The Month in Review: April
Every April, year after year, there are the big suprises (teams or players) that get off to hot starts and there are also the disappointments of the month. One thing for sure is that, the MLB season is a lengthy one. Teams are given 162 chances and then the playoffs to prove that they are the best and the best teams will win the divisions and the worst teams will finish last. That’s what makes the game so great, the fact that there are so many chances to prove that you are the best. According to descriptive statistics, Major League Baseball is the sport that gives the best chances at seeing the true best team in the league (descriptive statistics involve the collection of data).
April provides the suprises by underdogs and by the unexpected players. It involves dissapoint from the supposive “good” teams and slow starts by perennial all stars. Here are my thoughts on the month that was.
American League: Mike Lowell
The power behind the big Boston win streak, Lowell is third in the league with 23 RBIs. He is also hitting .310 and has four homeruns in the first month. He seems to have recovered from his injury just fine and do the Red Sox ever need him to be hitting like this or what.
National League: Adrian Gonzalez
He has nine homeruns and twenty RBIs for the 11-11 Padres. A great hitter with a great approach at the plate leads the National League in homers. He’s also slugging .704 with an OBP of .438.
April Cy Youngs
American League: Zack Greinke
Well, I talk about him later here but he is 5-0 with 44 strikeouts and leads the league with a 0.50 ERA.
National League: Johan Santana
Maybe if the Mets bullpen could hold together for him, he would have another win. He is 3-1 with the best ERA in the National League (1.10) and is tied with Greinke for the most strikeouts in the league.
Team that suprised: Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays are the one team in the AL East that I did not expect. I thought their offense was too unproductive (although I do think Adam Lind and Travis Snider are going to be great) and I thought the loss of Burnett killed them. Well, they have had different ideas throught the first month of the season as the offense is the best in the American League thus far and the pitching has certianly stepped up as pitchers with injuries have gone down.
Team that disappointed: New York Mets
This offense was supposed to produce runs and keep them in games as the back end of their rotation is shaky. But they are less than average and have a 9-12 record so far. The Mets with their revamped ‘pen are also 4-5 in one-run affairs which doesn’t give me much confidence that they’ll win close ballgames.
Best story: Zack Greinke
Right now, he poses a threat for the pitching triple crown. The first MLB pitcher to reach the five win mark also leads the league in ERA and is tied for the lead league in strikeouts with Johan Santana. His 0.50 ERA was all zeros going into his fifth start as well. He’s the leader of a great rotation in Kansas City that consists of Gil Meche, Kyle Davies, Sidney Ponson, and Horacio Ramirez. Okay, so maybe Ponson and Ramirez need to work on a few things, but if Davies can keep up what he’s done thus far, those Royals lead by Greinke, will be in the October hunt because pitching wins. Perhaps the best part of this story is that Greinke overcame depression and anxiety disorder to get to where he’s been today.
Best moment: Ellsbury steals home
In the final game of a heck of a series last weekend, Jacoby Ellsbury took off on a straight steal of home against veteran Andy Pettite. In a rivalry series, on primetime television, in a tie game, only making it a walkoff steal would have made it better, but hey, you can’t have everything. As I said in my most recent Monday Ten post, I didn’t even see it live but I had to watch the steal over and over online once I heard about it. The steal of home just capped off a great series for the Sox against the Bombers as they swept them right out of Boston.
Questions to Consider:
Feel free to answer these questions as comments as well, I want to know what you all think.
1. Will the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to lead the entire league in ERA?
No, the ERA has risen over the past week as the Buccos are on a three-game skid. Expect some more of those.
2. Will Wandy Rodriguez keep up his performance thus far?
Well a 1.69 ERA is good, but the 2-2 record basically explains how good the team is. I’ll answer this by saying the Astros need him to keep it up.
3. Over/Under Nats wins: 50
4. Over/Under Mariners ERA after May: 3.50
5. Who will be leading the AL Central at the All Star break?
Still too early to tell, but I’ll say the White Sox.
6. When will the Rays start to turn it around?
Right now, did you see Matt Garza last night.
7. Who/what will give up more homeruns, the Phillies at home or Yankee Stadium?
8. When will the Cubbies listen to Alfonso Soriano and get back to 2008 form?
Mid-May. They’re too good for this.
It is said that April showers bring May flowers. If you consider this past April showers, then these flowers are going to be some good ones.
Team’s true colors may be starting show now, so here’s this weeks power rankings:
1. Toronto Blue Jays (14-6) (3)
They’re scoring the most runs in the league per game and they’re third in the AL in ERA. All with half their rotation on the DL. As long as they keep scoring runs and Roy Halladay is their ace, expect ongoing success.
2. St. Louis Cardinals (13-6) (4)
They’ve played a lot of games at home so far (10-3 at Busch) but their pitching staff has been solid thus far and Albert Pujols continues to be well, be Albert Pujols.
3. Boston Red Sox (12-6) (10)
Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home became an instant classic moment of the 2009 season. I didn’t even see it live, but I watched the replay over and over because it was so great. Terry Francona loved, Boston loved it, I loved it, and I love the way the Red Sox are playing right now.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (13-6) (1)
Clayton Kershaw got roughed up yesterday and there were some miscues, but teams have those games. The Dodgers still lead the entire league in WHIP and are second in the NL in batting average.
5. Seattle Mariners (12-7) (5)
Pitching, pitching, pitching. Second in the AL in ERA.
6. Detoit Tigers (10-8) (9)
Offense is coming through as Miguel Cabrera continues to tear.
7. Kansas City Royals (9-9) (7)
This staff is doing a real nice job thus far this season. If only they could start scoring some runs. They lead the American League in ERA and WHIP and last time I checked Zack Greinke still hasn’t let up an earned run.
8. Chicago Cubs (9-8) (8)
They’re still striking out batters at an alarming rate but a few key offensive players are struggling and/or hurting.
9. Pittsburgh Pirates (11-7) (NR)
Wow, who would have thought. The Buccos lead the entire league in ERA (2.97) but I’m hesistant to put them any higher.
10. Florida Marlins (11-7) (2)
I’ll put it this way, they haven’t won a game since last week’s Monday Ten. All the team’s suprises have kind of fallen back to earth. Emilio Bonifacio had a rough week and you all saw that bullpen against the Phils.
Speaking of those Phillies–
Pushing the Ten: Philadelphia Phillies (9-8)
San Diego Padres (10-8)
First of all, congrats to Raul Ibanez for hitting his first homerun as a Philadelphia Phillies player. It’s nice to see a homerun coming off of our bat for once this series.
Heading into the bottom of the seventh, down 10-3, I had lost all hope and figured that the Phillies were going to swept right out of the opening series by the homer-happy Braves. In fact, I was willing to give up on the game once Joe Blanton had a rough third, and even more so ready to throw in the towell when JA Happ gave up the two run shot to Jordan Schafer in the fifth.
Then just as I was about to leave the radio and head off to the gym, Chase Utley blooped a single into center and Ryan Howard was hit by a pitch. I figured that I would stay until the end of the inning. Well, eight runs later I was still sitting at my computer listening to the game.
The Phils bottom of the seventh consisted of five hits, six walks, eight runs, and four Atlanta relievers. The Braves bullpen imploded. They couldn’t find the strikezone and I’m suprised the Phillies aggressive bats let the Braves put that many on. One thing the Phillies didn’t prove to me during the playoffs last season was that they aren’t the team to work the walk. They would swing at ball three or ball four in a 2-2 or 3-1 count. But today, they discovered a patience they never had before and it turned out to be the difference in the ballgame.
In that dreaded seventh inning for the Braves, Eric O’Flaherty, Peter Moylan, Blaine Boyer, and Jorge Campillo surrendered six walks and five singles. All eight runs scored were earned by the Braves pitchers and Moylan and Boyer don’t even have ERA’s.
How clutch did the Eric Bruntlett sac fly turn out to be? In the bottom of the eighth Bruntlett brought home a run as insurance for Brad Lidge. It turned out that it was needed and kept Lidge’s streak alive. Lidge ended up giving up a homerun to Matt Diaz on a slider but no blown save was to be had. Lidge recorded his first save of the year after a slider in the dirt got Garrett Anderson to swing and miss.
“Put this one in the win column for the Fightin’ Phils.”
CHARLIE DOUBLE SWITCHES
Charlie Manuel ended up using the double switch today in that pivotal seventh inning. He sent Matt Stairs up to hit for Carlos Ruiz (maybe a fear factor for the pitcher). Brought Chris Coste in to pinch hit for the pitcher, then sent Coste in to catch and the pitcher spot was now in the eight hole. To anyone that doesn’t know, there was concern that Charlie didn’t know how to use the double switch. Well today he utilized it (even though it wasn’t the usual double-switch situation). I applaud you Uncle Charlie.
Those rings are nice aren’t they? It was awesome to see Pat Burrell back again (I think he got emotional–hence the shades). And yes, we did boo Adam Eaton.
SOUTHPAW SQUAREOFF AT FENWAY
It looks like Scott Kazmir got the best of Jon Lester tonight in Boston. Through four innings, Lester looked great. But then in the fifth, a few flyballs fell in that probably could have been caught. Both flyball “singles” involved Jed Lowrie running backwards and I’m not sure if he got in the way of Jason Bay and Jacoby Ellsbury, but it looked like it. So don’t look at Lester’s five earned and think he got rocked. Although Carlos Pena did rock one pitch on the three run bomb to center.
Jed Lowrie seems to be the goat of the night. There were the flyball situations, and he also struck out twice. Once was with the bases loaded and two outs late in the game. Even if Julio Lugo was healthy, I would stick with Lowrie at short. Who cares about how much he’s getting to sit on the bench? Jed’s the future.
How good does Akinori Iwamura look at the bottom of that lineup? Normally the nine-hole is also called the “second leadoff spot.” Aki, along with Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford combined for nine hits in fourteen at-bats. That will definately make this lineup go as the season progresses and they may be the key.
I look forward to the rest of these Rays/Sox matchups.
Season Preview: Boston Red Sox
Projected MLB Rank: 2nd — AL Rank: 1st — AL East Rank: 1st — Record: (97-65)
American League East Champions
They have all the makings of a championship run. They’ve done it before, why not again? With a strong rotation and a strong lineup, this team will do special things this season if they can stay healthy.
Starting with the rotation, it is lead by Josh Beckett who needs to stay away from injury (which wasn’t the case last season). The Sox might be able to afford one DL stint, because of the depth they have in their rotation with Clay Buchholz and John Smoltz, but nothing more from the righthander. Daisuke Matsuzaka had a Cy Young caliber year last season posting a 2.90 ERA and going 18-3. He still has some control issues, but seems to work his way out of every jam he gets himself into.
Lefty Jon Lester is poised for a breakout season. Entering his fourth season with in the big leagues, Lester had his best season last year with 3.21 ERA and 16 wins. I’m expecting a great year out of the Red Sox future ace. Then there’s Tim Wakefield. I don’t know how he keeps doing it. Last year, the 42 year old had solid numbers. The knuckleballer posted a 4.13 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP and a .228 BAA. A great back of the rotation guy. The fifth starter is going to be Brad Penny (for now). He had a rocky year last year but has been throwing well and hard this spring. By mid-season, Clay Buchholz might be back in the rotation if all doesn’t go well for Penny.
The Red Sox boast one of the best bullpens in the American League. Largely to the fact that Jonathan Papelbon has solidified himself as one of the best closers in the game today. His 41 saves, 2.34 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 77 strikeouts in 69 innings last year prove just that. It seems as if Justin Masterson never gets a shot in the rotation (even though he started nine games last year). The 24 year old posted a 3.16 ERA last season in 36 total games and I’m guessing he will be Papelbon’s set up man this year.
Bringing in Takashi Saito may be one of the most underrated moves of the offseason. Saito posted a 2.49 ERA with the Dodgers before going down to injury. He’s 39 and has save experience, which is never a negative. Now lefty-specialist, Hideki Okajima, will provide reliability out of the bullpen this year as he saved his stats with a solid second half ending the year with a 2.61 ERA in 64 appearences. Then there’s Manny Delcarmen. He throws hard and last year in over 70 games the righthander posted a 3.27 ERA. Javier Lopez also had a fine season with a 2.43 ERA in 70 games and Ramon Ramirez comes in from KC where he posted a 2.64 ERA in almost 72 innings.
What a pitching staff.
Jacoby Ellsbury has got to get on base more if he wants to stay the leadoff hitter, and this year he will have every day to do it no that Coco Crisp was shipped south. Ellsbury’s .336 OBP isn’t a leadoff man’s OBP. Once he starts taking walks, expect his 50 stolen bases to be the low of his career for a bunch of years. Reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedrioa will put up more MVP caliber seasons no matter how tall he is. There’s those guys that you just win with and Dustin is one of them. His .326 average and 118 runs scored were most likely brought him the award, along with his solid fielding at the four position.
Fellow MVP candidate, Kevin Youkilis, is entering his sixth season at the big league level. In 2008, his .312 average, 29 homeruns, 115 RBIs, and .569 slugging percentage proved his value to this team as well. David Ortiz should rebound from his down year. It’s funny that a down year for him is 89 RBIs and a .539 slugging percentage.
I think that Jason Bay will absolutely flourish in this lineup. I’m expecting higher production total in 2009 to couple with his .286 average, .373 OBP, and .522 slugging percentage. Then JD Drew, he’ll flourish too, if he’s ever healthy for a full season. Mike Lowell is getting older but he’s got the possibility to drive in 100 from the six or seven hole. Jed Lowrie is a solid option at shortstop as the 24 year old has showed production potential in the minors. Then Jason Varitek is back behind the plate. Who cares if he hits .220, Tek’s the captain. The Sox also have one of the more solid benches in the league.
Overall, there’s nothing to not like about this team if healthy. Even with a small DL stint from a few players I can still see this team winning the division. No Yankees. No Rays. Just Red Sox.
Mike Mussina announced his retirement today. He broke into the league in 1991 for Baltimore Orioles and pitched there until 2001, when he became a New York Yankee. Over his career he’s worked 270 career wins, more than Hall of Famers Jim Palmer, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, and Whitey Ford. His 2,813 strikeouts (19th all-time) are more than HOFers, Cy Young, Warren Spahn, Bob Feller, Christy Mathewson, and Robin Roberts. He has less walks/9 innings than Fergie Jenkins, Dennis Eckersley, and Walter Johnson. He has more strikeouts/9 innings than Rollie Fingers, Tom Seaver, Jim Bunning, and Don Drysdale. His strikeout/walk ratio is thirteenth all time. His name is among some of greatest pitchers in baseball history. In 573 games he had a 3.68 career ERA and had an ERA over 5 only once (2007).
The stat that jumps out at me most is the number of wins. He consistently had win totals in the high teens throughout his career. He had 117 more wins than losses and in this day and age where even 20 wins a season is hard to come by, he finally managed the 20 win mark in his final season. It is rare to see a player with this many wins the way managers protect pitcher’s arms nowadays. So this begs the question…
Are the following statistics HOF worthy?
270-153 record — 3.68 ERA — 57 CG — 23 SHO — 2813 SO
I say yes in these times.
Meanwhile the Red Sox and Royals also made a trade today. Boston sent centerfielder Coco Crisp to Kansas City in exchange for Ramon Ramirez. This solidifies the centerfield spot in Boston as solely Jacoby Ellsbury’s and the Sox get some bullpen help in Ramirez.
Ramirez has a career 3.62 ERA coming out of the bullpen in three seasons with the Colorado Rockies and the Royals. He has 146 strikeouts in about 157 innings as a big leaguer and has issued 64 walks. The righty throws low to mid-nineties with a nice changeup and if he can become a consistent setup man for Jonathan Papelbon, it will allow Justin Masterson to get a chance to join the rotation.
The Royals however recieve a speedy outfielder and trade away another bullpen arm. Crisp is a career .280 hitter and doesn’t add the power that they were looking for in the outfield. But now Coco gets a chance to play everyday. Crisp’s best seasons came in 2004/05 when he was with Cleveland. He hit around .300 those two seasons with 15/16 homeruns respectively and around 70 RBI both seasons. The Royals do keep trading away quality relievers (Leo Nunez to Florida before this) and I’m hoping Dayton Moore keeps up the trading in acquiring some arms to replace the ones he’s traded away.
I think this trade has the potential to backfire on both teams involved but for now I’ll give the small edge to the Red Sox because of the way the rotation has the potential to shape up with Masterson.