While spending a quarter century in MLB front offices, including 15 years in the GM’s seat, it took me about four or five years to learn to not freak out during the first week of the season when things didn’t start out well.
I quickly understood that there really isn’t a reason to panic about records, certain injuries, poor performances, or when some pitchers' velocities might not be where they were expected. You learn not to panic when your lockdown closer, who’s normally lights out, blows first-week saves.
In 1995, the Cincinnati Reds started the season 0-6 and were 1-8 in the first nine games, five games out of first place. Everyone started freaking out because they thought we were going to be a bad team. At that point, I had been in the game long enough to understand how good our team was. So it was easy for me to stay calm and remind the media and fans that the season is 162 games long (though, in 1995 we started late and played 144) and during the year almost every team will go 1-8 at some point. Early-season losing gets magnified -- don't worry.
After a win on Aug. 29, we were in first by 14½ games. We won the NL Central by nine games that year.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t times for a GM to freak out after the first week, especially if you knew going into the season that you had a deficiency or that unforeseen injuries would immediately hamstring your team or weaken a deep one.
When this happens, it’s important for the GMs to stay calm -- and not let the fans, media, players and field staff know how you really feel. As the season started, you prepared for Plans A through D. Then all of a sudden you’re at D, and inching toward Plan E.
Even though we're only in the season's first week, there are five teams that have some reason to feel a little uneasy -- and all of it has to do with pitching.
1. New York Mets: Starting rotation injuries
I picked the New York Mets to win the National League East over the Washington Nationals by one game with both teams making the playoffs. I made this prediction because the Mets' starting rotation was seven deep, with three potential aces in Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, three middle rotation starters in Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler and Robert Gsellman and one back end of the rotation starter in Seth Lugo.
The best news coming out of spring training for the Mets was that Syndergaard and deGrom looked like they were going to be Cy Young Award candidates, and Harvey was better after each start -- even reaching 97 mph by his last spring start. He looked like he was four or five starts away from being the “Dark Knight” again. Wheeler also had his velocity back in the high 90s, Lugo pitched well in the World Baseball Classic, Gsellman was hitting 95 mph with good sink and Matz looked like he was overcoming his elbow problems.
Fast-forward one week into the season and things look different. Syndergaard had to leave his Opening Day start with a blister on his middle finger, Matz was placed on the 10-day DL with an elbow problem that insiders say is worse than what’s being reported, Wheeler still isn’t showing that his command and control have come back and the Mets have publicly told everyone that he’ll have a 100-120 innings limit.
The worst news is that Lugo has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. The seven-deep starting rotation is already down to five and now the front office is worried about their eighth and ninth starters -- and we’re only in the first week of the season.
Freak-out Barometer: 7 out of 10