April is just about in the books. It is hard to believe that we have had Major League Baseball for almost a month now. It has been an entertaining—and surprising at times—first month.
While it is common to forget about April when the pennant race heats up in the fall, April plays a big role for a lot of teams, and not just in terms of wins and losses (which still count in September, "April doesn't matter" guys). April can give young teams confidence (Indians, Marlins) or can cause contenders to hit the panic button (Twins, Red Sox), even if it is early.
Here are my picks for each team's MVP through the first month of the baseball season.
Justin Upton is off to a fast start in 2011. His .270 average may not look great, but he already has 24 hits, four home runs, 12 RBI and four steals.
Upton has gotten much better at drawing walks. He has already drawn 11 walks, which gives him a .347 OBP. The Diamondbacks may be a team stuck going nowhere in 2011, but Upton—who is supposed to be their franchise player—is starting to look like someone to build on.
Chipper is back. The veteran third baseman has been the Braves' best hitter in April.
Jones is hitting .289 with a .356 OBP. Both of those numbers trail Brian McCann, but Jones leads him in runs (12), home runs (three), RBI (21) and OPS (.845).
The Braves are being touted as a team of the future. Guys like Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward get the attention. But, the old pro, Chipper Jones, has been the Braves MVP so far in 2011. He is showing that he should not be forgotten about yet.
Zach Britton wasn't even supposed to be on Baltimore's Opening Day roster. An injury to Brian Matusz forced the Orioles to call him up before the season even began. I bet they are happy they did.
The Orioles are sitting at 9-12, and Britton has four of those wins. In 31.2 innings, Britton has a 2.84 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP.
Many of the O's have slowed down greatly since their hot start, but Britton has been the exception. His most recent start came against division rival Boston—and he was lights out, throwing six innings while giving up only one run.
The Orioles need to start hitting like they did the first week of the season to not fall too far behind in the AL East, but even if they do fall behind this year, Britton has impressed and gives the Baltimore fans hope for the future.
Where in the world did Jed Lowrie's April come from?
He is hitting an even .400 with 18 games played. Many would argue that Dustin Pedroia has been Boston's MVP, and he has had a fantastic start to 2011, but Lowrie has been the hot bat the Red Sox needed to break out of the early slump.
Lowrie's 1.060 OPS has pretty much secured him the shortstop spot for the near future. If Lowrie can keep hitting like he is, or even around the .300 mark, the Red Sox lineup may take off like many thought it would and they could be right atop the AL East by early May.
The Cubs have been very inconsistent so far in April. The starting pitching has been terrible and the hitting has been so-so. The one constant has been the play of shortstop Starlin Castro.
Castro is hitting .350 in April with 17 runs scored already. This is still only his first full season in the big leagues, but it is very obvious to anybody watching the Cubs that he is the most important player on the team. Castro represents the future in Chicago.
He hit very well after being called up in 2010, and he hasn't missed a beat so far in 2011. Castro could use some help to get some more wins, but he is the face of the Cubs right now.
Paul Konerko just won't go away. He has been "getting old" for years now, and he just keeps on producing.
Konerko's hot April includes a .319 average, six home runs and 19 RBI. He is seemingly always up with runners in scoring position and also always seems to come through.
The White Sox have had a somewhat disappointing April. They are only 10-14 through 24 games. If they turn it around, however, it would be a safe bet that Konerko will be the leader both on and off the field.
The reigning NL MVP is picking up right where he left off in 2010. Joey Votto has been on an absolute tear in April.
The Reds are only one game over .500, but that is good enough for first in the NL Central. Votto has been a huge reason for the wins. He is hitting .379, which is great in its own right, but his 23 walks give him a .509 OBP. His OPS is 1.164. That is incredible for a 25-game span.
The Reds are scoring runs. Their pitching has not been great. If they can continue to lead the Central and make the playoffs again, Votto may not be only the Reds MVP for the month of April, but he may repeat as the NL MVP.
Justin Masterson has been the streak-stopper for the Indians. He has started four games in which the Indians were coming off a loss, and he has won them all.
Masterson is 5-0 with a 2.18 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. He has only given up one home run in April, and most importantly, he is getting out left-handers.
Masterson is near unhittable to righties; it is the lefties who can see the ball coming out of his hand better. So far in 2011, he has been equally as dominant against hitters from both sides of the plate. Masterson has the "stuff" to be a very good starter; it appears he is finally putting it all together.
The Rockies are 16-7 in 2011, and their star shortstop is a huge reason for it. Troy Tulowitzki has looked like the best shortstop in baseball over the first month.
Tulo has seven home runs already to go with his .416 OBP and .326 batting average. He has been the Rockies' best hitter and has picked up the slack for the struggling Carlos Gonzalez.
The Rockies lead the NL West and look like a team that could hold that position all year long. Tulowitzki has been their MVP in April and will likely continue to be all the way until late September.
Miguel Cabrera's off-the-field issues obviously have no effect on his hitting. Cabrera is hitting .333 with five home runs and 15 RBI. He has also drawn 17 walks, which gives him a .450 OBP.
The Tigers are only 12-11, but Cabrera has the potential to carry a lineup for weeks at a time. If the Tigers can get a little more consistent starting pitching, Cabrera is just the type of player who can catch fire and have it spread to the rest of the lineup.
Josh Johnson has been unreal in April. He is sporting a 1.06 ERA and a 0.65 WHIP.
Johnson has already started five games—winning three—and he has only given up four runs. It appears the Marlins of 2011 are better overall than the Marlins of the last few years. If they continue to give Johnson the run support and the other starters keep throwing well, they could make some noise.
Johnson has been the Marlins MVP in April by far. If he keeps throwing like he has been, he will be bringing home a Cy Young Award after the 2011 season.
Brett Wallace has always been touted as a good hitter. In spite of his reputation, he has been bounced around from team to team over the last two years. It appears he has finally found a home in Houston, and good thing for the Astros.
Wallace leads the team with a .347 batting average. He has an OBP of .417 and has eight RBI to go with his six doubles. Wallace has been one of the few bright spots for the struggling Astros.
It is clear that Wallace and Michael Bourn have been the best two players for the Astros in April. Wallace is the MVP because of his hitting and the hope he has given the Astros fans who are seeing a team that is as bad of a team as Houston has seen in a long time.
Alex Gordon is finally looking like a guy whose picture should be on a really expensive baseball card. Gordon is hitting .351 with 11 doubles on the young season.
The Royals' hot start has slowed down a bit, but Gordon hasn't. He has been the catalyst for the Royals' revamped lineup. Many people thought Gordon would hit seventh or eighth this year, but he has been slotted into the third spot. His newfound comfort at the plate, especially against curve balls, has served him—and the Royals—well.
Six wins in the month of April is absurd. Jered Weaver has done the absurd.
Weaver is 6-0 with a 0.99 ERA. He has 49 strikeouts compared to only 10 walks. He has been dominant, as the Angels are keeping hot on the heels of the Texas Rangers.
Weaver and the Angels are very much capable of hanging with Texas in the West. Coming into the season, many had questions about Weaver as a true ace. He has shown in the month of April that he is more than capable of being an ace.
This one was difficult. Picking between Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier was far from easy. Ethier's hit streak has been impressive, but Kemp has been a little bit better.
The stats of Kemp and Ethier are near identical. Kemp is hitting .378 compared to Ethier's .380. Kemp has five home runs, eight doubles and 18 RBI. Ethier has three home runs, nine doubles and 15 RBI.
The thing that put Kemp over the top for me is his eight steals. If Kemp gets a single, he is looking to make it a double by stealing second.
Both men have been fantastic in April; Kemp has been just a little bit better.
No surprise here. Braun has been the man for Milwaukee in April. The Brewers showed their appreciation by extending Braun through 2020.
Braun is hitting .356 with a .454 OBP. He has nine home runs already and 21 RBI. In other words, Braun has been a monster.
The NL Central is wide open, much like 2010. Joey Votto put the Reds on his shoulders last year and carried them to the playoffs. If Ryan Braun keeps playing like he has in April, he could do the same for Milwaukee in 2011.
Justin Morneau hasn't looked like Justin Morneau. Joe Mauer is hurt. The pitching has been subpar. At least Jason Kubel has been killing the ball.
Kubel has almost single-handedly kept the Twins offense scoring runs. Kubel is hitting .347 with 10 runs scored and nine RBI. The RBI and runs numbers may not sound like much, but when considering the total amount of runs the Twins have scored, he has done quite well.
The Twins are a scrappy team, and I would not be surprised in the least if they are around the top of the AL Central come September. If they are, they can look back and thank Jason Kubel for keeping them respectable in April.
There hasn't been much for Mets fans to cheer about lately. Ike Davis is one of those things.
The youngster is hitting .338 with four homers in April. He has been the best hitter in the Mets' weak-hitting lineup. His 18 RBI lead the team, as do his 12 walks. He has also made only one error at first base on the young season.
The Mets have 10 wins so far, which quite frankly, surprises me. I knew their pitching had been bad in April, but I wasn't aware it had been good enough to scrape together 10 wins. If they can keep their head above water long enough to get Johan Santana back, they could have a better-than-expected year. Ike Davis is a big part of that lineup and a big part of that hope.
Is it just me, or does it seem like one of the best players in baseball over the last decade has flown under the radar the last month? Alex Rodriguez has had a monster April and few people outside of New York are talking about it. There has been more attention paid to the Red Sox and Rays' bad start and the Yankees pitching problems than to A-Rod's April.
A-Rod is hitting .317 with an OPS of 1.108 and an OBP of .442 thanks to his 14 walks. Rodriguez also has five home runs, 17 RBI and six doubles.
Robinson Cano continues to rake and Russell Martin has been a pleasant surprises for the Yankees, but Alex Rodriguez has been their MVP. He is the man in the Yankees order. If A-Rod hits, the Yankees score runs. That has been evident in the first month of 2011.
The A's are not a good hitting team. That isn't insurmountable when your pitching staff looks like theirs does. Brett Anderson has solidified himself as their best pitcher so far in 2011.
Anderson is 2-1 with a 1.56 ERA. He has 27 strikeouts compared to only four walks. He has only given up six earned runs in his five starts. No matter how bad a lineup is, it should win if Anderson pitches like that.
The A's are one of those teams that everybody else hopes doesn't have the hitting to make the playoffs, because if they do, they could be trouble—much like the 2010 Giants. Brett Anderson is a pitcher that no team wants to face. He is the A's ace right now and hopes to continue his hot April into the summer months.
All the star power on the Phillies—both hitters and pitchers—and Placido Polanco has been their April MVP. Who would have thought that?
The Phillies pitchers have been good, but not as great as they could be. Yet, the Phils are sitting at 16-8 and in first place of the AL East.
Polanco has been their most consistent hitter. He is hitting .389 with 16 runs scored and 16 RBI. The other big boppers in the Phils lineup haven't been great, meaning Polanco's good April has been very, very important to the Phils.
Charlie Morton has been the best player on the Pirates in April. Your next question should be: Who is Charlie Morton?
Morton has started five games, is 2-1 and has four quality starts. He has a 3.00 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. Morton has been the most consistent starter on the Pirates through the first month.
I didn't say it was pretty, but Morton has been the MVP.
The Padres and Pirates back-to-back is rough. Nobody on the Padres has played exceptionally well in the first month, unless you count Aaron Harrang's four wins and 3.90 ERA.
Catcher Nick Hundley has been the Padres' best hitter. He has an OBP of .386, 11 RBI, 11 runs scored and three home runs.
The Padres are in rebuilding mode and their 9-16 record shows. At least someone in the Padres lineup is hitting the ball.
Pablo Sandoval has apparently shaken off a rough 2010 campaign. Kung-Fu Panda is looking a lot more like the 2009 version these days.
Sandoval is hitting .329 with five home runs and 13 RBI in April. His swing looks a lot more comfortable than it did last year.
The Giants are 11-12 and trail the Rockies and Dodgers in the NL West. Everybody knows they have the pitching to get back in the race; their hitting is the question. The reemergence of Pablo Sandoval could be a huge boost to the Giants.
Michael Pineda has been nothing short of outstanding in April. Pineda is 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA in four starts. His upper-90s fastball has looked near unhittable.
The Mariners are not going anywhere in 2011. With Pineda showing how good he can be, they are looking to the future. A one-two punch of Felix Hernandez and Pineda would be daunting. Pineda has at least instilled some hope in Seattle over the first month and has lived up to his hype.
Many people questioned the Cardinals for signing Lance Berkman in the offseason. He has proven his doubters wrong in April.
Berkman is hitting .378 with a .446 OBP. Berkman has six home runs and 16 RBI. When Matt Holliday went down for a few games, Berkman stepped up and hasn't slowed down.
The Cardinals pitching staff is obviously missing Adam Wainwright, but the lineup is looking better than it has in years. Lance Berkman is a big reason for that. He has complemented Pujols and Holliday well, and could be just what the doctor ordered for the Cards to win the wide-open NL Central.
The Rays were supposed to come back down to earth this year. It looks like they were doing that for a week or two, but, they are back.
James Shields has been their best pitcher in April. He has rebounded from a subpar 2010 and has looked great in five starts. Shields is 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP.
The Rays have the pieces to still compete if everything goes right. One of those things that must go right is a bounce-back year from James Shields. In April, he has done just that. He has shown the Rays that the loss of Matt Garza is no big deal because "Big Game" James is back.
Wasn't Michael Young supposed to be on his way out in Texas? Suddenly, the injury to Josh Hamilton has shifted the weight of run-producing to the old veteran once again.
Michael Young is hitting .347 with 13 RBI and 12 runs scored. The rest of the Rangers hitters have fallen on hard times. Young has been there to pick up the slack.
Young has shown why he is the heart of the Rangers. He has easily been their offensive MVP through the first month. If he continues producing like he has been, there is almost no way the Rangers can deal him.
2010 was no fluke. Jose Bautista is doing it again.
Bautista has become one of the most feared hitters in baseball...again. He is hitting .356 with a .515 OBP. That is not a typo—Bautista has a .515 on-base percentage! He has drawn 24 walks because pitchers are afraid of the deep ball.
Many expected Bautista to fall off after last season, but he has done anything but. He has shown a patience at the plate that is rare for power hitters and has been the Blue Jays MVP.
Nobody on the Nationals has been hitting the ball except Wilson Ramos. Although Pudge Rodriguez is supposed to be the everyday catcher, Ramos has been playing too good to not get playing time.
Ramos is hitting .375 with two home runs and three doubles. He also has played good defense behind the plate.
The Nationals are not a team of 2010: They are a team of the future. Wilson Ramos is a piece of that future. He is showing that now, as he has been their best hitter in 2011.