Oakland Athletics head list of April’s top performers

Oakland Athletics
Sonny Gray and the Oakland Athletics are atop the best of the best list in April. (Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

Best AL Team – Oakland Athletics

It’s the team that keeps defying the odds and finding ways to win. They bring their success over into 2014 with 18 wins to lead the American League in April. Twelve of their wins came on the road. They were a .500 team at home. The A’s continue to develop good, young pitching, and that remains the reason they’re successful. They led the AL in ERA at 2.78 and quality starts with 21. The offense wasn’t bad either as they finished third in runs and second in on-base-percentage (OBP). Jed Lowrie was the best hitter for the Oakland Athletics with a .286 average and .423 OBP, while Josh Donaldson brought the power with seven home runs and 23 RBIs. Sonny Gray was unbelievable in April, posting a 1.76 ERA in 6 starts (41 innings) with 37 strikeouts, and Scott Kazmir proved last year wasn’t a fluke while posting a 2.11 ERA along with four April wins. Jesse Chavez came out of nowhere and delivered five quality starts in April with a 1.89 ERA in six starts.

Best NL Team – Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers were by far the best team in all of baseball, finishing with a league-high 20 wins and 5.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. They’re playing almost perfect baseball on the road en route to an 11-2 road record. Much of their success is attributed to their improved pitching staff. They finished second in the NL with a 2.82 team ERA. Yovani Gallardo is having a nice bounce-back season and leads the starting staff with a 1.91 ERA in six starts, while Kyle Lohse led the team with four wins and 40 strikeouts. There also has been a rejuvenation with Francisco Rodriguez, who hasn’t allowed an earned run in 16 innings while racking up a league-high 13 saves. The offense also was helped by Ryan Braun, who didn’t missed a beat coming off his suspension for use of performance enhancing drugs. Braun finished April with a .318 average, six home runs and 18 RBI.

Surprise AL Team – Minnesota Twins

There wasn’t really a surprise team in the American League for April, but the fact the Minnesota Twins were .500 through 24 games is definitely a surprise to me. Their offense was the reason, leading the AL in OBP at .353, and they were fourth in runs scored. What’s really surprising: They won 12 games in April while posting a team ERA over five! Trevor Plouffe, Chris Colabello, Kurt Suzuki and Jason Kubel all finished the month with an average around .300. Colabello has been one of the biggest surprises in all of baseball as he drove in 27 runs in the month of April.

Surprise NL Team – Colorado Rockies

Much like the Twins, it’s amazing that the Rockies won 16 games despite having one of the worst team ERAs in their respective league. But they led the league in runs scored with over 30 more runs than the second team on the list! They also led the NL in home runs, average and OBP. They had four hitters bat .310 or better, and Carlos Gonzalez wasn’t one of those players. Charlie Blackmon has been one of the best stories in baseball after hitting .374 in April, while Troy Tulowitzki has reestablished himself as one of the best players in baseball by hitting .364 with seven home runs and 22 RBI. Justin Morneau has turned out to be a nice pickup thus far, hitting .343 with six home runs and 22 RBI.

AL Cy Young – Sonny Gray

After an outstanding debut in 2013, many people picked Gray as the Oakland Athletics starter who could take the biggest step forward in 2014; so far, all of those people have been more than correct. He finished the month second in the AL in ERA at 1.76, fifth in innings pitched at 41 and tied with the most wins at four. He also struck out 37 batters in those 41 innings and held opponents to a .220 batting average while posting a WHIP of 1.15. He surrendered only 33 hits, but the high walk total of 14 is a bit alarming. This 24-year-old former first-round draft is on the brink of establishing himself as one of the top young arms in the game after a stellar April.

NL Cy Young – Adam Wainwright/Johnny Cueto

There were a lot of candidates in the National League, and I was all set to pick Jose Fernandez before I took a closer looks at Adam Wainwright’s stats in April. He finished in the top five of several pitching categories among NL pitchers. He was third in innings pitched (45), first in wins (5), fourth in WHIP (0.78), second in ERA (1.15) and sixth in strikeouts (42). In four of his six starts, he lasted at least seven innings, giving up zero runs. Johnny Cueto also had an outstanding month, finishing first in innings pitched (47), third in strikeouts (50), first in ERA (1.15) and third in WHIP (0.77). The only problem Cueto had was run support. He only won two games with those numbers as the Reds struggled to score runs. He had two complete games in April and gave up two runs or less in all six of his starts. An incredible month for two pitchers pitching in the same division.

AL Best Hitter – Alexei Ramirez

Hard to pick one hitter in the AL as there wasn’t one who glaringly stood out, but Alexei Ramirez did have the best month of any player in the AL. He finished first in average (.351) and second in hits (40) while racking up seven doubles, one triple, four home runs and 19 RBI. He also scored 17 times and swiped four bases with an OBP of .375. He struck out just 11 times in 114 at-bats. Ramirez’ teammate, Jose Abreu, easily could have won for this award after hitting 10 home runs, scoring 20 runs and driving in 32, but I liked the all-around production Ramirez provided in April.

NL Best Hitter – Troy Tulowitzki

The award in the NL was a bit easier to pick. Tulowitzki was amazing for the Rockies. He finished the month first in runs (24), second in home runs (7), third in RBIs (22), second in walks (21), second in average (.364), and first in OBP (.477). There is no doubt that Tulowitzki is the best all-around shortstop in the game when healthy. Along with being the best hitter in the NL, he also delivered several highlight reels on defense. I hope he stays healthy so we can see what this 29-year-old is capable of doing over 162-game season.

AL Surprise Player – Chris Colabello

This 30-year-old has come a long way. He went undrafted after college and spent seven seasons playing American Legion ball, winning the league’s MVP before the Minnesota Twins finally took a shot with him. He raked in the minors, hitting .315 in 806 at-bats with a .389 OBP. He also racked up 129 minor league home runs, including 24 in 2013 with the Twins triple-A affiliate before getting called up at the end of 2013, where he continued to show off his power by hitting seven home runs in 160 at-bats. He won the job in spring training, and the Twins were rewarded with one of the best stories in baseball. In April, Colabello hit.295 with three home runs and 27 RBIs, second most in the AL. The future is still unclear for how good of a hitter this guy can be, but it’s fun to watch, and Colabello is definitely one of those guys you cheer for. He also gave us the best moment in April when he hit a home run while his mom was being interviewed in the crowd; on his mom’s birthday no less!

NL Surprise Player – Charlie Blackmon

This was another easy pick. Blackmon has been the talk of baseball since he had a 6-for-6 performance on April 4. That day catapulted him into a month no one saw coming. The 27-year-old, who was drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft by the Rockies, finished April with a .374 average, .418 OBP, 18 RBI and 23 runs scored. The average, OBP and runs all put him in the top five in the NL. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as Blackmon hit .309 in almost 2,000 minor league at-bats and is a career .306 hitter in just over 500 major league at-bats. Still, no one saw this level of production coming. In his first three stints with the big league club, he never recorded more than 246 at-bats — and he hit .309 that year — so it will be interesting to see what he can do over the course of an entire season.

AL Rookie of the Month – Jose Abreu

While it’s hard to call Abreu a rookie at age 27, technically he is one, and he was the best rookie in the month by far. He led all AL rookies in runs (20), hits (31), home runs (10) and RBIs (32). The home run and RBI totals led the entire league. He also hit .270 and reached base 34 percent of the time.

NL Rookie of the Month – NA

It’s really not fair to pick the best rookie in the NL since no one stood out. I could have picked David Hale for the Braves, who posted an ERA of 2.10 in four starts, but he was just moved to the bullpen. Billy Hamilton of the Reds is probably the favorite pick, but he hit just .245 and had an OBP of .280. Hamilton did steal 11 bases, but he was also caught five times. Another possible choice would be Arizona’s Chris Owings, who hit .313 and had an OBP of .367 in 28 games with the Diamondbacks, but he went homerless in April, only drove in two runs and only scored seven times. None of those stats are worthy of an award for April. Step it up National League rookies.

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