In baseball, a change of personality isn't always a good thing. And this year, these teams are living proof:
The Phillies offense
Last year: Third in NL in runs (840), second in homers (215)
This year: 14th in runs (644 pace), 10th in homers (153 pace)
As recently as this spring when we polled scouts, GMs, executives and players on which NL team had the best offense the Phillies got a bunch of first-place votes. But after watching them invent new ways daily not to score, many of those same people are wondering what they were thinking.
True, Jim Thome has been hurt lately and was in a massive funk before that (.203 avg., .304 slugging, just one homer). But this team's problems run deeper than that.
"I don't see any spark," one scout said. "They just wait around to see if someone hits a three-run homer."
"They're an enigma," one front-office man said. "They should be better than they are."
"The names all look good on paper," another NL scout said. "But when have they ever really done it all together?"
Perhaps you can find a trend in these numbers: Through 36 games, the Phillies were hitting .254 with the bases empty, .238 with runners on base, .234 with men in scoring position and .211 with men in scoring position and two out. Ugly.
The Indians offense
Last year: Fifth in AL in runs (858)
This year: 13th in runs (623 pace)
In that same spring-training poll, the Indians were almost universally regarded as one of baseball's up-and-coming offensive juggernauts. Then the season started, and they turned into just another jugger-not.
"I think we all expected maybe some dropoff with the loss of Omar [Vizquel] and [Matt] Lawton," assistant GM Chris Antonetti said. "But I don't think anyone expected this."
It's almost impossible for every hitter on a team to hit below his career norm. But the Indians are working on it. Through 33 games, no one on the roster was hitting above .275. Last year, eight Indians (with at least 100 at-bats) hit .275 or better.
But in a bizarre way, the disappearance of the offense fits right in on a team that has seen just about everything turn upside-down this year.
The rotation so good last season finally whittled its ERA under 5.00 in the past week. But its 4.95 ERA was still the fifth-worst in the AL. It was fifth-best last year.
Meanwhile, the Indians' bullpen was a disaster last year (4.77 ERA, with 28 blown saves in 60 opportunities). So this year, naturally, it's been their strength (2.70 ERA, just three blown saves).
"One thing we've found with bullpens," Antonetti said, "is they're inherently unpredictable. There's very little year-to-year consistency in anybody's bullpen."
Which is the perfect segue to...
The Red Sox bullpen
Last year: 3.92 ERA (fourth in AL)
This year: 4.85 ERA (11th in AL)
Try to figure this out. Of the six most-used pitchers in the current Boston bullpen, four are the same guys who were so good last year (Keith Foulke, Mike Timlin, Alan Embree, Mike Myers). And this team actually upgraded the other two spots (Matt Mantei and John Halama in place of Curtis Leskanic and Terry Adams).
"So by and large," one AL front-office man said, "it's the same bullpen as last year just with different results."
A lot of this mess, obviously, can be heaped on Foulke, who already has given up more earned runs (15) than he allowed in April, May, June, July and August put together last year (14).
But history also says Foulke is one of the best bets in any bullpen to right the ship because he's been one of the most consistent relievers of all time. He has run off six straight seasons of at least 65 appearances and a sub-3.00 ERA. Want to guess how many other relievers in history have ever done that? How about zero. (Next-longest streak: four by Dan Quisenberry, John Franco and Jeff Montgomery.)
But the Red Sox bullpen isn't the only relief crew in the league reminiscing about last summer. There's also...
The Rangers bullpen
Last year: 3.51 ERA (second in AL)
This year: 5.85 ERA (last in AL)
Unlike the tale of the Red Sox, this is one bullpen cliff dive that's a little easier to comprehend. This pen might not lead the league in saves. But it has a heck of a chance to lead the league in Tommy John surgeries.
"The team surgeon," quips one AL scout, "looks like he's going to have a big year."
The Astros offense
Last year: Fifth in NL in runs (803)
This year: Last in runs (610 pace)
This is another big-time plummet that everyone saw coming. Last season, 57 percent of the Astros' homers and 47 percent of their RBI came from Jeff Kent, Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman and Jeff Bagwell. But this year...
Kent and Beltran are gone. Berkman just got back from knee surgery a week ago. And Bagwell's shoulder has turned into fettuccine . Add it all up, and what do you get? A team that scored three runs or fewer 17 times in its first 34 games and got shut out more times in April (five) than it did all last season (three).
The Astros have been trying to trade for a bat since spring training. But at this point, they're now more likely to start thinking about a total reconstruction effort.
"That's sad, what's happened to that team," one AL executive said. "And it all started with their strategy on Beltran last winter. They let Scott Boras control their whole winter, and they missed out on a lot of other opportunities [to sign other outfielders]."
The Dodgers defense
Last year: Fewest errors in NL (73)
This year: Second-most errors (124 pace)
Now presenting one more meltdown we could all see coming.
The Dodgers' formula last year started with infield defense. A year later, gone are second baseman (Alex Cora), third baseman (Adrian Beltre), the two primary first basemen (Shawn Green, Robin Ventura) and an entire cast of catchers (Paul Lo Duca, Brent Mayne, Mark Ross).
The result is a team trying to win with wood, not leather.
"They're still a pretty good team," one front-office man said. "But you substitute Jeff Kent for Cora, Jose Valentin and whoever for Beltre, Hee Seop Choi at first and Jason Phillips trying to catch that's a lot of positions to downgrade."
Cardinals and Brewers running games
Last year: 111 steals for Cardinals, second in NL; 138 steals for Brewers, first
This year: 14th in steals for Cardinals (52 pace); 16th in steals for Brewers (39 pace)
Last year, these two teams did more running than sprinter Maurice Green. This year, neither has stolen as many bases as Willy Taveras.
The Brewers, in fact, have actually been thrown out stealing more times (10) than they've been safe (8). So they're well on their way to becoming the first team to go from first in its league in steals to last since Dave Philley's 1949-50 White Sox.
"The Brewers that's all Scott Podsednik [now in Chicago]," one scout said. "And it's funny how, when you subtract [Tony] Womack and [Edgar] Renteria, the Cardinals don't have much speed all of a sudden."
But obviously, both of these teams are proving that, as Keanu Reaves once discovered, there is life after speed. The Cardinals still lead the league in runs scored. And the Brewers are on pace to score 141 more runs than last year.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.