All 30 MLB Teams' Biggest Storyline Halfway Through April
MLB is already halfway through its first month and already there are more than enough storylines to discuss and debate ad nauseam.
Injuries, slow starts, blazing efforts out of the gate and several other topics for each MLB team have ignited conversations among fans and pundits alike.
There has also been other compelling tidbits of news and other items of interest with each team as well.
Here is at least one big storyline currently in play for each MLB team.
Arizona Diamondbacks: An Outfield Merry-Go-Round
The Arizona Diamondbacks had already gone through an outfield shuffle during the offseason. Both Chris Young and Justin Upton were shipped out of town, replaced eventually by Cody Ross and two young prospects in A.J. Pollock and Adam Eaton.
The carousel didn't end there, however.
Eaton was injured just a week before Opening Day, prompting the use of Pollock in his absence. Ross also started the season on the disabled list, leaving Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson with an outfield of Jason Kubel, Pollock and Gerardo Parra.
Now, Kubel makes his way to the DL, replaced by the returning Ross.
Are you keeping up so far?
Fortunately, the Diamondbacks have overcome their musical chair-like outfield with an 8-4 start.
Maybe they should keep the outfield shuffle going—it's working so far.
Atlanta Braves: Streaking out of the Gate Without Big Bats
The Atlanta Braves are currently riding a nine-game winning streak and playing superb baseball to start the season. It's even more special considering the fact they're doing it without several big bats.
Catcher Brian McCann is starting the season on the disabled list while he works his way back from offseason shoulder surgery. Not to worry, however—backup Evan Gattis is hitting .324 with four home runs and 10 RBI. Not to mention the fact that he's one of truly great feel-good stories of the season thus far.
In addition, center fielder B.J. Upton, right fielder Jason Heyward and second baseman Dan Uggla are hitting a combined .146 with four home runs and nine RBI.
Gattis is outpacing the three of them combined.
Despite four sluggers currently not doing much slugging, the Braves are 11-1.
Now that's impressive.
Baltimore Orioles: Alias Davis and Jones
With apologies to the short-lived ABC series Alias Smith and Jones, the Baltimore Orioles have their own version of dueling stars.
Through the first 12 games of the season, first baseman Chris Davis and center fielder Adam Jones have been the offensive catalysts. Davis is hitting .366 with six home runs and 19 RBI, while Jones is hitting at a .412 clip with one home run and 11 RBI and second in the majors with 21 hits.
Alias Smith and Jones only lasted 50 episodes, just barely two years on the small screen. The Orioles are hoping they can get a lot more mileage than that out of their dynamic hitting duo.
Boston Red Sox: A Fresh Start for Starters
Without question the Boston Red Sox starting rotation was a big part of the team's miserable 2012 season. With a 5.19 ERA, the Sox rotation was ranked 27th in the majors last year.
The rotation is once again a story this season—but for an entirely different reason.
With Ryan Dempster's stellar seven-inning performance on Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays, Sox starters have now posted a 1.99 ERA, good for first the American League and just slightly behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the best in baseball.
Sox fans finally have something good to read and talk about—a major change considering the drama that transpired over the previous 18 months.
Chicago Cubs: Close but No Cigar
The Chicago Cubs started with one closer and now have another—well, scratch that, now it's closer-by-committee.
After Carlos Marmol was removed from his role with a shaky first-week performance, the Cubs installed Japanese import Kyuji Fujikawa as closer.
Fujikawa faltered a bit on his own before suffering a forearm strain and landing on the disabled list.
So Marmol is back on the job, right?
Cubs manager Dale Sveum made it very clear that Marmol would not return to his old role.
‘‘I don’t think I’ll use Marmol now,’’ Sveum told Toni Ginnetti of the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘Maybe down the road, but I want to keep him in the role he is now [middle relief].’’
Sveum will, with a closer-by-committee approach, utilize James Russell and Shawn Camp based on matchups.
So much for offseason plans.
Chicago White Sox: A Strength Is a Weakness
The Chicago White Sox were supposed to be a team blessed with a solid starting rotation with some depth.
No one is saying that right now.
John Danks is still working in extended spring training while recovering from shoulder surgery last August. His rotation mates haven't exactly shined in his absence.
Gavin Floyd struggled once again on Monday, working only 4.1 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays and allowing four runs on nine hits. His effort pushed the White Sox rotation ERA to 5.04 and dropped his team to 5-8 to start the season.
Jake Peavy has been solid but Chris Sale is taking a bit of time to get going. Floyd is now 0-3 with a 6.32 ERA and Dylan Axelrod and Jose Quintana have been shaky as well.
The White Sox simply aren't a team that can be carried by its offense. Its starters absolutely need to show at least some consistency if there is to be any chance of a postseason berth.
Cincinnati Reds: Reds=Red Cross
The Cincinnati Reds were on of two teams in baseball last season that had five starters make a minimum of 30 starts. Not one of them missed a start due to injury.
It only took two weeks in the 2013 season for that streak to end.
Johnny Cueto landed on the disabled list on Monday with a lower back strain, an injury that could keep him shelved for up to a month. Tony Cingrani will likely be called up to start in his absence.
The Reds are not a team loaded with starting depth. For Cingrani it will be his first-ever MLB start.
All of a sudden, the Reds are now the walking wounded.
With Ryan Ludwick already absent for a significant chunk of time and setup man Sean Marshall on the DL with shoulder tendinitis, the Reds may have an uphill battle on their hands in battling the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.
Cleveland Indians: Masterful Masterson
Cleveland Indians starter Justin Masterson could have been excused if he faced some struggles in his first two starts this season.
After all, he was facing off against the reigning Cy Young Award winner.
Wait a minute—Masterson was facing both Cy Young Award winners back-to-back.
Apparently someone forgot to tell him to be afraid.
Masterson went up to the Rogers Centre and handled his matchup against R.A. Dickey with ease. He shut down the rebuilt Toronto Blue Jays offense on one run and three hits in six innings, beating the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner 4-1.
Five days later, Masterson went down to Tropicana Field to face AL Cy Young Award winner David Price. The Tribe crushed Price for eight runs while Masterson cruised through the Tampa Bay offense, holding them to two measly hits in seven stellar innings.
Materson added a five-hit shutout last Friday against the Chicago White Sox.
Now that is truly masterful.
Colorado Rockies: The Rotation Doesn't Stink
Snow blanketed Coors Field on Monday, postponing the game between the New York Mets and Colorado Rockies.
But a little fluffy stuff can't cool down a hot Rockies' rotation.
Relatively speaking, that is.
Last year, Rockies starters posted a 5.81 ERA, over a run worse than the second-worst Houston Astros.
You have to go back to the 2006 Kansas City Royals to find a worse team ERA.
However, through their first 12 games this season, the Rockies have posted a 3.72 ERA, a full two runs better.
That's not just progress—that's a minor miracle.
Detroit Tigers: An MVP Three-Peat?
In 2011, Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander was the clear choice as the American League MVP after a spectacular season in which he won the pitching Triple Crown along with a unanimous choice as the AL Cy Young Award winner.
Last year, third baseman Miguel Cabrera was the winner of the Most Valuable Player Award after becoming the first player in 45 years to win a hitting Triple Crown.
Maybe the Tigers can pull off a Triple Crown of their own by winning the MVP Award for the third year in a row.
And with a different player to boot—first baseman Prince Fielder.
Fielder has absolutely raked in his first 12 games, hitting .429 with four home runs and 19 RBI and a 1.361 OPS.
It's certainly way too early to safely crown Fielder, but a three-peat could be in the cards if he continues with his torrid start.
Houston Astros: A Little Apathy with Your Orange Juice?
The Houston Astros drew just 1.6 million fans to Minute Maid Park last year, an average of just under 20,000 per game.
This year, the Astros drew over 41,000 fans as they made their debut in the American League against their new division rivals, the Texas Rangers.
That will undoubtedly be the high point of the season.
They drew just over 20,000 in their next game and well below that figure for the rest of the homestand. To make matters worse, they went up to Safeco Field to start their new division rivalry with the Seattle Mariners.
On that Monday, the Mariners drew over 42,000 fans for their home opener. However, the following two games barely cracked 10,000 per game.
Indifference will clearly be the word of the year in terms of fan support for the lowly Astros.
Kansas City Royals: Oh What a Relief It Is
Kansas City Royals closer Greg Holland has gotten off to a slow start, allowing four runs on five hits in three innings.
However, the rest of the Royals' bullpen has epitomized the definition of the Rolaids theme song.
With Holland's rough start, Royals relievers have a 2.45 ERA, good for ninth in the majors. But without him, they've posted an even stingier 1.37 ERA.
The bullpen was looked upon to be a strength for Kansas City. Even with Holland not heating up yet, they've shown that strength in spades.
Los Angeles Angels: A Porous Pitching Staff That Gives Up Gopher Balls
The Los Angeles Angels attempted to rebuild their pitching staff this offseason. What they've gotten so far is a staff that isn't afraid to hang more than their share of pitches in the fat part of the plate.
On Monday night in Minnesota, starter Joe Blanton gave up another two home runs as the Angels lost to the Twins 8-2.
Blanton's two bombs gave the Angels 21 home runs allowed, tops in the majors.
There is nothing that can defend home runs. By extension, there's nothing that will stop a hitter from bashing the stuffing out of a ball when served up in a perfect location.
That's been the bane of existence for the Angels staff, who has no problem in hanging a curve ball in the heart of the strike zone or grooving a mid-90s fastball without movement in a batter's sweet spot.
That's not going to play well, even in pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium.
Los Angeles Dodgers: How Good Does That Red Sox Trade Look Now?
When the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers pulled off their blockbuster trade last August, the pieces that went to LA didn't make much of a difference in the Dodgers' push for the playoffs.
Adrian Gonzalez hit .297 but contributed just three home runs in 36 games. Josh Beckett pitched well with a 2.93 ERA but won just two games. Carl Crawford had already undergone Tommy John surgery—he didn't play at all.
What a difference a new year makes.
Gonzalez and Crawford are both hitting .396. Gonzalez has two home runs and 11 RBI, Crawford has a home run, two RBI and two stolen bases. He looks every bit the player that was one of the elite left fielders in the American League in the late 2000s.
Beckett pitched a tremendous game on Sunday only to lose it in the ninth inning when his team failed to support his sterling effort.
Yes, right about now the trade is paying nice dividends.
Miami Marlins: Stanton's Power Failure
Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton was forced to sit and watch for the fourth straight game on Monday night as his Marlins dropped to 2-11 with a 10-3 loss to the Washington Nationals.
Stanton's first nine games yielded absolutely nothing.
Well, that's not entirely true, Stanton did contribute two doubles among his five hits. But Stanton is still without a home run or a run batted in.
It's likely you won't find too many people who predicted that kind of power outage.
The Marlins are completely punchless without Stanton in the lineup. But even with him in the lineup thus far, the Marlins are an impotent bunch.
Milwaukee Brewers: Has the 'Run' Ended?
In 2012, the Milwaukee Brewers led the National League with 776 runs scored.
In 2013, that run production has dipped dramatically.
The Brewers have scored just 36 runs in 11 games thus far, placing 13th in the NL.
Injuries to Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez have certainly led to the lack of offense, and Ryan Braun sat out three games with neck spasms as well.
The Brewers pitching staff isn't going to carry them to a pennant—it's the offense that will make or break their 2013 season.
So far, it's breaking them.
Minnesota Twins: Can We Have a Do-Over on the Offseason Rotation Changes?
The Los Angeles Angels actually made the Minnesota Twins starting rotation look good on Monday night.
But don't be fooled so easily.
Kevin Correia's seven-inning effort gave the Twins only the second win by a starter all year. It actually reduced their combined ERA to just below the 6.00 mark at 5.88.
The "ace" of the staff—Vance Worley—is 0-2 with a 10.50 ERA in three starts. That should give an indication of just how well general manager Terry Ryan's revamped staff has performed thus far.
Corriea has actually performed fairly well with a 2.95 ERA, but no other starter has an ERA below 4.50.
Scott Diamond just made his way back to the rotation from offseason surgery, so the jury is still out on him. But the rest of the rotation hasn't done much of anything to give Twins fans any hope for the rest of the season.
New York Mets: It's Offensive to Call Their Offense Bad
A snowstorm slowed down the New York Mets on Monday night at Coors Field. It's about the only thing that has cooled the Mets offense down all season.
They are now leading the National League with 69 runs scored in 11 games. They're tied for second with a .272 average and in sole possession of second place with a .320 average with runners in scoring position.
Not too shabby considering many—including myself—wrote their offense off as dead at the start of the season.
New York Yankees: The New Old Guys Are Getting It Done
The 2013 version of the New York Yankees represent the closest group of individuals in baseball that are eligible for AARP benefits.
And the trio of new older players are eligible for applause as well.
The trio of Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner have an average age of just under 35, but they're playing like it's 1999.
The three have combined for eight home runs, 19 RBI and a .321 average thus far.
For a team who is missing huge bats in Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter, they're getting by with a new breed of old men who have contributed more than their fair share of offense.
Oakland Athletics: A Top Offense on a Shoestring Budget
The Oakland Athletics certainly surprised many baseball fans with their division-winning performance last year.
Thus far this season, their offense is doing cartwheels to keep them on top.
The A's lead the American League in runs scored (74), walks (52) doubles (32) and home runs (19). They're second in the league in slugging percentage (.464), third in OBP (.344) and tied for second in hits (121).
With a great blend of power and guys with high on-base potential, it's a mix that will serve them well throughout the course of the season.
Philadelphia Phillies: Michael Young Wins over a New Fan Base
Philadelphia Phillies had every right to be concerned during the offseason with the trade that brought long-time Texas Ranger Michael Young to the City of Brotherly Love.
Young experienced what appeared to a season of regression last year, hitting .277 with a .312 OBP and .682 OPS. Those numbers were his lowest since 2002.
However, Young has quickly endeared himself to his new fans.
Young is now hitting .356 with a .931 OPS. He has also yet to commit an error in 12 games at third base, a position he hadn't played on a regular basis for several years.
After collecting 2,230 hits and winning over the hearts and minds of Rangers fans, Young is well on his way to doing the same in Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh Pirates: So, Russell Martin Was Supposed to Help?
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed catcher Russell Martin over the offseason in the hopes that he would help aid an offense that struggled down the stretch over the past two seasons.
Martin hasn't even gotten out of the starting gates.
He's now hitting .086 with just one run batted in thus far. The Pirates likely knew that Martin wouldn't win a batting title, but I'm pretty sure they thought they'd at least get a little punch.
The punch has been more like a complete retreat at the plate.
San Diego Padres: A Complete Feeling of Doom
The San Diego Padres defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night with their third win of the season. In the process, they improved their team ERA, but not enough to get out of the cellar in the National League.
The Padres team ERA is now 5.50 after giving up just three runs to the Dodgers. That's certainly progress. Their starting rotation is also last with a 5.90 ERA.
Their offense hasn't been a whole lot of help either, scoring just 35 runs in six games. The pulled in fences at Petco Park has helped a little—they've hit five home runs in six games. But their road effort has been woeful with just one home run and a .203 average.
None of the above will lead to very good results at the end of the season. Expect more than a few players to be on the trade block by mid-July.
San Francisco Giants: Can Tim Lincecum Be Fixed?
Much of the talk this offseason and during spring training for the San Francisco Giants centered around whether or not starting pitcher Tim Lincecum could fix whatever ailed him.
After three starts, that answer would appear to be no.
Lincecum is 1-0, but with a 5.63 ERA and 12 walks in 16 innings.
In a piece for ESPN Insider, C.J. Nitkowski pointed out the fact that Lincecum needs to make several adjustments in order to be effective again.
The problem is, Lincecum tried making adjustments last year to no avail. The explosiveness that Lincecum possessed in winning back-to-back Cy Young awards simply isn't there.
Giants fans are now wondering if that will ever return.
Seattle Mariners: More Apathy from Fans
In the recently completed four-game series with the Texas Rangers, the Seattle Mariners drew just 78,000 fans to Safeco Field.
They used to draw that in two nights.
Attendance has certainly reached an all-time low in the Northwest. In two games with their new division rival Houston Astros, the Mariners barely drew 10,000 fans in each contest.
I know the Astros are bad, but seriously—10,000 fans?
The Mariners made an attempt to improve the on-field product with the additions of Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez. They also signed Felix Hernandez to a long-term deal to keep him in Seattle for the bulk of his career.
Apparently it just wasn't enough.
St. Louis Cardinals: The Matt Boys Leading the Way
There are two relatively new players in town for St. Louis, and they both share two things—the same first name and a hot bat.
Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams have endeared themselves to fans and management with bats that are wanted in the lineup on a regular basis.
In Carpenter's case, he took to learning a new position in order to gain favor and win a spot in the everyday lineup.
In Adams' case, he's currently blocked out, but that hasn't stopped him from pounding the baseball whenever he's gotten the chance.
Adams is hitting .611 with three home runs and eight RBI in just 18 at-bats. Carpenter has hit .314 with a home run and six RBI.
The Matt boys are getting it done at the plate. If only they can find more at-bat for Adams—then they can put together a nice PR campaign featuring the Haz-Matt boys.
Well, I thought it was catchy.
Tampa Bay Rays: Offense? Yes, We Really Do Need Some Stinking Offense
The Tampa Bay Rays are in a not-so-nice position offensively in the American League.
In fact, their performance thus far has been offensive.
The Rays are last in the American League in batting average (.212), runs (33), home runs (4) and OPS (.581).
Ironically, they don't strike out much. With 69 whiffs they're the third-best team in the majors.
They just can't hit a lick.
Wil Myers might be looking like a really good option right about now.
Texas Rangers: Berkman's Last Stand
The Texas Rangers travel to Wrigley Field to play the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday. That likely means that new designated hitter Lance Berkman will be sitting for much of the three-day stay.
That's one way to cool down a hot bat.
Berkman is hitting .389 with one home run, eight RBI and a 1.111 OPS. He's looked comfortable at the plate after playing in only 32 games last season.
If this is indeed Berkman's final year in the majors, he's certainly attempting to go out with a bang.
Toronto Blue Jays: So Much for a New Starting Rotation
Mark Buehrle gave up just two runs in 6.1 innings on Monday night to beat the Chicago White Sox. However, it wasn't enough to lift the Blue Jays out of the cellar in the American League with its ERA for starting pitchers.
Toronto's rotation has delivered an ugly 6.11 ERA in its first 13 games. They've been saved by an offense that picked them up on a few occasions already. But there are going to be times when that offense won't be there to pull them out of trouble. At some point, they're going to have to do that themselves.
With R.A. Dickey's first win over the weekend and Buehrle's effort on Monday, it could be a sign that things are turning around.
It's simply not good when the No. 5 pitcher—J.A. Happ—is leading the staff with a 2-0 record and 3.48 ERA. But Dickey and Buehrle's recent efforts could be the kick-start needed.
Washington Nationals: It's Not Going to Be Easy After All
Many anointed the Washington Nationals as the NL East Division champs before a game was even played.
After an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the rival Atlanta Braves in which they were outscored 18-5, no one believes it'll be an easy road anymore.
The Nationals were outplayed in every aspect of the game in losing the weekend series. The Braves combined great starting pitching, timely hitting and great bullpen support in showing the Nationals that the NL East will be a fight to the finish.
The Nationals certainly don't have to go back to the drawing board—they got beat by the hottest team in baseball right now. But it did show them that they'll need to put their collective noses to the grindstone in order to reach their goal at the end of the season.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
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