You know the saying: You can’t win a pennant in April, but you certainly can lose one. If that’s the case, several teams already are out of it. Outside of the cold weather and Shohei Ohtani‘s success playing both ways, the biggest story of April has been the extreme results in the win and loss columns: Six teams are on pace for 100 wins, and eight, including three in the American League Central, are on pace for 100 losses.
Let’s look at all 30 teams and find something that has been good in April and something that has been bad. I’ve included my preseason prediction for each team along with its current win pace. The grades are a reflection of the club’s record compared to preseason expectations as well as the underlying team performance.
Record: 8-20 (on pace for 46 wins)
Good: Manny Machado has been one of the best players in the league, hitting .361/.448/.676 with nine home runs and more walks than strikeouts. Given the standings, the Orioles might as well start listening to trade offers now.
Bad: Almost everything else. Chris Davis would be hitting his way to the waiver wire if not for all the money owed him. Somebody thought it would be a good idea to give a rotation job to Chris Tillman. Jonathan Schoop and Tim Beckham didn’t hit and then landed on the disabled list with an oblique strain and a groin strain, respectively. Does anybody stretch anymore?
Boston Red Sox
Record: 21-7 (122)
Good: Mookie Betts is back to playing at an MVP level, hitting .344 with eight doubles, 11 home runs and more walks than strikeouts. There’s been talk that he has been more aggressive because he was taking too many strikes last year, but his swing rate is basically identical to in 2017. His first-pitch swing rate is up only 2 percent. His swing rate against fastballs is up 1 percent. His swing rate on pitches in the zone is up from 53 to 59 percent, so maybe there is something there.
Bad: Matt Barnes and Carson Smith have walked 14 batters in 18 innings, so Alex Cora is still trying to figure out the pecking order in front of Craig Kimbrel. Maybe it’s Joe Kelly — if he stays out of fights.
Chicago White Sox
Record: 8-18 (50)
Good: Matt Davidson and Yoan Moncada are striking out at prodigious rates but have combined for 15 home runs and are mixing in some walks (especially important for Davidson, who already has almost matched his total for 2017). Moncada leads the majors in average exit velocity.
Bad: The rotation has the worst strikeout rate in the majors, at 13.2 percent — more than 3 percent lower than the next-worst club and less than half that of the top three rotations. Twenty of the 30 teams have at least a 20 percent strikeout rate.
Record: 15-12 (90)
Good: Corey Kluber looks like he wants to win his third Cy Young Award. Since the All-Star break in 2016, Kluber is 31-6 with a 2.32 ERA. Clayton Kershaw has a 2.28 ERA but has pitched 100 fewer innings.
Bad: The AL Central. Which is good for the Indians. The Indians are 7-2 in the division and 7-10 against everyone else. Obviously, the offense has been wretched. Remember that monster spring Jason Kipnis had? Yeah, me neither.
Record: 11-16 (66)
Good: Miguel Cabrera has looked much better and healthier than he did in 2017, hitting .326/.413/.528, and the rotation might actually be respectable enough to keep the Tigers from losing 100 games.
Bad: They’re 1-10 against the three teams they’ve played with winning records. But they’ll get to play the White Sox and Royals a lot!
Preseason prediction: 103-59
Record: 20-10 (108)
Good: The best rotation in the game has powered the Astros to the best ERA in baseball, and they’ve clearly unlocked something in Gerrit Cole that the Pirates were unable to do. Cole has 61 strikeouts and eight walks in 41⅔ innings, increasing his strikeout rate from 23.1 to 39.4 percent. Maybe it’s the change of scenery, but the Astros have him throwing his fastball less (he has basically junked the two-seamer) and his slider and curveball more. Keep in mind that these are two of the most sabermetric-oriented organizations in baseball, so even in the world of analytics, different teams can have different ideas.
Bad: The Astros led the majors in runs last year while posting the lowest strikeout rate in the majors. They’re 16th in strikeout rate this year, as Jake Marisnick and Derek Fisher have combined for four walks and 58 strikeouts. Top prospect Kyle Tucker is off to a so-so start at Triple-A, but he could get an opportunity at some point.
Kansas City Royals
Record: 7-21 (41)
Good: Mike Moustakas has hit some home runs, Jorge Soler has a .434 OBP, and Kelvin Herrera and his 0.00 ERA look like good trade bait. The 2015 World Series flag flies forever.
Bad: Justin Grimm and Blaine Boyer have combined to allow 36 runs in 16 innings. Alex Gordon‘s bat remains missing in action for a third straight year.
Los Angeles Angels
Record: 16-12 (92)
Good: Mike Trout is still awesome, and Shohei Ohtani has matched the hype, even exceeding expectations so far at the plate.
Bad: The rotation ERA is over 5.00, and the Angels have already churned through nine starters. It isn’t a lost cause, however, as Ohtani, Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs have flashed some good things at times.
Record: 9-15 (61)
Good: The weather should start warming up soon.
Bad: Yuck. This hasn’t been fun. It isn’t fair to pick on one guy, but Byron Buxton wasn’t hitting before he was injured, and his absence the second half of April is one reason the Twins are 27th in the majors with minus-11 defensive runs saved. The metrics have not been kind to Eduardo Escobar, who is filling in at shortstop for the suspended Jorge Polanco, as he has minus-7 all by himself.
New York Yankees
Record: 18-10 (104)
Good: Didi Gregorius has been the MVP of April, leading the majors in slugging percentage and RBIs while tied for the lead in home runs. The big key has been an improved approach: His swing rate has dropped from 58 percent to 48 percent and his chase rate from 38.4 percent to 26.8. He has already walked 18 times — with more walks than strikeouts — after drawing 25 in all of 2017. If that patience keeps up, he could remain near the top of the WAR leaderboard all season.
Bad: Sonny Gray was better Monday, but he has mostly been a mess, with a 6.67 ERA. He’ll get a long leash, but the injuries to Tommy Kahnle and Adam Warren have thinned out the bullpen a bit, and Aaron Boone will eventually need to get more than four or five innings per start from somebody other than Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka.
Record: 14-14 (81)
Good: Sean Manaea threw the no-hitter and has been brilliant all season, with a 1.03 ERA and .134 opponents’ batting average. He’s doing this even though his fastball velocity is down from 91.6 to 90.3 mph. With that, however, has come improved command, as he has issued just seven walks, and he’s getting more grounders and a crazy number of popups (12.5 percent). The popup percentage helps explain the low batting average.
Bad: Opening Day starter Kendall Graveman has been sent to the minors after going 0-5 with an 8.89 ERA.
Record: 16-11 (96)
Good: Mitch Haniger has powered the offense with 10 home runs and 27 RBIs, while Edwin Diaz has locked down the ninth inning with 11 saves and 27 K’s in 14⅓ innings.
Bad: The wayback machine hasn’t produced good vibes, as Ichiro Suzuki has hit .220/.256/.220 without an RBI and Felix Hernandez has a 4.96 ERA as he bobs between good outings and bad ones. With the better Guillermo Heredia in the minors, you wonder if the Mariners can hide Ichiro on the roster all season. This is why you don’t sign players for their history.
Tampa Bay Rays
Record: 13-14 (78)
Good: They recovered from a 3-12 start to post an eight-game win streak, with infielders Joey Wendle and Daniel Robertson providing surprising offense and Blake Snell showcasing the improved control that could turn him into an All-Star. Given the injuries to the rotation, getting back to the .500 range is a huge positive.
Bad: The club’s two best players haven’t done anything. Kevin Kiermaier is on the 60-day DL with a thumb injury, and Chris Archer has posted a 6.61 ERA.
Record: 11-19 (59)
Good: Well, Bartolo Colon has a 2.87 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP. Joey Gallo is fun, though he isn’t making the adjustments needed to be anything more than a low-average slugger. Adrian Beltre can still hit.
Bad: Elvis Andrus fractured his elbow, and Rougned Odor strained a hamstring, so the Rangers have had to patch together the middle infield. Those two missed just four games in 2017.
Toronto Blue Jays
Record: 16-12 (93)
Good: Teoscar Hernandez started the season in the minors but now looks like he has a chance to be an impact player. He has one of the highest average exit velocities in the game and — so far — has shown a little better patience at the plate.
Bad: Marcus Stroman has an ugly 8.88 ERA. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on. His swing-and-miss rate is the same as last year, but opponents are lasering his off-speed stuff, with an .869 OPS compared to .492 in 2017. The rotation is supposed to be the team’s strength, but it’s 26th in ERA, as Marco Estrada and Jaime Garcia also have high ERAs.
Record: 20-8 (116)
Good: The bullpen has been the best in baseball, and the D-backs are the only team without a blown save. Patrick Corbin has been brilliant, at 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 55 K’s in 40 innings.
Bad: Taijuan Walker is out for the season with Tommy John surgery, and Robbie Ray left Sunday’s start with an oblique injury.
Record: 16-11 (96)
Good: Ozzie Albies has 22 extra-base hits, Ronald Acuna has reached the majors and pounded five extra-base hits in his first five games, and Freddie Freeman is one of the best hitters in the game. They’re now hitting 1-2-3 in the lineup, and it might be the most exciting 1-2-3 in the majors.
Bad: Really, everything has been sweeter than a Georgia peach. The rotation is second in the NL in ERA, and only the Yankees have scored more runs per game. The bench is weak, but the Braves not only are 16-11 and plus-38 runs but also have played a tough April schedule, with 23 of their 27 games coming against the Phillies, Nationals, Mets, Cubs and Rockies. Hmm, I hear Manny Machado might be on the trade block …
Record: 16-10 (100)
Good: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell have combined for three home runs, and the Cubs are nevertheless six games over .500.
Bad: Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish both have ERAs over 5.00, albeit with slightly better peripherals. Still, the rotation is just 19th in the majors in strikeout rate and 25th in walk rate. It had a great series against the Brewers, so maybe these guys are turning the corner.
Record: 7-22 (39)
Good: Hmm … I guess the reports of Joey Votto‘s demise were a little premature.
Bad: Everything. The Reds have looked so bad, it’s clear they could challenge the Marlins and Royals for the worst record in baseball. Most discouraging has been Luis Castillo‘s regression from his strong rookie season, as he has been hit hard and has seen his walks and strikeouts go in the wrong direction. The lack of a quality third pitch is the big concern, as lefties are hitting .333/.410/.725 off him.
Record: 15-15 (81)
Good: Charlie Blackmon has been not only excellent but also excellent on the road, and he signed a long-term deal that will keep him from hitting free agency.
Bad: The offense is terrible. The Rockies are averaging 3.90 runs per game, including just 3.41 on the road. This is why I wasn’t high on the Rockies coming off last year’s wild card. Ian Desmond is looking more and more like a sunk cost, and the Rockies don’t have too many outfielders — they don’t have enough good ones.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Record: 12-16 (69)
Good: Well, Clayton Kershaw still starts every fifth game. Sure, the Dodgers have won just two of his six starts, and the velocity is down, and he just had that weird six-walk game, but his ERA is 2.84, and Dodgers fans definitely are not worried … right, Dodgers fans?
Bad: Corey Seager‘s season-ending Tommy John surgery is the exclamation point on a terrible month. The Dodgers have depth, but you don’t replace one of the best players in the game. With Justin Turner still out, Yasiel Puig not hitting and now on the DL and Chris Taylor falling back to earth, Cody Bellinger is the only threat in the lineup. I mean, the Dodgers are now counting on Matt Kemp and Chase Utley.
Record: 10-18 (58)
Good: Drew Steckenrider and Kyle Barraclough are a nice one-two punch in the bullpen, and rookie flamethrower Tayron Guerrero has 25 K’s in 13⅓ innings.
Bad: Rookie Lewis Brinson is a kid you want to root for. He grew up a Marlins fan in South Florida (Juan Pierre was his favorite player) and has the tools to be a foundation piece. But the jury is out on whether he can hit major league pitching, as he’s batting .167 with a 37-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Record: 17-13 (92)
Good: Josh Hader looks like the new Andrew Miller, as he has become one of the best relievers in the game (15⅓ IP, 4 H, 1 HR, 4 BB, 31 K).
Bad: Suffering that four-game sweep at Wrigley, in which they were shut out three times. The Brewers became the first team since 1910 to get shut out by the same team five times in one month. Let’s see how they do with a tougher schedule in May. They went 9-0 against the Marlins, Royals and Padres.
New York Mets
Record: 17-9 (106)
Good: They’ve been healthy for the most part — Yoenis Cespedes is expected to miss just a few days after injuring his thumb on a slide Sunday — and Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom look like a dominant one-two punch again.
Bad: Matt Harvey has already been banished to the bullpen, and catchers Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki are both on the DL — d’Arnaud for the season and Plawecki for several weeks with a broken hand. Mets catchers are hitting .164/.304/.247.
Record: 16-12 (93)
Good: Meet the new Joey Votto. Rhys Hoskins is third in MLB in walks and has the sixth-lowest chase rate — right behind Votto — helping him to a .318 average and .468 OBP. That home run spurt at the start of his career might have created unrealistic home run expectations, but he could still be a 25-homer guy.
Bad: You have to be careful about one-month defensive metrics, but the Phillies are last in the majors with minus-22 defensive runs saved. The biggest culprits have been Hoskins in left field, at minus-4 (no surprise), and J.P. Crawford at shortstop, also at minus-4 (a surprise given that he’s supposed to be a plus defender).
Record: 17-12 (95)
Good: They’re third in the NL in runs per game at 5.00 — with catchers Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz leading the way. Pirates catchers easily lead the majors in wOBA (.467) and rank second in runs (27) and RBIs (25).
Bad: Josh Bell hit 26 home runs as a rookie but is struggling at .241 with just one home run. His swing and chase rates are all almost identical to in 2017; he just hasn’t been making good contact, and his fly ball rate is down from 29.1 percent to 23.8. He has raw power but needs to improve that launch angle to tap into it.
St. Louis Cardinals
Record: 15-12 (90)
Good: Love me some Tommy Pham. He’s hitting .341/.453/.511, showing that last year’s breakout wasn’t a fluke.
Bad: The headache Mike Matheny gives me with his bullpen usage. To be fair, it isn’t his fault that Greg Holland has eight walks in 7⅓ innings, but suddenly the pen is relying on Bud Norris, not to mention rookie Jordan Hicks, who throws a million miles per hour but has 12 walks and just seven strikeouts in 14⅓ innings. Good luck, Cardinals fans.
San Diego Padres
Record: 10-20 (54)
Good: Christian Villanueva had a three-homer game and has eight total homers, as he could be blossoming into a late bloomer at third base. Rookie Joey Lucchesi has been excellent, showing poise and command of so-so stuff, but with an overhand delivery that provides some deception.
Bad: Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers were supposed to be the one-two punch in the middle of the order, but Hosmer has just two home runs, and Myers is back on the DL for a second time, with just one home run in 10 games.
San Francisco Giants
Record: 15-14 (84)
Good: Johnny Cueto is healthy and dealing, with a 0.84 ERA and just three runs allowed in five starts.
Bad: Madison Bumgarner hasn’t pitched because of the fracture in his left hand, but outside of Brandon Belt, the offense looks like an aging group of former stars. Hey, that’s exactly what it is!
Record: 13-16 (73)
Good: Max Scherzer. They haven’t played the Marlins yet. Bryce Harper‘s walk rate — though that’s because without Daniel Murphy or Anthony Rendon and with Ryan Zimmerman hitting .191, there’s no reason to pitch to Harper. He has seen the lowest percentage of pitches in the zone of any hitter.
Bad: The bullpen is 1-7 with a 4.91 ERA.