Sunday, May 01, 2011

16 NL Teams - 16 Fascinating April Stories

The first month of the season has been put in the book and each team has a story to tell. Whether they are playing well or poorly, each team has a narrative worth telling. That's why we love baseball. The narrative may change next month. April's trends could be all but forgotten by the end of May. Sample size certainly has a role in many of these stories. But, let's review April with one quick story from each team in MLB.

The Philadelphia Phillies: Like most of the teams we will survey, there are lots of things to talk about with the Phillies. The front four of the rotation received much hype before the season and it's fascinating to see how that will all work out. The results thus far are solid with only Halladay showing continued brilliance. Rollins and Victorino have begun the season in bounce back fashion. Raul Ibanez isn't hitting at all. Lidge has not pitched and the bullpen has held its own. But the most fascinating story thus far for the Phillies has been the play of Ben Francisco and John Mayberry. Francisco has a 115 OPS+ in 107 plate appearances and Mayberry has a .946 OPS in 36 plate appearances. The two combined have more than offset any loss of Domenic Brown and Jayson Werth while providing solid fielding. Their success has helped keep the Phillies on top.

Florida Marlins: Their overall April record is fascinating enough. Josh Johnson was already known as one of the great pitchers in the National League. The slow start of Hanley Ramirez is interesting. The fact that Bonifacio has fooled his manager for another month is interesting. Logan Morrison was a great story until he got hurt. Chris Coghlan has been surprisingly adequate in center and solid at the plate. Gaby Sanchez is having a good year. Stanton has had moments. But the most interesting story so far for the Marlins has been the pitching of Ricky Nolasco. He's had five solid starts, is only walking 1.1 batters per nine innings and his emergence has given the Marlins a great one-two punch in the rotation.

Atlanta Braves: Chipper has come back with a solid season. Heyward has hit seven bombs and has a 140 OPS+. Uggla and Freeman have had slow starts. The Braves record is fascinating in its disappointment considering the rotation has been solid. It's no surprise that Brian McCann has been fantastic. The biggest story from this perspective has been the pitching of Brian Beachy. The rookie has only two decisions in his six starts including a win and a loss, but his peripherals are fantastic with a WHIP of 0.991 and a strikeout to walk ration of 3.60. He's been terrific.

Washington Nationals: The loss of Ryan Zimmerman has been devastating on the offense and seven of the starting line up are well under 100 in OPS+ (eight when Ivan Rodriguez starts). Only Jayson Werth is above 100. Jordan Zimmermann has shown flashes of being good and is throwing strikes. Livan is Livan. The most fascinating story thus far for the Nationals has been the play of catcher, Wilson Ramos. Wouldn't the Twins love to have HIM back. Ramos has been so good that he has dashed I-Rod's hopes of having another year as the number one catcher. Plus, Ramos has thrown out 44% of base steal attempts and has played solidly behind the plate. It's early, but he's been the best story for the Nats.

New York Mets: The Mets have a lot of interesting stories and they are not all bad. Several of their players are having solid seasons including Carlos Beltran as this Fan predicted before the season. Reyes is playing really well. Chris Young is pitching well. The return of Jason Isringhausen has been interesting. But the big story for the Fan is Ike Davis. Since his story was just chronicled in the last day or so, we'll let you go read that post for more. Suffice it to say he's really broken out as a star (thus far).

St. Louis Cardinals: So many great stories! The failure of the bullpen early on has led to six blown saves. Can you imagine what their record would be as they are still 16-11! Kyle McClellan has been great as Adam Wainwright's replacement. Kyle Lohse has been fantastic, but that is no surprise to @throatwarbler who predicted as such. The struggles of Chris Carpenter is fascinating for the wrong reasons. But the real story for the Cardinals is their offense. They lead the league in just about every category and Albert Pujols hasn't even gotten going yet. Berkman, Holliday, Theriot and Colby Rasmus have led the Cardinals to a hitting rampage.

Cincinnati Reds: That the Reds finished above .500 and within striking distance of the Cards is fascinating because they really haven't played well at times. Joey Votto has continued his MVP season of a year ago. Scott Rolen got hurt. Bronson Arroyo is a fascinating study as a starting pitcher (check out his K/BB ratio!) but the best story thus far has been the play of Brandon Phillips. We all knew he was a good player, but thus far, he's been a superstar with a slash line of: .355/.413/.527.  Phillips has already scored 21 runs and has an OPS+ of 157.

Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers are still in the NL Central mix despite problems for Yovani Gallardo and the bullpen. The offense is second to the Cardinals in most categories. Shaun Marcum has been everything they hoped he would be. Greinke will be back this week and his loss for April is a story to tell. But the most fascinating story has to be Ryan Braun. We all knew he was good. But in the words of TCM, he's been crazy good. He has easily been the best player in baseball for April. You can't have a more fascinating story than that.

Chicago Cubs: Soriano has ten homers already. The bullpen has been solid despite leading the world in walks. Carlos Pena has been fascinatingly bad as has Tyler Colvin. Matt Garza has been fantastic, but fantastically unlucky. Zambrano has held his own. Fukodome has a .383 batting average and a .486 OBP, but 22 of his 23 hits have been singles. Starlin Castro has been very good (great even) on offense and a challenge in the field. Darwin Barney has been a major surprise and would normally be the most fascinating story. But that honor has to go in dubious terms to Ryan Dempster. Dempster has been so bad that it's painful. He struggled at the end of 2010 too and the interesting thing will be to see if he can dig himself out or if the Cubs pull the plug. You have to wonder if there is something physically wrong with him.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates have nearly the same record as the cubs, but while that is bad news for the Cubs, that is good news for the Pirates. They have seldom been pushovers this year and all you can ask as they rebuild is that they play competitive baseball. Mission accomplished so far. Kevin Correia and Charlie Morton have winning records and good ERAs but are only striking out 4.0 and 4.6 batters per nine innings thus far. The young Neil Walker continues to look like a star. Other young players like McCutchen, Tabata and Alvarez haven't really gotten going yet, nor has Lyle Overbay, who should have a good season. The most fascinating story thus far has been the bullpen tandem of Joel Hanrahan and Chris Resop. The two have been dominating with Resop even outshining the closer. That one-two punch in the bullpen keeps them in a lot of games and when they have the lead, they keep it.

Houston Astros: Wandy Rodriguez had a good start yesterday, which may signal the end of his early season struggles. He really is one of the best pitchers nobody knows about. Brett Myers and Bud Norris have been solid. Hunter Pence has been very good if not great yet. Carlos Lee and Chris Johnson have started off very poorly which is more surprising for Johnson than Lee. Michael Bourn is a good center fielder. But he's not going to blow you away. Their catchers have been very good offensively (collectively). So far, Bill Hall hasn't been much help. The most fascinating story thus far has been Brett Wallace, who has really broken out nicely. His .988 OPS is spectacular in a poor scoring environment. He has only hit one homer thus far, but has nine doubles and a triple. It will be interesting to see how Wallace fares the rest of the season.

Colorado Rockies: The Rockies have built a nice separation thus far in the NL West. And they've done so without contribution from Ubaldo Jiminez. That's fascinating. Troy Tulowitzki is poised for an MVP run. CarGo has started slowly. Todd Helton has had an encouraging start. Jonathan Herrera's batting average is starting to fall after a really hot start, but his patience at the plate has been outstanding with 15 walks already. Third base has been fascinating for all the wrong reasons as Jose Lopez and Ian Steward have been abominable. The bullpen has been outstanding. Street has ten saves already! But the real story thus far for the Rockies has been Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa. They are 7-2 between them, both have ERAs under three and have been rock solid for the Rockies. You would expect the Rockies to hit but they've started somewhat slowly. The Fan said early in the season that they had to pitch well. Mission accomplished so far.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Plenty of story lines. It was Matt Kemp early, but nobody can dispute that Ethier has been the real story with hits in 26 games in a row. His heroics have finally pushed some of the ownership story to the second page.

San Francisco Giants: The Giants big story unfortunately just ended with an injury that will cost Pablo Sandoval six weeks of his season. That's really a shame because he was raking. Buster Posey is off to a pedestrian start. The same can be said of Cain and Lincecum despite brilliant moments. Brian Wilson still has eight saves after a brutal start. Pat Burrell has five homers but only eight RBIs. Sanchez is still great. If only he could pound the strike zone more regularly. If one were to have to pick the best story for the Giants thus far, it would be the pitching of Guillermo Mota. He's been lights out with a very high strikeout rate and a minuscule walk rate. He's been a real lifesaver for the Giants, who were extremely lucky to break even for the month of April.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-backs have played much better than last year. The Fan heard one commentator say that they were the forgotten team, and that is right. You hardly ever hear about them. Their offense has been very good and only one regular (Kelly Johnson and he should rebound) under 100 in OPS+. Ian Kennedy has been very good in the rotation. The rest of the rotation has really struggled but Galarraga, Enright and Hudson all had decent starts their last times out. The bullpen has been solid except for the one meltdown of Putz yesterday. But the real story? The most fascinating story for the D-backs has been Ryan Roberts. Roberts has been fabulous with a 1.007 OPS with 15 RBI in just 20 games. His 168 OPS+ leads the team. Right behind Roberts is Stephen Drew who is making this Fan's prediction of a breakout season look very good right now.

San Diego Padres: The biggest story for the Padres has to be their offense. They are last or next to last in every major offensive category. Only Nick Hundley is having a good season. Tim Stauffer, Aaron Harang, Dustin Moseley and Clayton Richard have been a solid rotation with only Matt Latos struggling. Moseley is certainly a fascinating story. But you can't have any narrative about the Padres without including their offense or lack of it as the leading point of interest thus far.

Early MVP leaders: Joey Votto, Matt Kemp, Ethier, Lance Berkman and Ryan Braun.
Early Cy Young candidates: Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson.

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