April is in the books. Now, it’s time to ask questions about what the first month means. Here are answers the most frequently-asked questions:
Question: The Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman is blazing. Does he have a chance to win the National League Triple Crown?
Answer: It’s a long season, but if Zimmerman keeps hitting as he as done the first month - .420-11-29 - then he’ll have a chance. And, his top competition would be his teammate, Bryce Harper, who hit .391-9-26 during the first month. Suffice to say, both are back and health has a lot to do with it. And to think, the Nationals signed Adam Lind, a consistent 20-home run guy, as an insurance policy in case Zimmerman struggled again. Zimmerman had a healthy spring training from beginning to end and he’s hitting the ball to all fields.
Q: The Nationals have 17 wins and a big lead in the NL East. Is there any team that can catch them?
A: The race is shaping up to be the one division with the least drama. The Mets had a chance to sweep the Nationals in D.C. over the weekend, but then Noah Syndergaard left with a lat injury that could keep him out for a couple of months. The Mets’ only chance to keep up with the Nationals was to have Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey starting 90 games. Harvey and deGrom are all right, but it looks bleak for the Mets at this point.
Q: How come Orioles pitcher Ubaldo Jiménez can’t be consistent?
A: It’s been talked about and talked about, but basically it is mechanics. He has a lot of moving parts in his delivery. When he goes to the mound and thinks about his mechanics, he struggles. When his mechanics are second-nature, then Jiménez dominates.
Q: The Colorado Rockies are in first place in the National League West? Are they for real?
A: They were the trendy pick to start the season mainly because of their rotation, with guys like Jon Gray and Chad Bettis. But those starters are on the disabled list ,and it’s the improved bullpen that has been the best story on the team. Greg Holland was 11-for-11 in save opportunities. Jake McGee and Mike Dunn have led the setup crew. The bullpen is stronger than it was a year ago. And, usually, we are used to seeing the Rockies out-score the league by a wide margin. That hasn’t happened yet. Two rookies - Kyle Freeland (2.93) and Antonio Senzatela (2.81) - have impressive ERAs in the Rockies’ rotation, but it’s hard to believe that will last.
Q: Who is Eric Thames?
A: He’s a 30-year-old first baseman that the Milwaukee Brewers took a chance on last offseason after watching him play three seasons in Korea. Before he went to Korea, Thames, a left-handed batter, was a high-strikeout, free-swinging hitter who didn’t connect much. He hit 27 home runs in three seasons combined for Toronto and Seattle. But, he’s leading the NL with 11 home runs this season with a more disciplined swing, which could be a result of seeing the high number of off-speed offerings that professional pitchers in Korea tend to throw.
Q: The Chicago White Sox admitted being in a rebuilding year, but they’ve had a good first month. Why?
A: The White Sox have ridden the bat of right-fielder Avasaíl Garcia, 25, who might be on his way to a break-out season. He was a big-time prospect with Detroit, but the Tigers gave up on him and he was traded to the White Sox. He finished April with a league-leading .368 average with five home runs and 20 RBI. He’s hit .405 with runners on base and is 6-for-12 with runners in scoring position. True, lots of players have flamed out after a solid first month, but Garcia has a chance to live up to his potential.
Q: What’s the most surprising aspect of the Yankees?
A: The rotation. Masahiro Tanaka might have pitched his best game as a Yankee when he beat the Red Sox’s Chris Sale. Prospect Luis Severino looks like he’s survived growing pains. Michael Pineda has excellent stuff and is showing that he can use it. And, CC Sabathia, a lefty in the final year of his contract, has healthy knees and he’s made the transition from power to command pitcher. “I like the creativity of it,’’ Sabathia tells reporters. The Yankees, by the way, have shown this month that they are going to score a lot of runs. Their bullpen is solid, so it is all up to the rotation.
Q: Is Aaron Judge for real?
A: So far, so good for the Yankees. The Yankees weren’t sure he was going to make the roster out of spring training, but now, at least for the first month, he’s part of a core group of prospects that gives the Yankees hope for a new foundation. Judge is crushing home runs. He’s cut down on his strikeouts, and this is a guy who’s 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds, bigger than anyone on the NFL Giants or Jets rosters. Judge is agile enough to make diving catches in right field. And, he’s even flipped into the stands once to catch a ball. His arm is above average.
Q: How good are the Astros, leaders in the AL West?
A: Consider that the Astros won 83 games last season after finishing April 7-17. This year, they are 16-9. Their lineup is punishing. The best news is that lefty Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner, is back to his old self with a 0.73 ERA. The general consensus on Keuchel was that he was a one-year wonder, given that he had a lousy 2016. The biggest difference is health. He was pitching with a sore arm last season. By the way, Astros reliever Chris Devenski has 32 strikeouts and two walks in his first 16 innings.
Q: Of all the last-place teams in the American League, who has the best chance to rebound?
A: In order, Toronto, Seattle and Kansas City. The Blue Jays have had a host of injuries. Once they get their rotation back, they’ve got the best chance for a rebound. Seattle is short on pitching, especially with Felix Hernandez out. Kansas City has a nine-game losing streak and is 0-6 against the Twins. The team that won back-to-back AL pennants is the least likely to bounce back.
Q: How’s former Nats closer Mark Melancon doing in San Francisco?
A: Fans are calling him Santiago Casilla with $62 million. Not a good sign.