Major League Baseball: A look back at the first month
By Brandon Reid
Although much can change during the course of a complete Major League Baseball season, the first month of baseball has revealed some winners and losers and some surprises and disappointments.
Before breaking down the American and National leagues, following are a few notes about the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox.
As expected, Cubs fans will likely have to “Wait ’til next year” to start thinking about the World Series.
Although only one month of baseball has been played, the Cubs, in their first year under Manager Dale Sveum, showed few signs of a team that could contend this season. However, with some young talent at both the major and minor league levels, and Theo Epstein on board as president of baseball operations, the Cubs have reason to be hopeful about the future.
The Cubs finished April last in the National League (N.L.) Central with a record of 8-15. They hit .237 in April and had the fewest home runs in all of baseball with nine. Their 4.21 team ERA ranked 13th out of 16 in the N.L., and their bullpen was tied for the fewest saves in the league with two. The Cubs did, however, rank second in the N.L. in stolen bases with 20.
Individual bright spots (stats as of May 3): First baseman Bryan LaHair was hitting .381 with six home runs, 12 runs scored and 14 RBIs; shortstop Starlin Castro was hitting .340 with 11 runs scored, 14 RBIs and 10 stolen bases; center fielder Tony Campana was hitting .355 with seven runs scored and seven stolen bases; starting pitcher Matt Garza was 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA and 36 Ks; and starting pitcher Ryan Dempster was 0-1 with a 1.33 ERA and 23 Ks in three starts.
Chicago White Sox
After losing Manager Ozzie Guillen and starting pitcher Mark Buehrle to Miami, right fielder Carlos Quentin to San Diego and closer Sergio Santos to Toronto, few gave the White Sox any hope of finishing above .500 in 2012. In fact, Sports Illustrated projected the Sox would finish last in the American League (A.L.) Central with a record of 67-95.
Despite the pessimistic preseason outlook, the Sox, under first-year Manager Robin Ventura, managed to finish April second in the A.L. Central with a record of 11-11, one game behind the first-place Cleveland Indians.
The Sox boasted the third-lowest team WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) in all of the major leagues. They were also tied for the third-lowest team ERA in the A.L. and were tied for first with the New York Yankees with the most strikeouts (192) in the A.L.
Despite their success on the mound, the Sox struggled slightly at the plate. They led the A.L. with 180 strikeouts, had a .241 team batting average and hit 23 home runs, tied for sixth in the A.L.
Individual bright spots (stats as of May 3): Catcher A.J. Pierzynski hit .289 with five home runs and 18 RBIs; first baseman Paul Konerko hit .352 with five home runs, 13 runs and 16 RBIs; designated hitter/first baseman Adam Dunn hit .238 with six home runs, 13 runs and 17 RBIs; Jake Peavy was named A.L. Pitcher of the Month after posting a 1.67 ERA with two complete games, one shutout and 33 Ks; Chris Sale was 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA and 29 Ks; Philip Humber pitched a perfect game; and relief pitcher Addison Reed had yet to give up a run in 8 2/3 innings.
A.L. Biggest Surprise: Baltimore Orioles — The young Orioles are off to a surprisingly good start, finishing April one game behind the first-place Rays and ahead of the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox in the competitive American League East.
With a record of 14-9 (.609), the Orioles had the third-most home runs (30) in the American League in the month of April, trailing only the New York Yankees (37) and defending two-time American League champion Texas Rangers (36).
The Orioles also registered the second-best ERA (3.03) in the American League in April.
The Orioles’ statistical leaders in April included catcher Matt Wieters (.279, 6 HRs, 15 RBIs), left fielder Nolan Reimold (.313, 5 HRs, 10 RBIs) and center fielder Adam Jones (.333, 6 HRs, 12 RBIs).
Starting pitchers Jason Hammel (3-1, 1.97 ERA, 30 Ks), rookie Wei-Yin Chen (2-0, 2.22 ERA, 19 Ks) and Jake Arrieta (1-2, 4.45 ERA, 24 Ks) bolstered the rotation, while closer Jim Johnson had seven saves and had yet to give up a single run over 8 2/3 innings.
The biggest area of concern for the Orioles after one month may be patience at the plate. The Orioles were fourth in the American League in strikeouts (171) in April. However, as long as the starting pitching holds up, the Orioles could be in contention throughout the season.
A.L. Biggest Disappointment: Los Angeles Angels — As is often the case with professional sports teams compiled through large free-agent signings, expectations were high for the Los Angeles Angels following the Dec. 10, 2011, free-agent signing of first baseman Albert Pujols.
Pujols, a three-time National League Most Valuable Player with a career .328 average and 445 home runs, was considered the biggest name on the free-agent market. However, he had yet to hit a single home run in an Angels’ uniform after one month of play. At the end of April, Pujols was hitting .217 with eight runs scored, 4 RBIs, an on-base percentage of .265 and a slugging percentage of .304.
Despite the signings of Pujols and free-agent pitcher C.J. Wilson, the Angels were in last place in the American League West after one month with a record of 8-15 (.348).
The Angels had the third-fewest home runs (17) in April and had a 3.97 team ERA.
Chances of a turnaround appear slim, although the starting pitching remains strong. At nine games out of first after one month of play, however, the Angels desperately need Pujols to start living up to his MVP potential if they are to have any chance at the playoffs.
A.L. World Series Watch: Texas Rangers — The two-time defending A.L. champion Texas Rangers finished April with the best record in baseball (17-6, .739). Their hot start was propelled by the highest batting average (.291), second-most home runs (36) and lowest ERA (2.81) in the A.L.
As long as they remain healthy, the Rangers have a good chance of returning to the World Series in 2012.
A.L. Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles — Entering his second full season with the Orioles, 56-year-old Buck Showalter had his young team one game out of first place in the American League East at the end of April with a record of 14-9 (.609) (see “A.L. Biggest Surprise” entry for more about the Orioles).
The Orioles have finished last in the division for the past four seasons, failing to win more than 70 games in each of those seasons. They last finished above .500 in 1997, when they ended the regular season 98-64 and lost the American League Championship Series 4-2 to the Cleveland Indians.
Showalter had the Orioles off to a solid start in 2011, finishing April 12-13. However, the team finished last in the division in 2011 with a 69-83 record.
If the Orioles continue to win at their current clip, they are on pace to finish 99-63. Such a turnaound would certainly earn Showalter Manager of the Year consideration.
A.L. MVP: Josh Hamilton, CF, Texas Rangers — This is a no-brainer after one month of the season. Josh Hamilton dominated in April, hitting .395 with a league-leading nine home runs, 25 RBIs, 20 runs scored, an on-base percentage of .438 and a slugging percentage of .744. And his team had the best record in all of baseball.
As long as he stays healthy, Hamilton is well on his way to winning his second MVP award, having won his first in 2010.
A.L. Cy Young: Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels — The Angels’ Jered Weaver gets the nod as the early A.L. Cy Young Award favorite.
After five starts, Weaver was third in the A.L. in strikeouts with 36 (strikeout leader Felix Hernandez of Seattle was at 42, but also had one more start in April than Weaver).
Weaver was 3-0 with a 2.02 ERA over 35 2/3 innings pitched in April. His WHIP stood at 0.95.
A.L. Rookie of the Year: Yu Darvish, SP, Texas Rangers — Yu Darvish, the 25-year-old Japanese import, was 4-0 with a 2.18 ERA and 33 Ks in five starts with the Texas Rangers in April. If his numbers continue to hold up, he could be a contender for the A.L. Cy Young Award at the end of the season.
Other leading contenders include Baltimore starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, Oakland starting pitcher Tommy Milone, Tampa Bay starting pitcher Matt Moore, Oakland outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and Seattle catcher Jesus Montero.
A.L. Managers on the Hot Seat: None — It’s still way too early to put any managers on the hot seat in the American League. However, if Kansas City’s Ned Yost, Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire and Los Angeles’ Mike Scioscia do not get things turned around with their respective teams before the end of the season, they may find themselves on the hot seat. The Royals were 6-15 in April, the Twins 6-16 and the Angels 8-15.
N.L. Biggest Surprise: New York Mets — Considering the great starts by the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers, this pick itself may seem like a bit of a surprise. However, anyone who has been paying attention knows the Nationals and Dodgers are both loaded with talent, and their hot starts are not that surprising. But a 13-10 start from the New York Mets seemed unlikely from a team projected by many to finish last in the N.L. East.
The Mets, under second-year manager Terry Collins, had the second-highest team batting average (.268) and on-base percentage (.341) in the N.L. in April.
On the mound, the Mets had the fifth-most strikeouts in the N.L., although their team ERA stood at 4.35.
Individual performances by shortstop Ruben Tejada (.305, 13 runs scored), third baseman David Wright (.392, 3 HRs, 16 runs scored, 14 RBIs), center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.310, 2 HRs, 11 runs scored), starting pitcher Johan Santana (0-2, 2.25 ERA, 29 Ks) and closer Frank Francisco (five saves) helped lead the way for the Mets.
Despite their solid start, the Mets are trapped in a division with the red-hot Nationals, the Atlanta Braves and perennial contenders the Philadelphia Phillies. The Mets are unlikely to remain in contention throughout the season. To do so, they would need to develop some more power at the plate and stronger pitching on the mound.
N.L. Biggest Disappointment: Philadelphia Phillies — Although they finished April with the third-lowest WHIP and fourth-lowest ERA in the N.L., an 11-12 start by the Philadelphia Phillies is still a disappointment from a team with sights set on the World Series.
Injuries to first baseman Ryan Howard (0 games), starting pitcher Cliff Lee (three starts) and second baseman Chase Utley (0 games) have left the Phillies struggling.
Without offensive leaders Howard and Utley, the team hit just .247 in April and had just 14 home runs (tied for fifth-worst in the N.L.).
Speculation is Howard won’t be ready until at least late May or early June, and Utley continues to struggle with knee injuries that limited him to 103 games in 2011.
The Phillies placed Lee on the 15-day disabled list April 21 with a strained left oblique muscle. He is eligible to return from the DL May 4.
Despite their team’s struggles, catcher Carlos Ruiz (.329, 4 HRs, 10 runs scored, 17 RBIs) and center fielder Shane Victorino (.245, 4 HRs, 10 RBIs, 13 runs scored, 8 stolen bases) were keeping the team afloat offensively.
The good news is the Phillies still have one of the strongest starting rotations in the game with Roy Halladay (3-2, 3.40 ERA, 29 Ks), Cole Hamels (3-1, 2.78 ERA, 36 Ks), Vance Worley (2-1, 1.97 ERA, 32 Ks), Joe Blanton (2-3, 3.81 ERA, 15 Ks) and Lee (0-1, 1.96 ERA, 18 Ks in three starts) all pitching solidly.
Considering their outstanding pitching staff, it’s still too early to rule the Phillies out. But they desperately need the bats of Howard (33 HRs, 116 RBIs last season) and Utley if they have any hopes of keeping up with the Nationals and Braves in the N.L. East.
N.L. World Series Watch: St. Louis Cardinals — Although the Nationals, Braves and Dodgers are off to good starts, the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals still appear to be the best in the N.L. after one month.
Despite the losses of Manager Tony LaRussa and first baseman Albert Pujols during the off-season, the Cardinals looked just as good as ever in April.
The Cardinals, under first-year manager Mike Matheny, had the highest batting average (.280), on-base percentage (.350) and slugging percentage (.442) in the N.L., while hitting the second-most home runs (24) and tallying the second-most runs scored (113).
The Cardinals were just as strong on the mound as at the plate, boasting the lowest team WHIP (1.037) and the second-lowest team ERA (2.61) in the N.L. in April.
Catcher Yadier Molina (.318, 4 HRs, 17 runs scored, 15 RBIs), shortstop Rafael Furcal (.330, 18 runs scored), third baseman David Freese (.317, 6 HRs, 23 RBIs), left fielder Matt Holliday (.250, 5 HRs, 17 RBIs, 15 runs scored), center fielder Jon Jay (.429, 2 HRs, 10 runs scored, 8 RBIs) and right fielder Carlos Beltran (.279, 7 HRs, 18 RBIs, 20 runs scored) lead one of the most potent lineups in the game.
Meantime, rookie Lance Lynn (5-0, 1.60 ERA, 30 Ks), Kyle Lohse (4-0, 1.62 ERA, 21 Ks), Jaime Garcia (2-1, 2.78 ERA, 20 Ks), Jake Westbrook (3-1, 1.30 ERA, 15 Ks) and Adam Wainright (1-3, 6.75 ERA, 27 Ks) compose one of the strongest rotations in the game.
As long as this team remains healthy, they have a good chance at repeating as N.L. champs.
N.L. Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers — In his second year at the helm of one of the most storied franchises in all of sports, 51-year-old Don Mattingly guided the Los Angeles Dodgers to the best record (16-7, .696) in the N.L. in April.
With the retirement of former manager Joe Torre and the off-the-field distractions caused by team ownership, the Dodgers managed to climb to an 82-79 record last season. However, considering the amount of talent on the team, many had higher hopes for the Dodgers last year.
So far in 2012, with the ownership issues behind them, Mattingly seems to have the Dodgers on the right track. Dodgers pitchers had the most strikeouts (195) in all of baseball in April and the fifth-lowest team ERA and fourth-lowest team WHIP in the N.L. in April. They also have one of the best players in baseball in center fielder Matt Kemp.
The Dodgers will certainly be contenders throughout the season, and will be among the favorites for the World Series in the N.L.
N.L. MVP: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers — Just as Josh Hamilton was the no-brainer choice for MVP in the A.L. in April, Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp is the clear favorite for MVP after one month of play in the N.L.
Kemp led the N.L. in batting average (.417), slugging percentage (.893), home runs (12), RBIs (25) and runs (24) in April.
N.L. Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals — Twenty-three-year-old Stephen Strasburg is the leading candidate for the N.L. Cy Young Award after one month of baseball.
Strasburg anchored a rotation that boasted the lowest ERA and was tied for the most strikeouts in all of baseball in April.
After being limited to just five starts in 2011, Strasburg was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 34 Ks in five starts this April.
N.L. Rookie of the Year: Lance Lynn, SP, St. Louis Cardinals — St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Lance Lynn is the leading candidate for N.L. Rookie of the Year after one month of play.
The 24-year-old Lynn was 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA and 24 Ks in April.
N.L. Managers on the Hot Seat: Buddy Black, San Diego Padres — The San Diego Padres had the worst record (7-17, .292) in the N.L. in April. While it would usually be too soon to put many managers on the hot seat after just one month of play, Buddy Black is entering his sixth season as manager of the Padres.
Although he was named N.L. Manager of the Year in 2010 after his team finished second in the division with a 90-72 record, he is 397-440 (.447) overall as Padres manager. He finished 89-74 (third) in 2007, 63-99 (fifth) in 2008, 75-87 (fourth) in 2009, 90-72 (second) in 2010 and 71-91 (fifth) in 2011.
In April, Black’s team had the lowest batting average (.215) and most errors (29, as of May 3), and the second-fewest home runs in all of baseball (11). The Padres’ team ERA was 3.53.
If the Padres fail to make it out of the cellar, Black’s seat will get warmer and warmer as the season progresses.
Posted May 3, 2012
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