April is a few days old now, but what a month it was. The Chicago Cubs had the best record in the National League… aaaand, the Chicago White Sox had the best record in the American League. Only once before has that ever happened, so savor it while you can, Chicago.
Trevor Story had a first month for the ages, and the New York Yankees had a month to forget. Let’s look at each of the six divisions at the biggest storylines from April:
American League East
The Yankees scored the fewest runs in baseball, something no one saw coming. The Rays were also at the bottom, but that was to be expected. The Blue Jays struggled to score runs without hitting home runs. The cream of the division at the moment appears to be the Boston Red Sox (15-10) and Baltimore Orioles (14-10). Take the Sox’s recent surge with a grain of salt: they won eight of 10 against three very pedestrian teams in the Astros, Braves, and Yankees. The Orioles have some major question marks in their rotation, but of more concern right now is the health of closer Zach Britton’s ankle. The offense has not and will not be in question this season.
American League Central
The Chicago White Sox are the toast of baseball at 18-8. They got off to a miserable start last year and never recovered, but the rotation and bullpen are at the top of the league rankings. If the hitting can be consistent, the South Siders can certainly win the division. The Royals are slumping, unable to score enough runs to let the bullpen do its usual damage. The Tigers and Indians are middling and inconsistent, and the Twins are flat-out bad. This could very well be Chicago’s division to lose.
American League West
Remember in 1994, when the Rangers led the West at the time of the strike with a 52-62 record? No, it won’t be as drastic in 2016, but this is a mediocre group. The Rangers are the most complete team, but don’t sleep on the Mariners. Nathan Karns has been a great trade acquisition, and the bullpen is actually holding leads this season. The Athletics and Angels aren’t expected to do much, and haven’t. The real dud is the Astros, who did not win back-to-back games even once in April.
National League East
The Nationals are off to a scorching start thanks to stellar starting pitching and Bryce Harper, but here come the Mets. Winners of 9 of 10, the Mets poured it on the Giants last week with a 12-run inning, proving that their offense can be potent at times. Those two teams will battle it out all year for Eastern supremacy. The Phillies may be baseball’s biggest overachievers at 15-11, but look for them to start coming back to earth soon… as in this week in St. Louis. The Marlins will be tested in a big way after Dee Gordon’s suspension, but their solid young rotation and Giancarlo Stanton will keep them competitive for a while. Atlanta is baseball’s worst team and can’t win at home in this its final season at Turner Field.
National League Central
The Cubs have baseball’s biggest run differential, finishing April at an incredible +79. They are a presumed slam-dunk to win the Central, but it won’t be that easy. The Pittsburgh Pirates are rolling and are motivated by not having to play in the wild card game for a fourth straight season. The St. Louis Cardinals have baseball’s second-best run differential and surprisingly lead the Majors in home runs despite some rotation inconsistency. As three-time defending Central champs, they’ll hang around all year and could certainly win it. On the flip side, the Reds and Brewers will not only battle for last place, but possibly baseball’s worst record. There is no bigger disparity between the haves and have-nots of a single division than in the Central.
National League West
Like the AL West, the NL West is pushing the mediocrity envelope. None of the five teams finished the month with a winning record, leaving Colorado in first place by default. The Giants are still the most balanced team, but the bullpen is undergoing a major transition. Of course, the Dodgers’ bullpen is bad in every area except the closer, Kenley Jansen, so all they have is their modest star power. The Rockies and Padres will probably duke it out for the basement, despite the other-worldly first month of his career by shortstop Trevor Story, who hit 10 home runs and had 17 extra-base hits in total. With Colorado and San Diego posing no threat whatsoever, that leaves the Diamondbacks as an intriguing “swing” team, if you will. Arizona has an ace in Zack Greinke and is finding ways to score runs in bunches even without its All-Star center fielder, A.J. Pollock. There’s no reason if the Giants and Dodgers don’t surge that the Snakes can’t push for the West title.