A Look Back on April: Baseball’s 2017 Kickstart

JJ Solano

The 2017 MLB season is off and running with a ton of surprises, breakouts, and disappointments. Like every April, teams start off slow, hitters tend to shake off the rust, and pitchers adjust to the heavy burden on their arms. Some teams are exceeding predictions while others are still adjusting to roster holes and additions. And then there’s the Washington Nationals.

The Nationals are hitting like no other, maintaining three of the hottest hitters in baseball among Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Daniel Murphy (3, 4, 5 in the batting order). The trio holds the top three spots in Hits and Runs Batted In (RBI) and are each batting well above .300. As a team, the Nationals are among the top three in every major hitting category including first in Hits, Batting Average, Runs, RBI’s, Total Bases, On Base Percentage (OBP), and Slugging Percentage (SLG). The Nats’ came into the season with World Series potential so to see them produce to this extent, going higher than expectations is certainly intimidating for other National League teams. If they can establish a closer in the pen, the Nationals are undisputedly the favorite going forward.

As for the American League, the Yankees seem to be back on track with their franchise history, holding the highest winning percentage at the month’s end (.682). Rookie Aaron Judge is the talk of the town, bashing home runs consistently leading the A.L. with an impressive 10. After questions loomed throughout the preseason about the Yanks rotation, they seem to have answered those questions significantly, led by Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka who started off slow but recently just served a complete game shutout against a division rival, Boston Red Sox. With one of the deepest bullpens in the league, the Yankees may be back on top sooner than anticipated.

Around The Horn:


The National League

Eastern Division:
1). Washington Nationals, (17- 8): Their deep lineup defined production, capping off the month with a 23- 5 win over the Mets. Bryce Harper looks like he’s back in MVP form and Ryan Zimmerman is playing like he’s ten years younger (Comeback Player of the Year?). Gio Gonzalez anchors the bottom of the rotation with a 1.62 Earned Run Average (ERA) through 33.1 innings (!).

April MVP: Ryan Zimmerman, first baseman

2). Miami Marlins, (11- 12): The hole made due to the loss of Jose Fernandez will never be filled, but the middle of the order is giving the defense all the run support it needs. The 3 through 6 spot in the order all have over 15 RBI’s, and J.T. Realmuto could be in the midst of a breakout season behind the dish, offensively and defensively. The offense is well- rounded with speed and power so if the rotation utilizes the pitcher’s park advantages, the Marlins could be due for an above- .500 finish.

April MVP: Christian Yelich, outfield

3). Philadelphia Phillies, (11- 12): Being the underdog does have its upsides, especially with a young rotation learning by the day. Besides minor setbacks with injuries to their rotation, including ace Aaron Nola, the squad is led by second baseman Cesar Hernandez who is a potential batting title candidate. The Phils’ have legitimate minor league depth, including top prospects J.P. Crawford and Roman Quinn, so if the squad continues to limber, they could be called up to provide a spark.

April MVP: Cesar Hernandez, second baseman

4). Atlanta Braves, (10- 13): The offense is doing all that is needed from them featuring five regulars batting over .300 at month’s end. However, run support can’t always be the backend of a team’s success as the Braves pitching features a league worst, 158 strikeouts and a mediocre 4.13 ERA. 2015 first overall pick, Dansby Swanson has yet to live up to the hype, dropping down to 8th in the order and batting .156 through 90 at- bats.

April MVP: Freddie Freeman, first baseman

5). New York Mets, (10- 14): Hopefully the Baseball Gods won’t waste another year of one the most talented rotations among the last several decades. Steven Matz started off the season on the disabled list (DL), and ace Noah Syndergaard was just placed on the 10- day today. The injury- riddled Mets aren’t leaving the past behind them as they are hitting a grim .217. After the potential- filled rotation, there isn’t much hope for them as the bullpen rarely holds opponents to less than two runs. The Mets now look toward Michael Conforto to spark the offense. He may be their last aspiration towards success. Oh Yo, and Cespedes is on the DL too… again.

April MVP: Michael Conforto, outfield

Central Division:
1). Chicago Cubs, (13- 11): The reigning World Series champions are starting off slow, but still remain on top of the Central Division. The amount of depth and potential was shown last season, but it only got better this year with full recovery of Kyle Schwarber and the additions of established reliever Koji Uehara and All- Star closer Wade Davis. Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks both have above- 4.00 ERA’s and the Cubs have no everyday player hitting above .300 through the first month. So how are they in first? The bullpen. The heart of their pen (Wade Davis, Mike Montgomery, C.J. Edwards, Hector Rondon, and Koji Uehara) has a 1.31 ERA. Wade Davis is 6 for 6 in save opportunities and has yet to give up a run.

April MVP: Wade Davis, closer

2). Milwaukee Brewers, (13- 13): Eric Thames. Not much more is needed to be said after that as the first baseman has made a remarkable adjustment to the majors after returning from the Korean Baseball League (KBO). He’s hitting .345 with 11 dingers and 19 RBI’s. The Brewers would have been happy with 4 through April. The pitching acts a little differently as opponents have hit for an average of .270 (second worst in the league).

April MVP: Eric Thames, first baseman

3). St. Louis Cardinals, (12- 12): After Pujols left for Anaheim the Cards’ haven’t really had a catalyst, but the team has always been well- rounded offensively. Batting .254 as a team, they get just enough runs to provide for their pitching. Mike Leake has been a dramatic boost for the rotation going 3- 1 with a 1.35 ERA over 33.1 innings. The Red Birds need better play from Matt Carpenter (.243 BA with 21 strikeouts) and Stephen Piscotty (.233 BA) if they look to compete with Chicago.

April MVP: Mike Leake, starting pitcher

4). Cincinnati Reds, (11- 13): The Reds knew they lacked a rotation, especially when they chose Scott Feldman to start opening day. But former college basketball stud, Amir Garrett has given the team some light, only giving up four runs in his first 3 Major League starts (20 innings). The offense is top 10 in Runs and Total Bases, sparked by a strong middle of the order and speedster, Billy Hamilton who leads the league with 13 stolen bases. Black sheep, Eugenio Suarez is boosting the squad from the hot corner, hitting .325 with five homers and 13 RBI’s.

April MVP: Eugenio Suarez, third baseman

5). Pittsburgh Pirates, (11- 13): The loss of Starling Marte to the illegal substance suspension (80 games) is a bullet to the leg. With a young rotation in tact, the team was a potential Wild Card candidate, which would be their fourth in the past five seasons. 2012 MVP, Andrew McCutchen is clearly not the player he once was, slowly relegating due to age. The staff is anchored by former first overall pick, Gerrit Cole, former Yankee Ivan Nova, and rookie Jameson Taillon. The trio has held opposing hitters to a .225 BA and look to continue their hot start if the Pirates stand a chance in the competitive N.L. Central.

April MVP: Ivan Nova, starting pitcher

Western Division:
1). Colorado Rockies, (16- 10): The new addition of Ian Desmond will be on display this month so the phenomenal start should only get better. Besides slow starts from CarGo and Trevor Story, the pitching received a huge boost from Aaron Senzatela who went 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA. Greg Holland has so far proven worth the gamble signing as he has converted all 11 save opportunities, most in the league.

April MVP: Greg Holland, closer

2). Arizona Diamondbacks, (16- 11): Probably my favorite team to watch, the D- Backs are looking to improve their recent miseries and are praying that Zack Greinke will prove worth his contract. Six out of their eight every-day hitters are batting above .290. Goldy looks toward that 30-30 season, hitting four dingers and seven swipes through one month. Center fielder, A.J. Pollock is a terror on the basepaths and by far, the best leadoff hitter in the game (when healthy). Will Fernando Rodney continue to hold down the closer spot after a 12.60 ERA and two blown saves?

April MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, first baseman

3). Los Angeles Dodgers, (14- 12): They are 5th in the league in ERA with a cool 3.50 as well as 250 K’s. Justin Turner is hitting .387 with just nine strikeouts… but only 9 RBI’s. It’s been a weird season so far for the Dodgers, especially since their pitching has been so productive. I think the hitting will take care of itself, and the team should heat up soon, especially with the catalyst in Clayton Kershaw.

April MVP: Clayton Kershaw, starting pitcher

4). San Diego Padres, (12- 12): Wil Meyers is quickly turning into the player he was always heralded to be. The Padres were predicted for a disastrous season, but sudden outbreaks from Meyers, utility man, Yangervis Solarte, and rookie Manuel Margot have given the Padres a .500 start to the season. If the squad can just take a lead into the ninth, Brandon Maurer will shut it down.

April MVP: Wil Meyers, first baseman

5). San Francisco Giants, (9- 17): After winning three world titles in the past ten years, the Giants may be looking at a decline. Madison Bumgarner may be the best hitter on the team, after Buster Posey of course, but his bonehead dirtbike disaster should haunt the club for the next several weeks until he recovers. Until then, Giant fans should probably pray as they aren’t used to last place.

April MVP: Buster Posey, catcher

The American League

Eastern Division:
1). Baltimore Orioles, (15- 8): They may only be batting .235 as a team, but they still manage to edge out wins. The loss of Matt Wieters seems to be no big deal as Wellington Castillo is taking charge behind the dish. Even with All- Star Manny Machado starting off slower than ever, the team still managed to finish the month off in first of one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. If Jon Schoop and Adam Jones continue to get on base for the home run kings, Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis, the O’s should receive run support on the reg.

April MVP: Adam Jones, outfield

2). New York Yankees, (15- 8): Rookie Aaron Judge is the hype. After one month, he was tied for the lead in A.L. home runs with 10. He hits a dinger every 6.71 at- bats and has a .424 on- base percentage. If he can cut down on the strikeouts (24), he could be on track for an MVP year. Yes, the first rookie to win MVP since Ichiro back in 2001. Also, Starlin Castro could be due for a prime year as he is off to his best offensive start since his all- star days with the Cubs. The club is second in the league in OBP after the Nats, so they have no problem providing for the streaky rotation. The Yanks could be back on track sooner than anticipated.

April MVP: Aaron Judge, outfield

3). Boston Red Sox, (13- 11): Not 2012 again. Please no. As a Sox fan, this is a bad start of a gut punch. Chris Sale works deep innings but still receives little to no run support. He was worth the loss of Yoan Moncada as he has held opponents to a .166 BA. However, the highly touted rotation is lacking efficiency with Steven Wright settling on the DL and David Price late on his return. On the bright side, MLB’s #1 prospect, Andrew Benintendi, is utilizing all 5 of his tools and is picking up the offensive slack from Jackie Bradley Jr. (.184 BA). Once the boys start hitting, and the rotation is fully intact, the Sox could pull off a slash of wins at any time.

April MVP: Chris Sale, starting pitcher

4). Tampa Bay Rays, (12- 14): The Rays find the perfect players for their budget with offensive boosts from Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza Jr. who are both hitting above .300 with 10 or more RBI’s. The pitching has been on point with a 3.49 ERA, fourth in the league. Not much else needs to be said, except the shortly lived days of success in St. Petersburg is long gone.

April MVP: Corey Dickerson, designated hitter

5). Toronto Blue Jays, (8- 17): Wow, if someone said the Jays would be the second worst team in baseball after April (only the Royals are worse), I would’ve laughed in their face. They lost in the ALCS last year and only got rid of Edwin Encarnacion. The team is 26th in RBI’s and is batting just .235. Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ, and Tulo are back on the DL (surprise, surprise) and Jose Bautista is batting .176 with just a single home run. Hopefully, when the latter recovers, the rotation can retain the success, they were due to have with a blooming Marcus Stroman.

April MVP: Marco Estrada, starting pitcher

Central Division:
1). Cleveland Indians, (14- 10): The amount of depth on the Indians club is scary, especially with the upgrade from Mike Napoli to Edwin Encarnacion. Star second baseman, Jason Kipnis just returned from the DL and Michael Brantley is back on track from where he left off before his previous two injury- plagued seasons. Carlos Carrasco is showing ace potential with a 2.04 ERA, 34 K’s/ seven walks, and an intimidating .175 opposing batting average. No. 1 starter, Corey Kluber usually starts off raw so Tribe fans shouldn’t worry about his 5.06 ERA. Utility man, Jose Ramirez has established himself around the diamond and can really be put anywhere needed. Another World Series trip could be expected.

April MVP: Jose Ramirez, UTIL

2). Chicago White Sox, (13- 10): Where did Avisail Garcia come from? The breakout outfielder is batting .382 after April with an above- 1.000 OPS (on- base plus slugging percentage). Unfortunately for the South Side, the Sox don’t have much else going for them. Their ace, Jose Quintana, looks lost on the hill and no one knows how much longer Derek Holland and Miguel Gonzalez will hold their own. Jose Abreu must snap out of slump soon or else the Sox could lose their above- .500 record– fast.

April MVP: Avisail Garcia, outfield

3). Minnesota Twins, (12- 11): Miguel Sano! Ervin Santana! Byron Buxton!… eh not so much. The club is doing better than expected and the usual mediocrity of Ervin Santana seems to be in the past. He’s accounted for 5 of the clubs 12 wins with a league- leading 0.66 ERA. That’s a Cy Young’s pace but who knows what he’s due for since he’s had a shaky past. Miguel Sano, the highly touted player in Bobby Valentine’s Ballplayer Pelotero, is breaking out with eight dingers, 27 RBI’s, and a .317 BA. This production is what the club was looking for, and he could be looking at his first all- star selection come July. Byron Buxton, welcome to the big leagues, and yes, this isn’t what you’re used too.

April MVP: Ervin Santana, starting pitcher

4). Detroit Tigers, (12- 12): The club is aging, and no one seems to be producing from the plate. Their problems are pretty straightforward and only time could solve them. The only trace of light sparks from last year’s Rookie of The Year, Michael Fulmer whose downing opponents to a .198 batting average.

April MVP: Michael Fulmer, starting pitcher

5). Kansas City Royals, (7- 16): Six players on the roster are batting under the Mendoza Line (.200), and it doesn’t seem to be getting better [anytime soon]. The Royals are the worst team in baseball after one, and they’re playing just lazy baseball. Just by watching their games, you just get the feel they don’t want to be there. Wake up KC; you just had five months off.

April MVP: Jason Vargas, starting pitcher

Western Division:
1). Houston Astros, (16- 9): Just four years ago the MLB moved the Astros from the NL to the AL because they felt bad. Now with an extra bat in the lineup, the ‘Stros are enjoying some success in all assets surrounding the game. Jose Altuve continues to shine as one of the best overall players at just five- foot- six. The club has four players batting over .300, including the new signee of Yuri Gurriel, a Cuban defect who was a renowned power hitter throughout the island. Dallas Keuchel once again has the highest groundball rate in baseball and manages under 100 pitches every start. Houston is third in the league in ERA (3.46) and don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

April MVP: Dallas Keuchel, starting pitcher

2). Los Angeles Angels, (14- 13): Can someone name a starting pitcher on the Halos? I wouldn’t be surprised if you couldn’t. However, they’ve held opponents to just a .235 BA and had a sub- 4.00 ERA. The Dodgers seem to be getting most of the attention of in Hollywood Land, but the Angels still have the best player in baseball. Mike Trout is the pure face of the sport and could win another MVP yet again. I’d probably put my money on it actually. What else is new.

April MVP: Mike Trout, outfield

3). Oakland Athletics, (11- 14): The low- budget ballclub is looking for some Moneyball action, but unfortunately, nothing seems to be sprouting up as of now. They don’t have a single player hitting above .300, and their only offensive drive seems to be the home runs hit by Khris Davis. Rookie pitcher Andrew Triggs is 4- 1 with a 1.84 ERA, but he gave up all of his six earned runs in a single start. Ideally, the A’s need some growth in all categories. Does anyone know if they have a closer?

April MVP: Andrew Triggs, starting pitcher

4). Texas Rangers, (11- 14): For a team that loves to swipe bases and hit homers (top five in both), their record is a little deceiving. Rookie Joey Gallo is getting a shot at third since Adrian Beltre started the year off on the DL and he’s producing some long shots that are most impressive. Once Beltre comes back, however, Gallo should see a move to the DH spot and the overall offensive production should improve even more. Hopefully, Yu Darvish stays healthy, and Sam Dyson retires from pitching.

April MVP: Elvis Andrus, shortstop

5). Seattle Mariners, (11- 15): Everything was going beautifully before 26- year old rookie, Mitch Haniger went on the DL. He was batting .342 with 16 RBI’s and getting on base perfectly for Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano to knock him in. At least middle infielder Jean Segura came back from the DL and took over Haniger’s role. Defensively, James Paxton is getting the job done with 3- 0 record and a 1.43 ERA. With all the offensive potential, once Haniger comes back, the Mariners should rise in the standings.

April MVP: James Paxton, starting pitcher

It’s been a productive month in baseball, and hopefully, April’s results don’t foreshadow the fate of most ball clubs. Check out myweeklysports.com after the first week in the coming month to check out the review around the MLB.

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