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Best of April
Posted By Christopher Rowe On May 1 2011 @ 6:16 pm In MLB | No Comments
One month of the baseball season is in the books and while 5+ months remain, we finally have our first glimpse into what 2011 will do to surprise us. Six weeks ago we published a season preview (http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/mlb-predictions-standings-2011/ ) and now we can compare notes on the season’s first month relative to those expectations. Isn’t this just one part of why the game of baseball remains exciting and completely unpredictable?
Last year it was Jose Bautista being the only 50+ HR guy in the Majors or the rise of the Texas Rangers or the emergence of Josh Hamilton as one of the game’s premier players or was it the San Francisco Giants winning the NL West and NLCS and then finally the World Series. Take your pick or throw your own hat into the ring. Even if your name is Joey Votto (NL MVP) or Neftali Feliz (AL Rookie of the Year), you had to be a little surprised by 2010. Now we have our first real glimpse back at the first month of 2011. One month does not a season make and the baseball universe might look completely different in September but what can it hurt to get excited? This is no April Fools, merely a microcosm of what may be yet to come.
 Exciting team stories of April 2011 would include the Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians. WHAT? May 1 is about the 1/5 post of the season (30 games) and the teams boasting best record include a few surprises. Cleveland Indians (19-8) lead the way followed closely by Philadelphia (18-8), New York Yankees (16-9), Texas Rangers (16-9), Colorado Rockies (17-8) and St. Louis Cardinals (16-11). Florida (16-9) is second in NL East while Tampa Bay (15-10) combine with Kansas City (14-13 though 11-5 @ home) for best overall record with most abysmal fan support. Some of the home games @ Kauffman Stadium (avg. 8,000 per home game) or Tropicana Field look less populous than your average neighborhood block party. Florida Marlins fans seem to be staying away in droves while awaiting their new baseball palace in 2012 along with a new team name, new uniforms, new mascot and hopefully a new lease on life. Until then, Sun Life/SharkPit/Joe Robbie/Dolphins Stadium/Aquaman Park or whatever they are calling the joint this week is the only place more depressing to watch a baseball game than Tropicana Field. This mausoleum not only looks like a failing suburban mall but they have to raffle off and hand out free tickets for a home playoff game to watch the Rays! In this case, don’t blame the players, blame the fans for rampant abject apathy.
 Cleveland may be the biggest surprise. Some writers (not naming names, just saying some writers who look a lot like me) picked this team to win as few as 50 games in 2011. They boast no hitters in the Top 40 (Sizemore, Everett and Duncan don’t have enough AB yet), no pitchers in Top 10 (Masterson 5-0, 2.18 ERA and Tomlin is 4-0, 2.45 ERA both just behind in IP to qualify) but they have found a way to rack up 19 wins with one of the lowest payrolls in the majors. Not only does this prove you can’t buy a winner, but that success is blind to the checkbook. It comes to those who actually play the game fundamentally sound rather than those with the most Twitter followers or best paid PR guru.
 The big story in baseball may be the bankruptcy of the Los Angeles Dodgers and their subsequent “seized by Commissioner” status (a la the 2002 Montreal Expos). While no one plans to relocate the storied Dodgers from their home of 53 years (also the #2 media market) it is a mystery how a franchise can be unsuccessful in this climate. One player who is not worried seems to be Andre Ethier, who boasts a 26-game hitting streak and some of the best offensive numbers in the game (41 hits in 108 AB, .380 AVG, 15 runs, 3 HR, 16 RBI, .556 SLG and 60 TB). The story in nearby Anaheim is red hot Jered Weaver, who leads all pitchers with a 6-0 record, 49 strikeouts in 46 IP and an 0.99 ERA. Weaver also has 2 CG and 1 SHO in 6 starts. Placido Polanco is the unknown soldier of the Phantastic Phour Phillies but all that he has done is amass 41 hits (new team record), 2 HR, 19 RBI, 3 SB, 10 BB and just 5 strikeouts en route to a scorching .398 batting average.
Preseason picks for major awards included Miguel Cabrera (Tigers) and Prince Fielder (Brewers) for MVP, Felix Hernandez (Mariners) and Roy Halladay (PHI) to repeat as Cy Young Award winners with newcomers J.P. Arenciba (TOR) and Freddie Freeman (ATL) leading for Rookie of Year. This young season has shown us surprises such as Starlin Castro (40 hits, .348 BA, 53 TB with just 8 K), Alex Gordon (37 H, 12 2B, 2 HR, 2 triples, 19 RBI and .541 SLG with a BA in April of .339 – good for 7th best in MLB) and baseball’s version of an octogenarian, Lance Berkman (.398 BA, .753 SLG, .455 OBP with 8 HR, 22 RBI, 67 TB and 35 hits in 89 AB). Meanwhile preseason favorites (http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/mlb-predictions-standings-2011/) are essentially a split thus far as you can see below:
NL MVP Prince Fielder .333 AVG, 6 HR, 26 RBI, 62 TB, .626 SLG
AL Cy Young Felix Hernandez 3-2, 3.32 ERA, 41 IP, 35K/12BB
NL Cy Young Roy Halladay 4-1, 2.14 ERA, 47 IP, 2 CG, 47K/7BB
NL Rookie of Year Freddie Freeman .217 BA, 20H/92 AB, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 17K, 35 TB
This is not about which players have a good month as baseball is a long and arduous distance run. However, when Carl Crawford (.155 AVG, 22 TB, 15 K) isn’t hitting his weight after signing a huge contract or franchise foundation Carlos Gonzalez (.228, 1 HR, 22 K, 28 TB) hovers around the Mendoza line, it worries teams, managers, owners and fans – not to mention we media hucksters.
Ben Zobrist is third in RBI (Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder) with 25 after he put up a month’s worth of runs in ONE GAME. Andre Ethier continues his hot streak but still ranks 5th overall in BA (Matt Holliday leads with .418 followed by aforementioned Berkman & Polanco .398 then Houston’s Brett Wallace at .382). Ryan Braun (MIL) and Alfonso Soriano (CHC) find themselves tied for the HR lead with 10 while their teams jockey for position in the tight NL Central race. Angels Jered Weaver (6 wins in April) is trailed by Justin Masterson (CLE), Zack Britton (BAL) and then AJ Burnett (NYY) for wins among pitchers. Strikeout kings for April include Matt Garza (51) of the Chicago Cubs leading Weaver (LAA), Halladay (PHI), Hernandez (SEA) and Lincecum (SFG) rounding out at 45.
 What will it look like after two months and we start to see more separation? Perhaps Sam Fuld (.289, 28 H, 42 TB) will look like the next Ichiro Suzuki (.328, 39 H, 45 TB, .758 OPS) or Cole Hamels (3-1, 3.13 ERA, 33 IP, 26 H, 34K/9BB, .222 OBA and 1.11 WHIP) the next Lefty Grove. For all we know, Eddie Gaedel might pop out of the dugout and surprise us all! Keep your eye on the ball for another month of MLB in May. Anything is possible.
|MLB 2011 Preview – American League|
|http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/mlb-2011-preview-al-east/ MLB 2011 Preview National League|
|MLB 2011 Preview – Cy Young & ROY Awards|
|http://prosportsblogging.com/mlb-baseball/2011-cy-young-predictions/ MLB 2011 Preview Standings & MVP Award|
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