MLB’s April Surprises: Mariners, Marlins Still Hold Division Leads

Two weeks ago, I made some comments and predictions about the young baseball season. Now, as teams wrap up their first month of play and we enter May, here’s the follow-up to that previous column, as promised…

Some sense of normalcy has returned to the American League East division standings. While (as of Wednesday) the Toronto Blue Jays lead the division, the Red Sox have returned to the front of the pack, thanks to an eleven-game winning streak. The Rays, perhaps intimidated by actual expectations to win this season, are back in last place. And as for the Yankees — their quarter-billion dollar spending spree has netted them a .500 record (my previous prediction still stands).

Surprisingly, though, the Mariners and Marlins have still managed to hold onto their respective division leads. For Florida, their hot start compensated for getting swept in back-to-back series; Seattle’s strong starting rotation has carried the team through their offensive struggles.

And continuing last column’s predictions/random guesses, my picks for this season’s individual awards:

A.L. Most Valuable Player: Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers 2B — Kinsler has gotten off to a torrid start, and is among the league leaders in both home runs and RBI. He went 6-for-6 and hit for the cycle earlier this month, and as the season progresses, he will continue to rack up numbers, especially at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark.

A.L. Cy Young: Zack Grienke, Kansas City Royals SP — Grienke has yet to allow an earned run this season in four starts, going 4-0 including two straight complete games with ten strikeouts. Grienke, a first-round draft pick in 2002 who was supposed to be the franchise player for the Royals, might finally be living up to his potential.

A.L. Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles C — Wieters, probably the most-hyped prospect in baseball, started the season in the minors; he’ll likely remain there until mid-summer so the Orioles can delay his arbitration clock (i.e. save money). Sports writers have already called him a future hall-of-famer and wondered (jokingly?) why Baltimore hasn’t retired his number yet. Hopefully he lives up to expectations, because right now all he’s doing (aside from crushing minor-league pitching) is taking up a bench spot on my fantasy baseball team…

N.L. Most Valuable Player: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals 1B — Pujols has picked up right where his 2008 campaign left off. Not only does he lead the majors in RBI, he has contributed three stolen bases thus far and is a big reason the Cardinals are in first place in the N.L. Central right now. Elbow problems, for which he will get surgery after this season, do not appear to be slowing him down, and he is well on his way to a second consecutive MVP award.

N.L. Cy Young: Dan Haren, Arizona Diamondbacks SP — Maybe I’m just picking him out of pity: Haren has a losing record (2-3) despite a 1.54 ERA and 0.74 WHIP. He hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any of his outings, but Arizona’s offense is providing little run support. If he continues pitching like this, the runs — and wins — will come, and he will be a clear choice for the league’s best pitcher.

N.L. Rookie of the Year: Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies OF — There’s no clear choice here, so I’ll go with another player who’s currently occupying a roster spot on my fantasy team. The Rockies’ leadoff man is fast — as evidenced by his five steals against San Diego earlier this week, tying a rookie record. He is getting on base more often — taking walks and bunting for hits — which should translate into many stolen bases over the summer.

Disagree? Think you can make better picks? Disgruntled Yankees fan wishing to express your despair? Send it to!