abreu, and he didn’t repeat his massive 2014 production. Thrown in poor defense and baserunning and Chicago’s problems were everywhere.
2. Boston Red Sox
Have you heard the one about the ballplayer “liking” racy Instagram pics in the clubhouse while his team was losing on the field? Pablo Sandoval actually did that while in uniform for the Red Sox, and it was just one of the many disturbing things that happened during a dreadful Boston season. Between a lack of leadership, worse-than-expected starting pitching, a weak offense, and bad fielding, you might have a hard time knowing where to point the finger.
In any event, a team picked to win the AL East by many ESPN and CBS Sports writers claimed last place in a mediocre division with a negative run differential (-5) and a 15-game deficit in the standings. Management fired the pitching coach, so he couldn’t be blamed anymore. For a club with the third-highest payroll ($179 million) in the game, last place just isn’t an acceptable scenario.
Sandoval was a huge problem, but lackluster seasons by Mike Napoli (while in town), Rick Porcello (9-15), and Hanley Ramirez (-1.3 WAR) put the Red Sox back in the basement. After so many trades and free agent acquisitions, it’s hard to see roster moves improving the team again. Maybe next year is the one where the prospects play up to expectations the whole year (rather than just in garbage time)? The Rusney Castillo (.253, 5 HR in 80 games) Rookie of the Year predictions were among the most laughable things we heard in Spring Training, by the way.
1. Seattle Mariners
When Nelson Cruz signed with Seattle, the team looked like it had the protection for Robinson Cano it needed to make a run in the AL West. Of the 15 ESPN experts who predicted how the 2015 season would go, 10 chose Seattle to win the American League pennant. Vegas said the M’s would hit 85 wins. Sporting a 32-39 record through the team’s first 71 contests, both milestones turned out to be impossible. Seattle ended 76-86.
You can point to the terrible start Robinson Cano had, but the club’s offense outside of Cruz (.302, 44 HR) was bad, ranking 21st in runs scored. The pitching staff as a whole was below-average (22nd in ERA) with Hisashi Iwakuma’s injury hitting the team hard early. All things considered, this team was the most disappointing of the 2015 season with division’s worst run differential and the fourth-place finish.
Stats are courtesy of MLB.com.