The calendar page has turned on the first month of the baseball season, leaving a bunch of thoughts swirling around my head. There are have been teams validating my optimism for them at the start of the season, coupled with teams trying to make me look a little foolish. Players have made major statements, and some interesting questions have arisen. Luckily, we still have 140 or so games to get the answers to them.
The Rays are the Best Team in Baseball: I made a bold prediction a month ago that the Rays were going to walk away with the AL East crown in 2010. The more I looked at their team, it seemed like every almost offensive position and spot in the rotation had the chance to get a star-like output, and looking around the diamond showed a defensive team that was even better than the one the Red Sox had focused their off-season on building. Of course, that belief took a fair number of assumptions. Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist need to repeat their unexpected success from 2009. Every pitcher in their starting rotation needed to show improvements, major ones in some cases. But what makes me comfortable with the Rays, is that in addition to the enormous potential that lies in most players on the team, the same potential can be found in their possible replacements. While Sean Rodriguez hasn't quite lived up to what his Spring Training showed he was capable of, Reid Brignac has gotten off to a great start in part-time duty, showing that he can be a very solid fill-in for the infield, while Desmond Jennings inches closer down on the far to being able to help the big-league outfield. The 2010 Rays have shown championship-caliber talents in all aspects of the game so far, and have gotten off to a flying start in dominant fashion. A lot of games remain to prove me wrong, but I think they're absolutely for real.
More after the jump!
Roy Halladay vs. Tim Lincecum: It's been a debated existing with baseball fans for a few years now, and while I'd always held my belief that Roy Halladay was the superior pitcher, in reality it was tough to get a true answer. Lincecum has been posting overall better numbers, but pitching in the NL West, faced far, far easier competition than Roy Halladay, who had pitched against the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays 31 times over the last two seasons. This season though, the strength-of-schedule between the two is far more balanced, and it appears we'll finally get an answer to which ace hurler is better today. The battle was quite even, with both men dominating over their first four starts of the season, but interestingly, Halladay had a rough outing against the uninspiring offense of Lincecum's Giants, while Lincecum was pretty dominant against the far superior offense of the Phillies a couple of days later. In contrast though, looking at FanGraphs WAR scoreboard for pitchers, Halladay does have the edge, leading all of baseball, standing 0.1 win ahead of the second-place pitcher. This is one battle I look forward to seeing play out.
Don't Count the Red Sox out Yet: The Red Sox have gotten off to a disappointing start, mostly due to injuries to key players and poor pitching performances. However, flip the calendar back a year and we could just as easily be talking about the New York Yankees, who of course went on to win the World Series. The Red Sox offense is designed to be sparked around Jacoby Ellsbury, and their run prevention strategy of the off-season was based in large part around the acquisition of Mike Cameron, both of which currently sit on the DL. Jon Lester, John Lackey and Josh Beckett all got off to poorer-than-expected starts, but there are no reasons not to expect anything less than very good seasons from the three of them, with signs of life beginning to show late in the month. Sure, there was a lot of debate around the Red Sox off-season strategy and acquisitions, and how that would leave them to fair in the AL East. But the fact is, if you believed in the Red Sox a month ago, a one-loss below .500 record in April should do nothing to change that. It will be a great battle to fight for a playoff spot, but we knew that would be the case before any games in April played out.
Quick Award Predictions after the month of April
American League MVP: Evan Longoria - The offensive skills to have a true star-making year and lead the Rays to the win their division.
American League Cy Young: Felix Hernandez - Will need some help from his team to help him grab a nice looking win total, but in terms of sheer pitching ability, King Felix appears to be the class of the AL.
American League Rookie of the Year: Austin Jackson - While the strikeout issues may allow pitchers to find his holes down the road, he's off to an amazing start, with a nice story built-in after coming over to Detroit in the Granderson trade. Those things matter to the BBWAA voters.
National League MVP: Albert Pujols - Off to a "Pujolsian" start to the year, it seems like the only thing that could take this award away from Pujols is health issues or the voters' desire to choose a new name.
National League Cy Young: Roy Halladay - While the debate will go on comparing him with Lincecum, and even Ubaldo Jimenez, I still think Halladay will have such an impressive win-loss record at the end of the year that he'll be vaulted to the top of voters' lists.
National League Rookie of the Year: Jason Heyward - Not much explanation needed here. The J-Hey Kid is for real.