Month in Review, National League Edition: April
As the calendar changes from April to May, the first full month of the season comes to an end. So let’s take a look at the standings and leaderboards and see where things stand. We’ll start with the National League.
Best Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Let’s face it, this one comes as no surprise. With a starting rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels the Phillies were the favorites in the NL heading into the season. Halladay is 4-1 with a 2.14 ERA, 9.13 K/9, and 0.99 WHIP through 6 starts. Lee is 2-2 with a 4.18 ERA, 10.86 K/9, and 1.05 WHIP through 5 starts. Oswalt and Hamels are each 3-1 with ERAs around 3.25 through 5 starts. The four will need to continue pitching this well in order for the Phillies to maintain this pace. They have a winning percentage of .692 (18-8), a pace that would mean 112 wins at season’s end.
The team will need the offense to take a larger role in winning games. They are arguably still adjusting to the loss of Jayson Werth and missing Chase Utley from the lineup is making things difficult. To make matters worse there still doesn’t seem to be any certainty to Utley playing at all this year. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, and Shane Victorino have all been swinging the bat well but they are getting limited production from their supporting cast. Raul Ibanez’s struggles have especially hurt and his playing time could be challenged when Domonic Brown is activated from the disabled list in another week or so.
Best Starting Pitcher: Halladay
Overall Halladay has a slight edge when you view his season as a whole. He is tied with six other pitchers for the league lead with 4 wins. His 47 strikeouts are second in the league to Matt Garza’s 51. His 2.14 ERA is fifth, well behind Josh Johnson’s 0.88 ERA. Garza hasn’t received the run support so he’s taken the loss in 3 of his 6 starts. Johnson has been in a similar boat, just resulting in no decisions as opposed to losses. Currently 16 pitchers have ERAs below 3.00 with a minimum of 30.0 innings pitched.
Best Relief Pitcher: Huston Street
Of the Rockies’ 25 games, Street has saved 10 of them while pitching to a 2.20 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 16.1 innings pitched. With the pairing of Street and setup man Rafael Betancourt (8 holds, 2.19 ERA, 12 strikeouts in 12.1 innings pitched) the Rockies have been able to shorten games and shut down opposing offenses at the end of the game, helping them to be the best team in the NL West thus far.
Best Hitter: Lance Berkman
No, this isn’t the early 2000s anymore when he was regularly one of the top hitters in the league, but Berkman has gotten off to a fast start in 2011 and is swinging the bat as if he’s not nearing the end of his career. In a return to the NL with the Cardinals, Berkman is batting .393/.455/.753 with 8 HRs and 22 RBI while playing respectable defense in right field (he’s even filled in at first base to allow Albert Pujols a day off). While nobody expects him to continue this pace through the whole season, the Cardinals and their fans are surely enjoying Berkman playing like a 25 year old instead of the 35 year old he is.
Ryan Braun and Alfonso Soriano lead the league with 10 HR each. Berkman’s teammate, Matt Holliday, is batting .408. Michael Bourn has stolen 11 bases.
Disappointing Team: San Diego
Last season’s World Series Champions may have been the San Francisco Giants, but they nearly missed the playoffs altogether as they were being chased (and were almost caught) in September by a Padres team that wasn’t expected to compete. Entering this season, San Diego was thought of as one possible contender in the National League if they could build upon last season’s successes. Yet, at least through April, the opposite has been true. The team is 9-17, a .346 winning percentage, and the only team in the NL without double digit victories so far. The team is 4-11 at home. Their best hitter last season, Adrian Gonzalez, was traded during the offseason but it was an expected move. Thus far, the team has struggled offensively aside from catcher Nick Hundley. Through 80 at bats he’s batting .288/.363/.475 with 3 HR and 12 RBI.
Mat Latos, who had established himself as the ace of the rotation late in 2010, would miss his first start of the season due to late Spring injury but has gone 0-4 with a 4.98 ERA and 10.38 K/9. Aaron Harang has been a nice surprise, going 4-1 with a 3.90 ERA thus far coming back from an injury marred 2010 season. Dustin Moseley has surprised many, pitching to a 1.99 ERA through 6 starts, but stands at 0-3 due to the fact that the team has scored just 2 total runs in games he pitched. The pitching will need to come around in order to help lift this team out of the league cellar.
Top Rookie Hitter: Darwin Barney
Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos (.358, 53 AB) and Barney (.333, 93 AB) lead the way offensively amongst rookie performances. No other rookie regular is even within 100 points of the pair. Barney is also second amongst rookies in RBI with 14. Now that he’s won the bulk of the playing time in Chicago, Barney and double play partner Starlin Castro offer the Cubs a very talented middle infield combination that can also work together at the top of the lineup. Neither player is much of a power threat, but both are strong defensively and have decent on base ability and solid base running skills.
Top Rookie Pitcher: Brandon Beachy
Beachy won Atlanta’s fifth starter job out of Spring Training, beating out fellow rookie Mike Minor and veteran Rodrigo Lopez. So far through 6 starts he’s thrown 36.1 innings pitched with a 3.47 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 36 strikeouts, and 10 walks allowed. He’s 1-1. The team’s closer, Craig Kimbrel, has also impressed, throwing 11.2 innings of 2.31 ERA with 15 strikeouts and just 4 walks while saving 6 games (2 blown saves).