Tuesday, May 2, 2017

On Deck Circle 5/2/17: April MLB Recap

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

We have made it through one month of the MLB season as April is now behind us. Typically, the month of April is filled with a false sense of hope or despair, a hot or cold start to the season and fans begin to read too much into it. Baseball is a very long season, teams have only played around 25 games in a 162 game season, so it’s way too soon to jump to any conclusions on how a team or player will fare. So while April is not a true indicator on how a teams’ season is going to go, there are definitely some things to take away from it and also some things to keep an eye on as we head into May. Here are a few highlighted stories to recap the month of April.

1. The New York Yankees - The many of us (myself included) that have been reveling in the struggles that the Yankees have faced over the past couple of seasons may have to wipe that grin off of our faces. Picked to finish 4th or 5th in the AL East in preseason, the Yankees are currently tied for 1st place with the Baltimore Orioles with a 15-8 record. They are not only tied with the Orioles for the AL East, but also tied with them for the best record in the AL. Rookie Aaron Judge is leading the way for them on offense with a .303 batting average with 10 home runs and 20 RBI’s. The pitching has been the key though, Luis Severino and Michael Pineda have been dealing for the team and if Masahiro Tanaka finds his groove like he did towards the end of last season then this rotation could keep this team in the playoff hunt all season long. It would seem as though the Yankees did not stay down long and will be a competitive team again in 2017.

2. Chicago White Sox – While the Yankees’ surprising start to the season is noteworthy, no team has had a more surprising good start than the Chicago White Sox. Over the last 2 seasons, and this offseason in particular, the White Sox have gone into full rebuild mode. They gutted the roster for the most part, trading their best players away for prospects, and being inactive in free agency while they build their farm system up. Some were saying that this team might lose 100 games this season, so the bar was set real low for the south siders but right now they are anything but a potential 100 loss team. They are currently 13-10 and only .5 games back of the Cleveland Indians for 1st place in the division. While we will have to wait it out to see if the hitting of Avasail Garcia and the pitching of Derek Holland and Miguel Gonzalez holds up, but a month into the season and the White Sox are standing toe-to-toe with the defending AL champions. All eyes in Chicago have been on the Cubs lately, but if the White Sox keep this up then they may take some shine off their cross town rival here, and this rebuilding process may be coming along a lot faster than most anticipated.

3. Eric Thames and Chase Anderson – These are two real good stories here and both happen to play for the Brewers. Eric Thames started his MLB career back in 2011 for the Toronto Blue Jays. He then played the 2012 season with the Blue Jays and the Mariners, and that was the end of his MLB career…or so we thought. Thames spent the 2013 season in the minors then the next 3 seasons he played in South Korea before attempting a comeback this season. Thames not only made the team but has been the Brewers best hitter, currently batting .345 and is tied for the MLB lead with 11 home runs. He is also responsible for the best interview clip of the season, after it was revealed that he's been drug tested numerous times already as he hot start is drawing some skepticism, he claimed his innocence and said they could test him as many times as they wanted, saying that he has "plenty of blood and urine to spare." If he keeps this up and the Brewers are in the playoff race, we might see him go from out of the league to a potential MVP candidate.
Starting pitcher Chase Anderson’s time in the MLB was almost up, the 29 year old was in a rotation battle for the final spot and if he were to be optioned to triple A then that could have been the end of his MLB career. He won the job as 5th starter and is currently a big reason that Milwaukee is only 1 game back of 1st place in the NL Central. He’s 2-0 on the season, with a 2.10 ERA and 1.07 WHIP and also leads the team in strikeouts with 24. It’s safe to say that he has locked down a starting job for good and doesn’t need to worry about being sent down to triple A any time in the near future now, a good story of someone that had one more chance and has taken advantage of it.

4. The NL West – 2011 was the last time that an NL West team not named the San Francisco Giants or the Los Angeles Dodgers have won the division, and the Dodgers have won it 4 straight years. This year could be a different story, as the Giants have stumbled big time and have lost their ace Madison Bumgardner for at least 2 months and the Dodgers have been around .500 for majority of this month. The Arizona Diamondbacks (16-11) and Colorado Rockies (16-10) have taken full advantage of the slow starts by the Dodgers and Giants, and have vaulted themselves to 1st and 2nd in the division.
The NL West was originally thought to be a 2 team race between SF and LA but Arizona and Colorado have currently made some good cases to take them seriously as they look to dethrone the 2 teams that have had a stranglehold on the division. The Dodgers ended April on a 4 game winning streak which put them only 2.5 games back of the division lead, so they are making a charge to the top and it will be interesting to see if they can continue to climb or if either Colorado or Arizona can win the division this season.

5. Washington's Offense - The Washington Nationals have been known for their starting pitching, with a rotation that may be the best in baseball. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez make for a dominant 1-2-3 punch. But the story in Washington isn't about their pitching, it's been about their offense which is hitting the cover off the ball this season. Washington's offense is on a record pace, breaking some month of April records and their offense ranks 1st in just about every category. On the last day in April, they put a stamp on the month by scoring 23 runs against the Mets, the 7th time in their 25 games that they've scored at least 10 runs. They are on an absolute tear this season and putting up runs at an incredible pace, making them a very scary team considering the pitching staff that they have as well. They did lose Adam Eaton for the season though so that could definitely affect how their offense performs going forward, but this was a ridiculous month of hitting for the Washington Nationals.

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