Month in Review, American 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 looked at the National League just a few days ago, so let’s move on and view the American League.
Best Team: Cleveland Indians
Before the season began if you had told me that the three division leaders at the end of April would be New York, Texas, and Cleveland I’d of probably laughed. New York and Texas seemed like viable candidates, but Cleveland? The Indians lost 93 games in 2010, finishing 25 games out of first place, and then had a remarkably quiet offseason. Most of us likely expected an improvement from last season but nothing this dramatic, at least not so quickly. Yet, at the end of April here they sit atop the AL Central with the best record in Major League Baseball.
A lot will need to go right in order for the Indians to hold onto their lead in what has become a competitive division in recent years. The young players will need to continue to develop and the pitching staff will need to continue baffling hitters. Working in Cleveland’s favor is a strong farm system which should permit the organization to fill holes as they arise from within.
Best Starting Pitcher: Jered Weaver
Through his first 6 starts, Weaver is 6-0 with a 0.99 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 45.1 innings pitched. Of course, he has since lost his first start since May began but he still sits atop most lists for the best performing pitcher in the AL thus far, especially since he’s leading the league in wins, ERA, strikeouts, and innings. Not far behind in the strikeouts column are Justin Verlander, Dan Haren, and Jon Lester. Justin Masterson and Zack Britton are next with 5 wins apiece. There are 17 total pitchers who currently boast an ERA below 3.00.
Best Relief Pitcher: Mariano Rivera
With 9 saves in 13 appearances and a 2.13 ERA, Rivera is showing once again why he’s the greatest closer in MLB history. The 41 year old right hander has continued to defy the odds in recent years, putting up one productive season after another, and doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down as of yet.
Best Hitter: Jose Bautista
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the 2010 season were the 54 home runs mashed by Bautista. Many wondered where the sudden burst of production came from while others concluded such a breakout was long overdue. Yet, so far in 2011 Bautista has shown that it wasn’t just a one year fluke. Through April Bautista is leading the AL in HRs (9), walks (30), and all three triple slash categories (batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage – .357/.530/.762).
Paul Konerko and Ben Zobrist are tied for the league lead in RBI with 25 apiece. Ichiro Suzuki and Sam Fuld are tied for the lead in stolen bases with 10 each.
Disappointing Team: Minnesota Twins
The past few seasons have seen the Twins, Chicago White Sox, and Detroit Tigers battling for supremacy in the AL Central. Of course, nobody expected the Indians to currently sit atop the division but even less likely would be to see the Twins with the worst record in the AL. At 9-18 (.333 winning percentage, a pace for just 54 wins on the season) the Twins have easily been the most disappointing team thus far. But all is not lost.
Offensively the team has struggled as only Jason Kubel and Denard Span have swung the bats well so far. Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, and Danny Valencia should all come around soon. Joe Mauer should return from the disabled list sometime this month. The pitching should also settle as the team has received underwhelming performances thus far from Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano (his no-hitter this past week notwithstanding). The bullpen has been strong enough so far to overcome the struggles of Joe Nathan.
Top Rookie Hitter: Mark Trumbo
In what thus far has been an overall unimpressive group, Trumbo stands out as the top rookie hitter this early in the season. Receiving regular playing time as Kendrys Morales continues to rehab from injury, Trumbo has taken advantage of the opportunity by leading all AL rookies in at bats (88), HR (4), RBI (13), and doubles (5). His .239/.264/.432 line, however, will need to improve if he wants to remain in the Angels lineup once Morales returns.
Top Rookie Pitcher: Michael Pineda
Baltimore lefty Britton may lead all AL rookies with 5 wins, but Seattle’s righty Pineda has been more impressive overall. The two young pitchers have combined to go 9-2 thus far (Britton 5-1, Pineda 4-1) with an ERA just above 2.00 (Britton 2.63, Pineda 2.01). The difference is in the peripherals – in 37.2 innings (6 starts) Britton has struck out 20, walked 15, and boasts a 1.19 WHIP while in 31.1 innings (5 starts) Pineda has struck out 30, walked 12, and has a 1.09 WHIP. Either would be a viable choice here but the strikeout totals push things in Pineda’s favor.
Some credit should also be given to Los Angeles’s Jordan Walden. After taking over the closer’s role the former top prospect has converted all 4 save opportunities while striking out a batter an inning with an ERA of 0.73 through the season’s first month.