Biggest surprises and disappointments through April

Jose Altuve is off to a fast start for the Houston Astros. (AP photo)

Now that we’re a month into the season, we’re getting a better idea of how the league is going to stack up this year. There are still teams/players that over overachieving or underachieving at this point. Let’s take a look at those and whether we think it’s a trend that will continue all season.

Biggest surprise team

Baltimore Orioles. Through 22 games the Orioles are 14-8, tied for the second-best record in the American League with its counterpart in the East, the Tampa Bay Rays. Some will say they’ve played a weak schedule in April, and that is true, but they won those games and teams that want to contend need to win the games they’re supposed to.

They were swept by the Yankees early on and lost two of three from the Angels, but each game was competitive. They also swept the Minnesota Twins and the Toronto Blue Jays. They are 14th in the major leagues in hitting, but it is their pitching that has helped them contend posting a 3.06 ERA, which is good enough for seventh in the league.

The Orioles are a huge surprise to me because they were picked to be one of the worst teams in the American League, and after a month, they still remain atop a very tough AL East. I don’t believe this trend will continue, and we’ll find out very early in May just how good they are as they play the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and Rays.

Honorable mention: Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets

Biggest disappointment team

I think this one is fairly easy. After all the hype about offseason acquisitions, the Los Angeles Angels have been horrific. They are currently 7-15, in last place in the American League West and nine games behind the Texas Rangers.

Albert Pujols has yet to adjust to American League pitching and remains homerless through 22 games. They are 25th in the league in hitting at .235 and have only managed to score 76 runs, which is just over three runs a game.

The pitching staff has been decent, but not what everyone expected coming into the season. They’re 16th in the league with a 4.01 ERA and have a .251 batting average against. Their biggest problem has been the bullpen, which has blown six games. The bullpen sports an ERA of 5.26 in 49.2 innings.

I don’t believe this team will struggle much longer. They still have 18 games against the Mariners and 15 against the Athletics. The bullpen is an issue, and until that gets straightened out, they’ll have to rely heavily on their starting pitchers, which shouldn’t be a problem. I think we all believe Pujols will figure it out soon, and when he does, the rest of the lineup will become that much better. However, the Rangers look extremely good early on, and a shot at the division could be slipping away if things don’t get turned around soon.

Honorable mention: Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Miami Marlins and Detroit Tigers

Biggest surprise hitter

The 21-year-old Jose Altuve is off to a torrid start to the season hitting .373 through 83 at-bats, while batting second in a pesky Houston Astros lineup. The speedster has seven doubles, three triples, four stolen bases and crossed home plate 15 times. He’s fifth in the league in hits and 16th in runs scored.

The young second baseman is leading an Astros lineup that was picked by many to be the worst team in baseball. While the team is living up to expectations, currently 8-14, Altuve has been one of the lone bright spots for a team that is looking to rebuild with young talent.

I believe Altuve is the real deal and will continue to have good numbers all season. In 221 at-bats with the big club last year, he hit .276. He only walked five times all of last season, while striking out 29 times. This year, he’s already walked seven times and only struck out 14 times. During his five seasons in the minors, which never included an at-bat at triple-A, Altuve hit .327. I think we’ve found a new young superstar in this league.

Honorable mention: Ryan Sweeney, Edwin Encarnacion, David Freese, Daniel Murphy and Adam LaRoche

Biggest disappointment hitter

Much like the Angels, there was a lot of hype coming into the season for the Miami Marlins because of their offseason acquisition of Jose Reyes. This was supposed to be an explosive offensive and Reyes and Hanley Ramirez were going to have MVP-type years on the left side of the infield.

Through 78 at-bats, both Ramirez and Reyes have exactly 16 hits for an average of .205 helping lead Miami to a ranking of 27th in the league in batting average at .225 and only 68 runs. Reyes has scored only six runs and stolen four bases, which is as much as Ramirez, who has struck out 20 times this season.

Reyes’ on base percentage is .276 even though he’s only struck out nine times and walked eight times. This has to mean he’s putting the ball in play, but just not hitting them in the right places. That will ultimately take care of itself, and you’ll see his average creep up, especially in that spacious new ballpark.

That ballpark may also take a toll on Ramirez’s home run total this year. He has hit four home runs and actually hit exceptionally well at home (.308). On the road, he’s a hitting a ridiculously low .103. After struggling in 2011, it’s disappointing to see Ramirez get off to such a slow start this year. I’m more worried about his production going forward. I’m afraid he’s turning into a pure home run/RBI hitter and will never be a potential batting champion again.

Honorable mention: Cameron Maybin, Ike Davis and Jose Bautista

Biggest surprise pitcher

This was a close one, as there was a lot of candidates. After watching him pitch on Saturday against a powerful Red Sox lineup, Jake Peavy has to be the biggest and best surprise so far this season. The former Cy Young winner has revitalized his career by becoming a “pitcher” instead of a “thrower.”

He has started five games for the White Sox pitching 37.2 innings, giving up 21 hits, seven earned runs, walking five and striking out 33. He holds an ERA of 1.67 and a WHIP of 0.69, which is second in the league behind Matt Cain‘s 0.63. He’s 3-1 and has thrown at least six innings in every start.

After giving up three earned runs and eight hits against the Texas Rangers in his first start of the season, he hasn’t allowed more than four hits in any game. In his last two games, he’s pitched complete games, allowing only one earned run and seven hits in those games.

It’s really nice to see a pitcher, who was once considered the best in the league before injuries hit, earning his way back. He’s pounding the strike zone effectively and has good movement on all of his pitches. After watching him, I have no doubt Peavy is back, and if he remains healthy all season, it will be a big boost to the White Sox rotation.

Honorable mention: Joe Saunders, Drew Smyly, Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn, Ross Detwiler and Jason Hammel

So far this season, Josh Johnson looks nothing like the guy who used to pitch for the Florida Marlins. (Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)

Biggest disappointment pitcher

On the other end of the spectrum, another pitcher coming back from injuries, who was supposed to be a big piece for a team looking to contend, Josh Johnson has been a disaster early on.

At the beginning of 2011, he was seemingly on the verge of throwing a no-hitter almost every start before suffering a season ending injury. After working hard to get back to help his team in 2012, Johnson has racked up a 5.34 ERA in 28.2 innings in five starts.

He has given up and amazing 41 hits and 17 earned runs. His ERA would be even worse, but the hard throwing right-hander has struck out 25 and only walked nine. Batters are hitting .350 against him, and he has yet to pick up a win this season going 0-3 in April. He has given up 10 or more hits in three of his five starts, including his last start against the Arizona Diamondbacks when he only last 5.1 innings.

The fact that his strikeout-to-walk ratio is so good can only mean the stuff is still there but hitters are just finding the holes when they put the ball in play. Just like his teammate Reyes, things are not going his way early on. I think Johnson continues to improve the rest of the season, but I don’t know if he’ll ever be as dominant as he was at the beginning of last year.

Honorable mention: Clay Buchholz, Yovani Gallardo, Mat Latos, Tim Lincecum and Derek Holland

It has been a great first month to the season that has seen a lot of surprises and disappointments. I look forward to seeing how these trends continue in May and throughout the rest of the year.

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