It's the end of April, the month that signifies the start of the new year for baseball fans. As the dust settles around the standings, those fans are shocked. Who are these teams at the top of these divisions?
For years, we fans have been used to reading the words "American League East Standings" followed immediately by New York and Boston. However, after one of the most exciting MLB opening months in recent memory, new teams are emerging as division leaders and playoff contenders, while old powers struggle.
As the Tampa Bay Rays showed America last year, going from worst to first is definitely possible. However, as the Pittsburgh Pirates tend to show us every year, a fast start does not always guarantee lasting success.
So which of the teams that exceeded expectations in April will still be around the top in October? Or September for that Matter? Here's a forecast for the AL.
The Toronto Blue Jays: How many times in the last decade has a solid Toronto season gone to waste in such a powerful division? Well, this year the Blue Jays are starting to gain some notice, starting the season on a 15-7 surge and remaining the only team in baseball yet to lose a series.
Keys to Success: While Roy Halladay continues to be the beacon of consistency for the art of Pitching, there are real questions about the rest of the rotation. Granted, Scott Richmond has been great, but injuries to Ricky Romero, Dustin McGowan, and Shaun Marcum have me worried.
You never know how a pitcher will react coming off an injury, and the bottom three in their rotation are a combined 0-6.
On the Rise or Destined to Fail? On the rise. With a young pitching staff that has showed success in recent years, and great production from young stars like Aaron Hill (.371 BA, 20 RBI) and Adam Lind (.314 BA, 18 RBI) this team is set for the future. Expect to see them in the playoffs.
The Kansas City Royals: OK, so they're only 10-10, but in the AL Central, that's good for third place and a mere one game out of first. Are the Royals back from an extended stay in baseball mediocrity?
Keys to Success: Zach Grienke is carrying the pitching staff right now. He's been lights out this year, having yet to surrender a run through 4 starts (29 IP, 36 k's, WHIP<1).
One thing people don't normally associate the Royals with is solid pitching, but if the staff can continue with strong performances from its starters that dont throw 100 mph (Gil Meche: 3.77 ERA, 27 k's, Brian Bannister: 2-0, .69 ERA), they should have continued success.
On the Rise or Destined to Fail? On the Rise, but not quite playoff contender ready yet. Improvement is nice to see, but Kyle Farnsworth and Sidney Ponson have shown a consistent knack for not being very good pitchers. A young lineup will really start to blossom in the next couple of years.
The Seattle Mariners: It's good to be Griffey. The aging slugger returned to his first team in the off season, a team that finished with the worst record in the majors last year. While he isn't enjoying very much success (.196 BA), the Mariners sure are, sitting at 13-9 atop the competitive AL West.
Keys to Success: The pitching staff has been dominant so far. Their 3.33 team ERA ranks among the league's best, with Felix Hernandez leading the way. His 36 strikeouts ties him for second in the league. Not to be overlooked, Erik Bedard (2-1) and Jarrod Washburn (3-1) are quietly contributing to this teams pitching success.
On the Rise or Destined to Fail? Destined to Fail, at least this year. Their offense just doesn't look like a playoff-caliber offense. Adrian Beltre is hitting .169 without a home run, and inconsistent slugger Russel Branyon is providing the bulk of their run production. That doesn't spell "continued success" for me.
It's a little early though. In fact, in just a couple weeks, there could be new "surprises," and the current leaders could end up basement dwellers. Look at what the Marlins accomplished in just seven straight losses.
Coming Soon: NL surprise standout breakdown.
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