From strength of schedule to the names that land on a team's disabled list, there are any number of reasons why some teams flourish while others flounder in early-season action.
Success—or failure—in the first month of the season doesn't guarantee similar results in the following month, much less for the rest of the year. It does, however, guarantee that the pressure on a team increases with each passing month.
Let's take a look at which teams will crack under that pressure—and those that will thrive under it—in the second month of baseball's regular season.
Atlanta Braves (17-10): Hot
While the Braves have slowed down after a torrid 12-1 start to the season, going 5-9 over their last 14 games, Atlanta remains one of the better teams in baseball.
Facing a May schedule that sits a combined six games below .500 (106-112) and includes a 10-game stretch towards the end of the month against New York (NL), Minnesota and Toronto, Atlanta will not only be able to keep pace with the top teams in the National League, but maintain its lead in the NL East.
According to NBC Sports' Hardball Talk, catcher Brian McCann is expected back in the Braves lineup in the very near future:
While the six-time All-Star had a terrible season in 2012, that was largely attributed to his shoulder injury that required surgery to repair. Through four rehab games, McCann is hitting .357 with thee home runs and seven RBI.
Atlanta's starting rotation remains solid, its bullpen the best in baseball and, with the return of a healthy McCann to the fold, its offense will be more dangerous than it was during the first month of the season.
That's terrible news for teams on the Braves schedule in May.
Boston Red Sox (19-8): Hot
What a difference a year makes.
Baseball's best team in April, there's no reason why a resurgent Boston club can't continue its hot play through the second month of the season and into June.
New manager John Farrell's impact on the team cannot be understated, and it's no coincidence that the return of the team's former pitching coach to Fenway Park has resulted in the team's pitching staff—its biggest liability in 2012—has become the team's biggest strength.
Clay Buchholz is throwing the ball as well as any pitcher in baseball, looking like a legitimate contender for his first Cy Young Award with a sparkling 1.01 ERA and 0.96 WHIP while averaging more than a strikeout per inning:
MLB (@MLB) May 2, 2013
Unlike their arch-nemesis in the AL East, the New York Yankees, the Red Sox are relatively healthy, with Shane Victorino (lower back inflammation) the only regular who is sidelined with an injury.
The Red Sox also have one of the easier May schedules around, with only two of their opponents (Texas and the Yankees) having made the playoffs in 2012 and the group sitting with a combined 103-109 record so far in 2013.
Boston is playing inspired baseball—picking against them would be a foolish endeavor.
Chicago White Sox (11-15): Cold
While Chicago faces only two teams (Oakland and Texas) that made the playoffs in 2012, and face a group of teams that have a combined 2013 record under .500 (109-111)—including seven games against Chicago and Miami (a combined 19-36(—it's hard to see the White Sox turning things around in May.
Paul Konerko, the key to the team's offense, looks very much like a 37-year-old veteran who has nothing left in the tank. May has historically been the least productive month of his career, with a .249/.331/.424 slash line, and those expecting him to wake from his slumber will be disappointed.
Tyler Flowers continues to prove that he can't hit major league pitching consistently, making the team's decision to let A.J. Pierzynski walk as a free agent look even worse than many believed it was during the offseason. Aside from Alejandro de Aza and Alex Rios, nobody on the team is swinging the bat particularly well.
With six players currently on the disabled list—including starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd—and no guarantees that any of them will return to action this month, manager Robin Ventura will have his hands full trying to keep the team from falling into the realm of irrelevance.
Houston Astros (8-20): Cold
Houston's long first season as members of the American League continues, with the team facing one of the tougher schedules in May. Four opponents made the playoffs a year ago (Detroit, New York (AL), Oakland and Texas), and the opposition has gone a combined 123-94 so far in 2013.
Seven of the team's first 14 games this month come against the Tigers, and the Astros face only one team, the Los Angeles Angels (10-17), with a record below .500.
While the team's offense hasn't been terrible, hitting .258 with 117 runs scored, both landing in the middle of the pack, Houston's pitching staff has been awful, sitting with a 5.42 ERA and 1.64 WHIP, both the worst marks in baseball by far.
That lack of quality pitching will prove to be the team's Achilles' heel throughout the season, especially in May, with as difficult a schedule as Houston has in front of it.
If you thought April was a rough month for the Astros, just wait. Things are about to take a turn for the worse.
Los Angeles Dodgers (13-14): Cold
The Dodgers are slowly getting healthy, as Hanley Ramirez has returned to action and Chris Capuano has begun a minor league rehab assignment, but their returns won't result in significantly different results from the season's first month for Los Angeles.
Only two teams on the Dodgers May schedule have sub-.500 records (Los Angeles (AL) and Miami), and their opponents combined 127-120 record is a bit misleading, as teams like Washington (14-14) are better than their record indicates.
It's no secret that the Dodgers have been offensively challenged this season, with only Miami (79) putting fewer runs on the board than the 91 that Los Angeles has scored—that's bad news for a club that faces six teams that have scored more than the average (116 runs) by a MLB club so far this year.
Unless the Dodgers can figure out a way to clone Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher on the planet, another month with a record below .500 is in the cards for Don Mattingly's club.
New York Yankees (16-10): Hot
Despite finishing April with more key players on the disabled list than they started with, the Yankees sit with the fourth-best record in all of baseball, forcing those who wrote their eulogy before the season to think about issuing a retraction.
Of the 11 teams on the Yankees schedule in May, the team has already faced six of them this season, winning 14 of 21 games. Combined, New York's May competition boasts a record of 149-152, something that doesn't exactly fill you with a feeling of dread and despair if you're a Yankees fan.
Adding to my optimism for the Bronx Bombers in the season's second month is this news, courtesy of MLB.com's Bryan Hoch:
Curtis Granderson is progressing and could get into minor league games very soon. Early to mid May is still in play for him.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) April 30, 2013
While Granderson certainly won't be in midseason form when he returns, adding a player who has averaged 42 home runs and 112 RBI a year over the past two seasons is never a bad thing. His return will also give manager Joe Girardi more options, both in the outfield and at designated hitter.
Slowly but surely, the Yankees are getting their injured stars back on the field. That's bad news for the rest of the American League.
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