MLB

Biggest winners and losers from MLB’s first month

Caption: Apr 30, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon (6) celebrates with Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy (20) and Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) after hitting a three-run home run against the New York Mets in the fourth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Dixon
Written by Michael Dixon

A month of MLB action is in the can. For some, a new month represents nothing more than a new day. For others,  new month represents new hope.

Half of the teams we’re going over are hoping they fall into Category A. The other half are clamoring for Category B.

So, who are those teams?

Which New York team is sad to see April go? Which New York team is more than happy it’s gone? The Giants and Royals won the World Series and 2014 and 2015, respectively. What’s gone wrong with them? Conversely, what’s going right with teams like the Rockies and White Sox, who haven’t done anything of note in a long time?

Who are MLB’s biggest winners and losers from April?

Note: All Stats and records are accurate through play on Sunday, April 30. 

Winner: New York Yankees

April was kind to the Bronx Bombers.

The first thing to notice is the record. At 15-8, the Yanks finished April tied with the Baltimore Orioles for the best record in the American League.

But how the record was achieved is far more impressive.

New York’s starting pitching was a question entering the 2017 season. But Yankee starters finished the month with a 3.76 ERA, the fourth-best total in the American League and ninth best in all of baseball. Their 1.17 WHIP is the best mark in either league.

Aaron Judge entered the year with some promise. But in 84 Major League at-bats in 2016, he slashed at .179/.263/.345 and struck out 42 times. It was fair to wonder if he was MLB ready.

With a .303/.411/.750 slash line and 10 home runs (which tied a rookie record for April), it’s pretty clear that he’s ready to go.

Now, how good can this team be when Gary Sanchez returns? What about when Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres finally come up?

New York hasn’t won a single playoff game since Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS. The Yankees were swept in that year’s ALCS, missed the playoffs in 2013 and 2014, lost the AL Wild Card Game in 2015 and missed the playoffs in 2016. For this team, that’s an insufferably long drought. It’s just not going to last a lot longer.

Loser: San Francisco Giants

Caption: Apr 29, 2017; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (15) in the dugout during the fifth inning against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Any way you slice it, San Francisco’s first month was a mess.

The Giants couldn’t stay healthy in April. Buster Posey spent time on the concussion DL. Brandon Crawford enters May on the disabled list. Thanks to a dirt bike accident, Madison Bumgarner is out until somewhere around the All-Star Break.

The healthy San Francisco players have been largely ineffective. The Giants are 24th in batting average, 28th in on-base percentage, 29th in slugging, 29th in runs scored, 29th in home runs, 23rd in overall ERA, 20th in starter’s ERA and 24th in bullpen ERA.

Bruce Bochy has under performed as the manager. His lineups are unimaginative and don’t put his best hitters in optimal spots. His use of the bullpen is formulaic, which doesn’t work when you only have two or three truly reliable arms — and that’s being generous.

The Giants finished April at 9-17. They never won more than two games in a row and only reached that height once. If things don’t turn around in a big way in May, San Francisco is in for a long summer.

Winner: Washington Nationals

In four of MLB’s six divisions, the top two teams are separated by a game or less. The Houston Astros closed April with a three-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West. But no team’s cushion is bigger than Washington’s. The Nats hold a five-game lead over the second place Philadelphia Phillies.

While the pitching has been an overall disappointment, the Nationals’ offense has been overwhelming.

That’s 6.8 runs per game. You’re not going to lose many games that way, even with a disappointing rotation.

Anthony Rendon closed April out with a bang. Slashing at .343/.378/.590 with five home runs, Daniel Murphy picked up right where left off in 2017. At .391/.509/.772 with nine long balls, Bryce Harper is again showing the form that won him the MVP in 2015.

But Ryan Zimmerman has been the real spark plug. He leads the team in home runs (11), RBI (29), average (.420) and slugging (.668). Perhaps most impressive is that the oft-injured Zimmerman played in 24 of the team’s 25 games.

Now, the starting pitching has been disappointing, notably in ERA. The Nationals’ 3.92 mark is 16th in the league. The front four of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark have compiled a 3.02 ERA, which would be the best total in the league by far. In other words, Washington’s starters are top notch in 80 percent of the team’s games.

It’s safe to say that April was a good month.

Loser: Toronto Blue Jays

Even with the loss of Edwin Encarnacion, the Blue Jays entered 2017 with reasonable expectations. This team has made the ALCS in two straight years, after all.  But April was not kind to Toronto.

Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki closed the month out with a combined four home runs. Donaldson and Tulowitzki both start May on the disabled list.

The starting rotation has been okay, but even that comes with an asterisk. J.A. Happ is on the disabled list. Aaron Sanchez spent most of April on the DL, returned for one start, and is heading back.

If there’s any silver lining, it’s that the Blue Jays made the ALCS in 2015 and 2016 despite having a losing April both years. But in those years, Toronto was a combined 6.5 games out of first place entering May. In 2017, the Blue Jays are eight back.

There’s not a lot for Toronto to be optimistic about following that April.

Winner: Chicago White Sox

Apr 29, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu (right) hugs right fielder Avisail Garcia (26) after hitting a home run against the Detroit Tigers in the third inning at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY

As far as baseball in the Second City goes, most of the attention goes to the Chicago Cubs. And deservedly so. The Cubs are the reigning World Series champs and lead the National League Central. But we expected them to be good. Their cross-town rivals are a different story.

The White Sox are rebuilding. This was known entering 2017. With a rebuilt farm system, Chicago had reason for optimism in the future. But 2017 was going to feature far more wins than losses. The 2016 team was 78-84 and two of its best players (Adam Eaton and Chris Sale) were traded for Minor League guys.

But the White Sox finished April at 13-10, only one-half game out of first place in the American League Central. Avisail Garcia has certainly been the catalyst. He leads Chicago in essentially every offensive category. But other hitters like Matt Davidson and Leury Garcia have also performed.

What’s amazing is that a great deal of the White Sox top players have under performed. Jose Abreu has only two home runs. Tim Anderson is slashing at .204/.237/.301. Jose Quintana has a 5.22 ERA. What happens when these guys start performing? What happens when super prospects like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada find their way to the majors?

In the interest of fairness, we need to point out that the White Sox are kind of the opposite of the Blue Jays. The South Siders finished April of 2016 at 17-8, the best record in the American League. They finished under .500. So, nobody knows better than the White Sox how quickly things can change after a hot April.

But for a team that appeared to be unquestionably rebuilding entering the year, April was a clear positive. If nothing else, it gave a sign that the Cubs aren’t the only Chicago team with a pretty darn bright future ahead of it.

Loser: New York Mets

When healthy, the Mets’ starting rotation is as formidable as any in the league. It just doesn’t get more formidable than Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and then two of Steven Matz, Seth Lugo and Zack Wheeler.

But for two years in a row, that rotation has been a MASH unit. Every one of those pitchers is either currently on the disabled list, or has been on it as recently as the end of last season.

Joining Syndergaard, Matz, and Lugo on the disabled list are Yoenis Cespedes, Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores, Brandon Nimmo and David Wright.

The good news for New York is that the aforementioned Nationals are the only National League East team with a winning record. The bad news is that the Mets are still in last place and a full 6.5 games behind the Nats.

There’s a lot of baseball to be played, but that’s a lot of ground to overcome — especially for a team with so many injuries.

New York may not be sad to see April in the rear-view mirror. But if some of these players don’t return to the field fast, May-September isn’t projecting to be much better.

Winner: Colorado Rockies

From 2007-10, the Rockies made a World Series (2007), made the playoffs twice (2007 and 2009  and posted three winning seasons (2007, 2009 and 2010). Since then, it’s been slim pickings in Colorado. The Rockies posted six straight losing seasons from 2011-16 and never won more than 75 games.

But they’re off to a stellar start in 2017. Colorado finished April at 16-10, in first place in the National League West. Even better, the Rockies are 3-2 against the Los Angeles Dodgers and a staggering 6-1 against the Giants, the two teams that have dominated the division for the last five years.

Only time will tell if this kind of run can be sustained. Colorado has certainly been known to fizzle after a hot start. But before we call the regression police, we need to remember a few things.

Trevor Story is hitting .178. Carlos Gonzalez is hitting .216. DJ LeMahieu has one home run. Ian Desmond has played in only one game. Despite that, this team ranks in the top 10 in runs scored, home runs, and slugging. How good can this offense be if things start ticking with some of its best players?

That remains to be seen. But the Rockies are clearly heading in the right direction. That’s something we haven’t been able to honestly say for a long time.

Loser: Texas Rangers

May 1, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Texas Rangers designated hitter Shin-Soo Choo (17) reacts after striking out during the eighth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Things aren’t quite as bleak for the Rangers as some other teams that we’ve gone over. But if Texas was offered a mulligan, it would be hard pressed to say no.

The Rangers offense is not overwhelming, but it’s fine. It certainly has its shortcomings, like ranking 20th in batting average (.220) and 24th in OBP (.298). But the Texas hitters also rank seventh in home runs (34) and a respectable 10th in runs scored (114). So, it could be better, but it could be worse.

The starting pitching is also fine, ranking ninth in ERA. Unfortunately, the Rangers have yet to throw a complete game. So, at some point, every game goes to the bullpen and goodness gracious, that’s a problem.

Texas is 22nd in bullpen ERA (4.85), 20th in WHIP (1.38) and 24th in strikeouts per nine innings. This isn’t a new problem for the Rangers, either. It plagued them throughout 2016 and certainly looks like it will be the team’s undoing in 2017.

Texas may not be in desperation mode yet. But this team not only won the American League West in both 2015 and 2016, but had the American League’s best record over that stretch. With that in mind, 11-14 is massively disappointing.

Winner: Houston Astros

For most teams, April records are hit or miss. Sometimes they’re vital. Other times, they don’t really preview the rest of the year. But since the Astros came out of their long rebuilding project in 2015, they’ve definitively fallen into the first group.

So, Houston should be quite happy with it’s 16-9 record entering May.

Even better for the Astros is how good the pitching has been. Houston ranks third in overall ERA (3.38), sixth in starter’s ERA (3.63), and sixth in bullpen ERA (2.91). Top to bottom, the Astros may have the best pitching in baseball.

Things haven’t even been that good for the offense, which ranks 12th in runs scored (112). But with guys like George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa, Houston has a talented group of hitters. That offense is simply not going to be fledgling in mediocrity for that long.

The first month of the season was a good message to the rest of the American League. Be afraid. The Astros are already very good and the best is yet to come.

Loser: Kansas City Royals

The Giants, Blue Jays, Mets, and Rangers all had bad Aprils. Those bad Aprils may be nothing more than a bump in the road or they may lead to bad seasons. But at the end of the day, those bad starts shouldn’t have much impact beyond 2017.

For the Royals, though, the bad start is different. It has a distinct end of an era feeling to it.

Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain are all set to be free agents at the end of the year. It would be hard for any team too bring back that many players. For a small market team like Kansas City, it’s essentially impossible.

A strong start was vital to the Royals this year. If nothing else, it would buy the team a few extra months with those core players. It’s hard to be a trade deadline seller when you’re winning. In a perfect world, another good season could generate enough revenue to bring some (or even all) of those guys back.

But at 7-16, Kansas City has baseball’s worst record. With that, it just feels like the end is near. Eventually, Dayton Moore and the Royals are going to realize that if they’re going to lose these players, they need to get something back. That’s when the trades are going to start. One shouldn’t bet on Hosmer being moved but the others are prime trade candidates.

This is an era players that brought Kansas City great memories. They helped the Royals make two straight World Series, culminating in the 2015 championship. But with a slow start to the season, it’s hard to imagine many of them will be in Kansas City for a lot longer.

About the author

Michael Dixon

Michael Dixon

Bay Area born and raised, I have extensive experience in both the print and online worlds. There are few things in this world I love doing more than talking sports.