The biggest MLB winners and losers of April

Who says it's too early? We're handing out April Champs T-shirts, picking MVPs and putting teams in big trouble on notice. Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Some perspective: On this date a year ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers were 12-16, fourth in the National League West and a whopping eight games behind the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. Meanwhile, the New York Mets were 17-9 and enjoying the view from the top of the NL East. So yes, it is early and things can change -- a lot -- but there's still plenty to learn from the first month of the MLB season.

With that in mind, we asked ESPN.com's Eddie Matz, Sam Miller, Jeff Passan and David Schoenfield to hand out some awards, look into some of the biggest disappointments and try to sort out the early blips from the season-long trends of April baseball.

Jump to ...: April winners | First-month losers | April blip or 2019 trend?

Revisit our preseason predictions: Division, playoff, World Series picks | Awards picks | Bets we'd make


If we were handing out April Champions T-shirts, which clubhouse would we be passing them out in?

Passan: Considering they've lost the past two actual championships, the Dodgers warrant some sort of overall title that extends beyond the National League pennant. Whatever April hangover has befallen the Boston Red Sox has skipped the Dodgers, who survived most of the month without Clayton Kershaw, and without Good Walker Buehler, to post the most wins and the second-best record and run differential in the NL. Cody Bellinger had the best April of anyone in baseball by a good margin -- and come the inevitable regression, the Dodgers have the depth, at the major league level and with minor league reinforcements, to make their lead stand up.

Schoenfield: The Seattle Mariners are playoffless since 2001, so leading the division at the end of April would be a nice surprise, especially given they traded away all their best players from 2018. Then I remembered they were in first place in mid-June last year, and the Texas Rangers clobbered them 15-1 and 14-1 over the weekend, so let's go with the St. Louis Cardinals, who lead a tough division while playing the second-toughest schedule so far (only the Milwaukee Brewers have played a tougher schedule, and that's because they had to play the Cardinals 10 times).

Matz: It has to be the Tampa Bay Rays. No matter which lens you use -- wins and losses, run differential or the good ol' fashioned eye test -- the Rays look like a very good baseball team. So good, in fact, that they were able to survive Blake Snell's freak foot injury, winning eight of 13 games without their ace.

Miller: It's undeniably the Rays. But the Minnesota Twins deserve maybe an April Champions visor, or maybe a pair of novelty April Champions socks. Other than the Rays, no team has increased its playoff odds more than the Twins, who entered Sunday with the third-best record in baseball, the third-best run differential and the second- or third-best offense in baseball.

Who are your April MVPs?

Passan: Cody Bellinger in a rout -- and that's with Christian Yelich also tying Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols for the most home runs ever before May 1. How good has Bellinger been? His slugging percentage by itself is higher than the OPS of Bryce Harper, Fernando Tatis Jr., George Springer, Josh Donaldson, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Mookie Betts. And Mike Trout in a rout, because it rhymes, but also because it's true.

Schoenfield: Yelich has had one of the greatest Aprils we've ever seen. But it's only the second-best April in the National League this year as Bellinger has edged past him (plus, Bellinger hits home runs on the road). In the American League, Trout is getting on base more than he ever has, but it seems to be happening in a vacuum because the Angels mostly stink so far. Hunter Dozier actually led the AL in wOBA heading into Monday, but, well, he plays for the Royals, who are even worse than the Angels. So I guess it's Trout.

Matz: To paraphrase Ira and Barry from "City Slickers"... scoop of Trout, scoop of Bellinger, don't waste my time.

Miller: WAR would tell us Bellinger and Trout, but I often barely trust single-season defensive metrics, let alone single-month. So I'll give Yelich the ever-so-slight nod over Bellinger based on the timeliness of his hits, and Trout the nod over Tim Anderson based on the Troutliness of his.

Who are your April Cy Youngs?

Passan: Cheers to Marcus Stroman, who in a season that could well see 7,000 home runs has spent an entire month without allowing one. His 1.43 ERA reflects that and illustrates how the not-definitively-but-definitely-kinda-maybe-probably-is-juiced ball penalizes pitchers. Stroman's brother in heavy sinkerdom is his award-winning NL counterpart: Cincinnati's Luis Castillo, who, like Stroman, has a ground ball rate over 50 percent. At 1.23, Castillo's ERA is even better, and he has yielded just one homer in 36⅔ innings and is punching out more than 10.5 per nine.

Schoenfield: I'd consider Trevor Bauer, except he just gloated about "dominating" the Astros in a game in which he walked six batters and struck out three. Please. So the slight edge goes to a hard-throwing Tampa Bay starter who has taken his game to the next level -- not 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell, but Tyler Glasnow and his 1.75 ERA and sudden ability to throw strikes. Luis Castillo of the Reds has picked up from his strong second half and crushed so far, with a 1.23 ERA and just one home run in 36⅔ innings.

Matz: Stroman hasn't allowed a home run yet and has been generally brilliant, so he gets my AL vote. In the NL, I'm going to give it to Padres rookie Chris Paddack, even though his workload is a bit light relative to the other contenders. I mean, it's hard to ignore it when a guy allows 10 hits in his first five starts.

Miller: After a month we still see big discrepancies between the best ERAs and the best FIPs, but Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer have each been great by both what-happened and what-should-have-happened measures.


Which team has been the biggest disappointment so far?

Passan: Non-Red Sox division, it has to be the Washington Nationals. The star power on the team is undeniable: Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Trea Turner. That's a quarter of a roster with true All-Star-caliber talent. And just like last year, when they were the league's biggest disappointment, the Nationals are languishing around .500, waiting for a run to rescue them from doldrums that have become too common.

Schoenfield: Certainly the Red Sox, not just because of their record, but because of some putrid all-around baseball. Heading into Monday, only the Baltimore Orioles and Miami Marlins had a worse run differential, and Boston is somehow 0-6 in games Chris Sale has started.

Matz: Of the three teams that rank at the bottom of the majors in run differential, two were expected to be awful (O's, Marlins) and the other is ... the defending champs??? The Red Sox earn this dubious distinction, and it's not even close.

Miller: It's the Red Sox as surely as the other answer was the Rays, but outside of the AL East it's probably the Angels. They started the season as real wild-card contenders; they end April with a 1-in-25 chance of making the playoffs, and probably a 7-in-8 chance of having Mike Trout lead the league in WAR but lose out in the MVP voting.

Which player off to a slow start are you most concerned about for the rest of the season?

Passan: Miles Mikolas was so good in his return from Japan last year, the Cardinals tacked on four years to his contract, guaranteeing him $77 million between the beginning of this season and the end of 2023. Between Mikolas' strikeout rate (5.03 per nine innings, dead last among 89 qualified starters) and his home run rate (2.12 per nine, or 86th of 89), it's either a really bad month or the spark that sets those many, many millions on fire. The key: Mikolas' slider, which was one of the best in baseball last year and has been one of the worst this season.

Schoenfield: Speaking of Chris Sale, he has been a little better his past couple of outings. After getting just two swing-and-misses on his fastball through his first four outings, he has had six in each of his past two starts. Still, we're waiting for that first CHRIS SALE game where he proves the shoulder is OK and that he can still crank the fastball up above 95 and when opponents have no chance against him. Until we see that, there has to be some worry.

Matz: Corey Kluber. A control freak his entire career, Kluber boasted the lowest walk rate in the American League each of the past two years. This season, he's walking more than four batters per game, more than triple his clip from 2018. Color me concerned, with a capital C -- just like the one on the Indians' caps.

Miller: I've spent the past month trying to talk myself out of being worried about Jose Ramirez, who as recently as early as last August was probably one of the best half-dozen players in baseball. Players that good don't turn bad overnight, not in their mid-20s, not without a good reason, and I know that Ramirez hasn't, either. But he has now hit .161/.281/.220 in his past 295 plate appearances, a half-season's worth of at-bats as one of the worst hitters in baseball, a half-season with four home runs. I'm very excited for him to prove that players as good as him don't turn bad overnight, but for now, yes, concerned.

April blip or 2019 trend?

Chris Sale has a 6.30 ERA

Passan: The 6.30 is a blip. The struggles are a trend. Is that an unreasonable answer? Sale's arm has been through a lot, and the idea that it's going to be pumping 96 mph fastballs regularly isn't entirely reasonable. At the same time, Sale's competitiveness is legendary, and he'll figure out the problem(s), adjust and iterate, even if that means evolving into something he has never been.

Schoenfield: What's halfway between blip and trend? Blrip? That's kind of how I feel about Sale. He keeps saying, "I have to do better." It's just odd for a pitcher who has been so absolutely dominant to suddenly struggle like this. Maybe the slow spring training in which he hardly pitched was a factor. It has been cold and wet in the Northeast. Maybe it's a slight mechanical tweak.

Matz: Trend. Slow starts for pitchers are always way more alarming than slow starts for position guys because, more often than not, there's an underlying injury to blame. Especially when that pitcher is Chris Sale. After missing much of the second half last season with shoulder issues, his velocity and K rate are down, while his WHIP and home run rate are up. Way up.

Miller: More confounding than the velocity drop is the velocity fluctuation: His average fastball this year, by start, has been 93, 90, 92, 96, 93, which doesn't tell a story I can really grok. That 96 gives me just enough faith that it's mechanics, not injury, and so blip.

Kris Bryant is hitting .229 with three home runs

Passan: Good-year blip. He's still Kris Bryant, he still has that same swing, he still hits the ball hard. Others are free to doubt that. Just won't see it here.

Schoenfield: Trend. He did hit two home runs over the weekend, but he has pulled only one home run all season and his hit chart swings heavily to right-center and right field -- telltale signs of a hitter without the bat speed to pull the ball on a consistent basis. And most home runs still come when you pull them. So I'm worried something still isn't right with the shoulder.

Matz: Big ol' blippety-blip. Bryant's strikeout-to-walk ratio is significantly healthier than his career rate, which bodes well. Also, he has never shown a lot of power in March/April: His 2.7 percent HR rate prior to May is well below his 4.6 percent mark in all other months combined. Deep breath.

Miller: Blip. He's hitting the ball as hard as he did in his good years, and much harder than he did in his injury-stunted 2018 season.

Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich are the two best hitters in the NL

Passan: Trendier than ... Googles April 2019 trends, sees them, is horrified, feels old, chooses not to include because it would be obvious he Googled. Much love to Anthony Rendon, Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and others, but Belly and Yelly are the capital-D Dudes of this moment.

Schoenfield: I'm a total sucker for hot starts. Of course, Yelich has been hot since the second half of last season, so this isn't a complete shocker. Bellinger hit 39 home runs as a rookie in 2017, and while his sophomore campaign was a bit of a disappointment, he has come in focused and locked in -- he has cut his strikeout rate in half from last year. I'll buy them as the two best hitters in the NL.

Matz: Blapril trip. I'd put Yelich in that group any month of the year. And long term, Bellinger might join him. But for now, I'd rank guys such as Anthony Rendon, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt (to name a few) ahead of Belly.

Miller: The NL hasn't had the tier of clear superstars that the AL has the past couple of years, but Yelich and Bellinger are in the top tier in the NL.

The Mariners lead the league in runs and home runs

Passan: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. (One for each of their 59 home runs so far, which deserve homage but ain't gonna hold up.)

Schoenfield: Blip. It has been fun, though. Daniel Vogelbach forever.

Matz: Trick question. The only reason the M's lead the league in runs and bombs is because they've played more games than any other team. (Remember that whole Japan thing?) Going by rates, the Twins are home run kings and the Rangers lead in scoring. So ... blip.

Miller: The response to every "Is [this April thing] real?" question should start with, "Well, look, the Mariners lead the league in runs and home runs, so ..."