That’s nowhere near enough time to make definitive judgements on how the year will pan out, but it does give us a bit of info on which to upgrade preseason rankings.
Here are how my rankings look as of today, with the previous ranking displayed in brackets after each team’s name. I’ll update my rankings again at the end of May.
1. Atlanta Braves (4)
The Braves have been as good as advertised. Justin Upton has been sensational in his first month in Atlanta and although the team, as expected, is racking up the K’s at the plate, the offense is still very productive. Combined with their pitching staff, they are going to take some beating.
2. Washington Nationals (1)
Not quite the blistering start expected, but that doesn’t change the fact that top to bottom they have a very good roster that will win a lot of games this season. Bryce Harper doesn’t turn 21 until 16 October and it’s very possible he may have had an MVP-worthy season by then, which is testament to his immense talent.
3. Texas Rangers (12)
I’ve moved them up a long way and that’s really a reflection on me ranking them too lowly to begin with. Their pitching has been terrific, led by Yu Darvish who looks like he could be developing into a genuine MLB ace in his second season. With more arms coming back later from injury in next few months (Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz), their outlook is promising, especially with Angels and A’s showing weaknesses early in the season.
4. Cincinnati Reds (5)
So far Shin-Soo Choo has done exactly what the Reds acquired him to do: fix their gaping on-base hole at the top of the lineup. Losing Ryan Ludwick to an injury three innings into the season-opener was a blow but one they can cope with and so long as Johnny Cueto’s current injury doesn’t linger, the Reds’ pitching will be a real asset once again.
5. St. Louis Cardinals (10)
I’m moving the Cards up my rankings as they quietly go about their business, taking injuries on the chin and always finding players to step into the breach. Matt Carpenter is the latest example and if they do lose injured closer Jason Motte to Tommy John surgery you wouldn’t be surprised to see another player in the Cardinals’ organization filling the gap successfully. Meanwhile, Adam Wainwright has started the season in ominous form.
6. San Francisco Giants (7)
Matt Cain has been curiously hittable in April and the Giants’ pitching staff overall has been fairly average so far, which isn’t what we’ve come to expect. Still, you wouldn’t bet against the arms coming good and the offence once again should do enough to take this team into the playoffs.
7. Detroit Tigers (3)
With Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal (‘17Ks’) Sanchez and Doug Fister the Tigers have a fearsome four in their rotation that more than counterbalances the relative struggles of Rick Porcello and the retrograde step of bringing back Jose Valverde. Torii Hunter has had a good first month with Detroit and you would expect Victor Martinez to recover from his disappointing first month, coming as it does after a year on the sidelines.
8. Tampa Bay Rays (9)
I’m not quite sure what to make of the Rays. I expect David Price and Fernando Rodney to leave average Aprils behind, but there’s a nagging doubt that – Evan Longoria aside – the offence is going to let them down. Much may rest on the development of Wil Meyers, how quickly he makes it to the Major League roster and how well he performs once he gets there.
9. Baltimore Orioles (17)
Like most onlookers, I was down on the Orioles heading into this season so I’m going to reverse the trend and give them a big boost in the rankings this time around. Chris ‘Crush’ Davis has started the season in torrid style and Wei-Yin Chen has been very effective on the mound.
10. Toronto Blue Jays (2)
After making so much news with their offseason moves, it’s been a distinctly underwhelming start to the season for the Blue Jays and losing Jose Reyes for three months to an ankle injury is a big blow. Let’s see whether the pitching additions (R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle) can make some strides in May.
11. L.A. Dodgers (6)
Much like the Blue Jays, the Dodgers haven’t lived up to the hype in the first month although their dreadful luck with injuries to pitchers has been a significant factor in their faltering start. Matt Kemp is surely too talented to be mired in his slump for much longer and with Boston recruits Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez performing well, with Hanley Ramirez due back from injury early in May, the Dodgers are a good bet to bounce back strongly.
12. Boston Red Sox (15)
It has of course been a tragic month in Boston, but the city’s beloved Red Sox have been a source of comfort with a good April. If the team was going to rebound from a disappointing 2012 campaign they needed Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester to find their best form again. They’ve certainly done that so far and Boston could become a team that grabs a Wild Card and then goes on a run in the playoffs.
13. New York Yankees (13)
The injuries keep on coming (Jeter reinjuring his ankle, Ivan Nova and Francisco Cervelli both suffering injuries on Friday) and yet they’ve still started the season in good style. This isn’t a classic Yankees team, but do not count them out from making the playoffs.
14. Oakland A’s (11)
After a thrilling nine-game winning streak earlier in the month, the A’s had gone 4-10 prior to Sunday’s game to bring the team back down to earth. Jarrod Parker, Brett Anderson and Josh Reddick have had a tough opening month and Oakland need them to return to form to push forward, knowing from 2012 that anything can happen over a long season.
15. Arizona Diamondbacks (16)
Arguably they deserve to be a little higher in the rankings than this. Patrick Corbin looks to be the next brilliant D-Backs starter off the production line, whilst Paul Goldschmidt and Gerardo Parra have started the season well at the plate. However, there’s a part of me that suspects baseball karma will take hold and their decision to trade away Justin Upton will come back to haunt them.
16. L.A. Angels of Anaheim (8)
Although the Angels got plenty of media attention for adding Josh Hamilton to their already talented batting lineup, their pitching staff didn’t look especially strong and losing ace Jered Weaver to a fractured elbow has put even more focus on their lack of depth in the rotation. With Hamilton starting slowly and Albert Pujols battling through a painful foot injury, there’s enough reason so far to doubt that the Angels will live up to the potential of the star talent on the team.
17. Milwaukee Brewers (14)
It’s largely been as expected for the Brewers so far. Ryan Braun has been terrific and Kyle Lohse (recent injury aside) has started his time in Milwaukee well, yet Rickie Weeks has struggled and John Axford’s 2012 demons have resurfaced. Returns from injuries by Aramis Ramirez (expected to be very soon) and Corey Hart (probably the end of May) means that quality reinforcements are on the way, but will they be enough?
18. Kansas City Royals (21)
I’m cautious about buying into the Royals’ good April too much as most years there is an unfancied team that starts off well but then fades away (Cleveland went 11-9 in April last year, for example). The positive signs are that offseason recruits James Shields and Ervin Santana have started very well and they are getting good contributions from a range of position players, even though Mike Moustakas has yet to put a disappointing 2012 behind him.
19. Philadelphia Phillies (19)
The Phillies’ first month hasn’t done much to change the sense that despite having a number of talented veteran players, the sum total of the roster’s efforts leaves them as a middle of the pack team. Roy Halladay has shown some encouraging signs in his last three starts, which will be a big relief to the Phillies, although prior to Sunday night Cole Hamels had got off to a shaky start to the season.
20. Pittsburgh Pirates (23)
The Buccos have started brightly and the fact that they’ve done so without Andrew McCutchen really hitting his stride has got to bode well. Starling Marte has had an excellent April and new recruit Russell Martin has really picked up over the past 10 days or so. The pitching has been decent overall and maybe this will finally be the year that they get above .500. As I stated last time, I still want to see them do it before I’ll believe in them.
21. Chicago White Sox (18)
A team of two parts so far. The pitching has been effective with Jake Peavy, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Dylan Axelrod doing well in the rotation and Addison Reed and Jesse Crain dominating out of the bullpen. The offence – Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez aside – has simply not been there. Adam Dunn has been woeful apart from a few longball swings, Jeff Keppinger isn’t hitting at all and even Paul Konerko has started off slowly.
22. Cleveland Indians (20)
Offseason recruits Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn (before his finger injury) have boosted the offence as hoped and Justin Masterson has led the pitching staff outstandingly well, showing the good form that destered him last season. However, they need more hurlers to step up and both Brett Myers (now out injured) and Ubaldo Jimenez have done the exact opposite.
23. New York Mets (25)
The Mets haven’t had a lot to cheer about over the past few seasons and it was sadly fitting that the one man who temporarily lifted the gloom with a no-hitter last year, Johan Santana, was the source of more dejection heading into this season suffering another serious shoulder injury that could end his career.
In that context, Matt Harvey has been a dazzling bright spot. There’s little better for fans than seeing a young starting pitcher dominating teams and he provides an enormous amount of encouragement, both in enjoying his performances this season and what he could be a part of in years to come.
24. Seattle Mariners (22)
There are no surprises here; Felix Hernandez has been excellent and yet the M’s offence is holding the team back (the efforts of Aaron Harang and Joe Saunders on the mound haven’t helped much either). Mike Morse hit six homers in his first nine games but hasn’t hit one since, Raul Ibanez hasn’t offered much at the plate and hopes that Justin Smoak might finally turn things around haven’t been realised, so far at least.
25. Colorado Rockies (28)
Based on their win-loss record they should be much higher up the rankings and they’ve received some wonderful contributions in April from the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Dexter Fowler, Wilin Rosario and Jhoulys Chacin. Still, rankings should take into account a projection of how the team will develop over the course of the season and you cannot overlook that their impressive early showing includes a 9-0 record against the Padres and Mets. The Rockies’ next four series are against the Dodgers, Rays, Yankees and Cardinals so let’s see where they are after those games.
26. Minnesota Twins (27)
The Twins are where you would expect them to be right now. Joe Mauer’s hitting like Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham’s knocking some balls over the fence and that’s about where the positivity ends, perhaps adding in Kevin Correia’s good first four outings.
27. Chicago Cubs (26)
The Cubs’ Carlos Villanueva has been one of the more surprisingly impressive starting pitchers in April and with Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood both doing a decent job on the mound too, that’s something to be positive about. Still, the main news in Chicago has been in the off-the-field developments that will see the renovation of Wrigley Field and hopes for an increased payroll down the line.
28. San Diego Padres (24)
Hopefully the recent return of Chase Headley from a DL stint will provide a boost for the Padres. There hasn’t been much else to cheer so far, including pitching prospect Casey Kelly injuring his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery.
29. Houston Astros (30)
There’s little to choose between the Astros and Marlins at the bottom of the rankings. The Astros had struck out 244 in their first 24 games prior to Sunday – Chris Carter leading the way with a record-breaking 43 in April with 3 days still to go – and their four-game series against the Tigers this week (Thursday to Sunday) is extremely likely to start May off on the same footing. Jose Altuve has been the lone positive on the current Major League roster so far.
30. Miami Marlins (29)
Everyone knew that the Marlins were going to be a mess in 2013, but it was thought that Giancarlo Stanton would provide one reason to come to the ballpark. However, Stanton had just one home run heading into Sunday and was batting .209/.329/.299 and you have to wonder whether the broken promises and dramatic trading away of most of last year’s team has affected his play.