Wednesday, May 1, 2024

April 2024 in Review [feat. Gunnar Henderson]


We are already a month into the 2024 season, a season that seemed so ripe with promise and intrigue. Already we've seen the elapsing of a league wide uniform quality scandal whose resolution comes essentially with an IOU, a visible decrease in umpiring quality, two of the worst teams in recent baseball history, and a dozen or so of the best pitchers in the game immediately getting injured. And, might I stress, some good things as well.

Like usual on the blog, I'm gonna be keeping track of the progress of MLB events month by month, confirming what the big names and teams of the moment are, and expecting the picture to change as we go. As it's April, I'm not expecting this picture to really become the final statement about this season. We'll get there.

So first, let's talk about 5 things from April 2024 that no one could predict:

1. The Jackson Holliday experiment fails without hurting the O's. It was gonna be here anyhow, the fact that the Orioles didn't call up Jackson Holliday for Opening Day, then called him up midway through the month, he only got a hit or so, and then immediately went back down to Norfolk. That already isn't on many bingo cards. But the fact that the Orioles did all this with their organizational cracker jack prize, it didn't work, and they're still in first...that is the bigger takeaway. All of the big stars are holding their weight- Rustchman and Burnes are big stars, Gunnar Henderson had 10 homers this month and has hit .289, Grayson Rodriguez is finally feeling like a star. And then all these extra guys, like Colton Cowser, Jordan Westburg, Cole Irvin and Albert Suarez are having impressive starts. This April has been the best case scenario for the Orioles, even with Holliday's disappointment. At this rate, it's only gonna get better.

2. Exactly how low the floor was for Houston. 9-19...with 4 injured starters and 2 who had to miss starts, and a Jose Abreu that's forgotten how to hit. I think people thought that the Astros would be a step back this year, but not like this. Even with Altuve, Tucker and Diaz surging, even with Ronel Blanco refusing to give up hits, even with Justin Verlander throwing like somebody younger than 41...this team has pitching problems, defense problems and age problems. And just calling people up and hoping they fit in is just a temporary issue. For reasons that will be brought up later in the post, this is a dire moment for the Astros, and one that none of them really thought would happen.

3. Reynaldo Lopez is the ace in Atlanta. Yes, Max Fried has had some excellent moments, yes, Chris Sale and Charlie Morton have the most experience, and yes, Bryce Elder might be the most impressive, but the single most consistent starting pitcher for the 1st place Atlanta Braves has been Reynaldo Lopez, a guy who played for 3 teams last year and flirted with double digits in relief. Lopez starting in the rotation over Bryce Elder stunk of 'Orlando Arcia over Vaughn Grissom', and like that move the Braves knew what they were doing. So far, Lopez has a 0.72 ERA with 2 wins and 24 Ks in 4 starts. Lopez just isn't allowing runs right now, and his dominant play is a shock to people remember how inconsistent he was with Chicago. If he keeps it up, that's another security blanket for a team with lots of 'worst case scenario' plans.

4. The A's might finish their Oakland run with an improvement. It's fascinating how much of this A's team works this year, and how they've become a third place team despite the heights of the Angels this year. There's a better bullpen, led by the unhittable Mason Miller, and a firmer rotation led by Paul Blackburn continuing his excellent work. There's better power hitting, guys like Brent Rooker and Shea Langeliers who can get things done at the plate, and actual contact hitters like Esteury Ruiz and Tyler Nevin. Even if this team is far from competing, they're closer to an actual cohesive unit than they've been in years, and are earning their place in the standings for now. 

5. Elly de la Cruz is for real. He hits for average, he hits for power, he steals bases and he makes plays in the infield. And right now he's doing all of them extremely well. So far this year, Elly de la Cruz has 8 home runs, 19 RBIs and 18 steals, and leads the Reds in hits and OPS. He's faster than anybody, harder to get out than ever, and he's fantastic to watch. I see the rest of the season being just as incredible for him.

And in a sharp contrast to that, here are 5 things from April 2024 that you probably could have predicted:

1. Juan Soto requires no learning curve in the Bronx. Almost immediately, Soto was smacking hits away and making insane catches and throws in the outfield. He's already one of the best players on the Yankees, hitting .316 with 24 RBIs and 7 homers. The fans love him, he's got a solidified place in the lineup, and he doesn't look like he's letting up anytime soon.

2. The White Sox crumble. All the stars leave, the rest get hurt. And what's left is a bunch of replacement level guys and a ton of inexperienced rookies. It's not fun to watch, and it's so hard to find the silver linings. Erick Fedde is one of their best players now, but who knows when he'll buckle along with the rest of them. 

3. Teams did the right thing in holding off on Blake Snell. An 0-3 record with an 11.57 ERA and 15 runs allowed in just three games in San Francisco. If they didn't have four of the best pitchers in the game right now around him, they'd be absolutely screwed. 

4. The Mariners pitching is no joke. Gilbert-Castillo-Miller-Kirby-Hancock has been absolutely untouchable in the last half of the month, culminating in a Bryce Miller performance that nearly silence the Atlanta Braves. This unit, even without Bryan Woo or Robbie Ray, works for them, and looks to keep stifling AL West batters all year long.

5. The Pirates' big start evens out almost immediately. It used to be the Royals that always did this, now it's the Pirates. After a huge start, the schedule evened out and once the Pirates started having to play better teams, the losses started piling up. Even with Jared Jones striking everybody out, it's clear how flawed this team is after a month of play, and they need to start getting it together. 

Now, here are, in my opinion, the 5 Most Important Players of April 2024

1. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Elly de la Cruz, Cincinnati Reds
3. Juan Soto, New York Yankees
4. Shoot Imanaga, Chicago Cubs
5. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

And finally, 5 predictions for May 2024:

1. Jackson Holliday returns to the major leagues and finally cracks it. 
2. One of those guys who's been an early pitching favorite gets injured and Manfred gets away with it.
3. Somebody big who hasn't really had a great start to the season jumps into the conversation in a major way.
4. There's at least more mirage start waiting to pop, and we'll see it in May.
5. An unbelievable home run tear by someone we're not expecting. 

That was a pretty interesting April let's see how May turns out

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