- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
This just in: April's over. Don't ask us what to make of it.
The Devil Rays had a better record than the Yankees. The Pirates had a better record than the Cardinals. No first-place team in either league had a bigger lead than the Brewers.
So does anything that happened in April mean anything? Your brain might tell you no. But history tells us yes.
It might not matter as much in the wild-card age as it used to matter. So teams such as the Yankees, Cardinals, Cubs and Astros may not have buried themselves yet. But it does matter. And because it does, the odds that those teams are going to right the ship and play in October are longer than they think.
So howwwwww long are they?
We looked at every full season since 1982. Here's what we found:
• Of the 144 teams that made it to the postseason in that span, only eight (or 5.6 percent) came out of April more than three games under .500. Clubs that need to worry most about that history lesson: the Yankees (9-14), Astros (10-14), Cardinals (10-14), Cubs (10-14) and Rangers (10-15).
• Just six of those 144 playoff teams (or 4.2 percent) found themselves more than 4½ games out of a playoff spot after April. Clubs that ought to get nervous about that trend: the Cubs, Cardinals and Astros (all five games out).
• And you wouldn't think the standings would mean much this time of year. But more than half of the 120 teams that found themselves in first place after April (66 of 120) wound up finishing first. And 98 of the 120 (81.7 percent) of the teams that finished the season in first place either led their division or were within 2½ games of the lead at the end of April.
So if you're a team such as the Yankees, all those facts and figures are about as uplifting as a Carl Pavano tendinitis attack. At five games under .500 and 6½ games out of first, this is up there with the most dire April predicaments the Yankees have faced in the last quarter-century. Take a look:
• No Yankees team has finished April this many games under .500 since 1984. That '84 team had an 8-13 April, which meant that even a 79-62 finish didn't help it climb higher than third place, 17 games behind the Tigers.
• Only one Yankees team in history has ever entered May this many games out and then come back to finish first. And while it may seem encouraging to know that happened just two years ago -- when they emerged from April at 10-14, 6½ out -- the bad news is, the team they trailed then was the Orioles, not the Red Sox.
• So when was the last time the Yankees were this far behind Boston after April? How about 1912, when they started out 2-10 (while the Red Sox went 9-4). And how did that season turn out? The Red Sox won 105 games and won the World Series. The Yankees lost 102 -- and finished 55 games out of first.
• Finally, George Steinbrenner will really be ecstatic to learn that the 1979 Pirates are still the only team since 1935 to lurch out of April more than three games under .500 and survive to win a World Series.
But since our Starbucks mugs are always half full around here, we'll gladly acknowledge that if there is one team out there with the talent and the checking-account balance to blow away all these trends, this is it. And the Yankees might feel a lot better to know that we've seen more teams beating these odds lately than ever. For instance:
• Just last year, two teams -- the Twins (9-15) and Padres (also 9-15) -- came out of April with records worse than these Yankees and charged back to win their divisions.
• Three teams in the last two seasons -- last year's Twins and Padres, plus the 2005 Yankees -- were at least 5½ games out of a playoff spot after April and came back to make the playoffs.
• And four teams in the last two years -- those Twins, Padres and Yankees, plus the 2005 Astros (9-13) -- were more than three games below .500 after April but still rebounded to make the playoffs. Before that, only four teams had done it in the previous 22 full seasons.
So when you hear these guys tell you there's a lot of baseball yet to be played, they're not lying. But to recover from just this one lousy month, they're going to have to be pretty close to the best team in the whole sport over the last five months.
Just remember this: Over the last five years, the AL wild-card winner has averaged 96 wins. For the Yankees to reach that number, they'd have to go 87-52 the rest of the way.
That's a .626 winning percentage -- the equivalent of winning 101 games over a full season. Which is more than every Yankees World Series champ since 1962, except for the 1998 114-game winners, won. So if they're going to show Boss Steinbrenner "what they're made of," they'd better forget the moral of this little history class:
Elsewhere in April
Who stole the crooked numbers: Yeah, the weather stunk. Yeah, we're in an age of great young pitchers. But there's no easy explanation for the plunge in offensive numbers across the board. Runs scored are down 0.8 per game from this time last year. Home runs are down nearly 20 percent. The major league slugging percentage is down 28 points. And if you take a wider view, how about this: In April 2000, teams scored 10 runs or more in a game 91 times and scored 15 or more seven times -- and there were eight games in which a team scored in double figures and still lost. This April, the 10-or-more total was down to just 45, the 15-or-more figure was down to one, and there still haven't been any games in which a team scored 10 runs and lost.
Runs scored are down 0.8 per game from this time last year. Home runs are down nearly 20 percent. The major league slugging percentage is down 28 points.
Player of the month: Alex Rodriguez. Hey, you were expecting maybe Freddie Bynum? Had the first 14-homer, 34-RBI month by any Yankee since Roger Maris in 1961. Tied Albert Pujols' all-time record for most April homers. Just missed Juan Gonzalez's record for most April RBIs (35). Even after going homerless since Monday, Rodriguez is still on pace for 99 homers, 239 RBIs, 190 runs scored and 148 extra-base hits. But the most telling A-Rod stat of the month was this: The Yankees went 1-11 in April games he didn't homer in.
Apologies to: Barry Bonds, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Magglio Ordonez, Ian Kinsler, Vladimir Guerrero, Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer.
Starting pitcher of the month: Tim Hudson. If he'd just exited after eight innings Wednesday in Florida, he would have become the second pitcher in the last 35 years to start a season with five straight starts of seven innings or more, while allowing one run or none in each. (Fernando Valenzuela was the other, in 1981.) But even though Bob Wickman helped him screw up that note by combining on a three-run ninth, Hudson still finished April 3-0, with a Maddux-esque 1.40 ERA. "Best pitcher I've seen all year," says one scout.
Relief pitcher of the month: Francisco Cordero. Talk about domination. Faced 41 hitters in April. Gave up a hit to two -- but struck out almost half of them (19). So how does that Carlos Lee deal last July look now?
Rookie of the month: Josh Hamilton. The best story in baseball just keeps getting better. Remember, this guy had 50 professional at-bats in four years before this season. Then, in April, he outhomered the entire Yankees outfield (6-3). He either leads all major league rookies, or he's tied for the lead, in homers, RBIs (13), slugging (.609), extra-base hits (10) and OPS (.974).
Apologies to: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Akinori Iwamura, Delmon Young, Chris Young, Hideki Okajima, Joe Smith.
Greatest offensive feat that eluded the radar screen: At month's end, Derek Jeter had gotten a hit in 56 of the last 58 games he'd played in, going back to last season. SABR research whiz Trent McCotter reports that he can find only two other hitters in the last 108 seasons who came that close to a 58-game hitting streak. One, of course, was Joe DiMaggio in 1941. The other was Ed Delahanty, who got a hit in 61 of 63 games from June 5 through Aug. 18, 1899. Pretty cool list.
Injury of the month: Cubs reliever Bobby Howry wrenched his back trying to carry a gas grill across his patio.
Injury of the month (managerial department): Brewers manager Ned Yost was jogging to Wrigley Field, tripped on some loose concrete and broke his collarbone.
Messiest box score line of the month: San Diego's Clay Hensley, April 16 versus the Cubs: 5 IP, 11 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 2 HR, 1 WP. That made him the first Padre to allow at least 10 runs and 14 baserunners in one start since the immortal Junior Herndon, on Aug. 30, 2001.
Most spectacular box score line of the month: No, it's not Mark Buehrle's no-hitter. It's Jake Peavy's eye-popping April 25 start against Arizona: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 16 K. What the box score didn't tell you: The Diamondbacks swung at 55 pitches that night -- and put just six in play. They missed more than half the pitches they took a hack at (28 of 55). And during Peavy's run of nine straight strikeouts, the hitters he faced missed nine consecutive balls they swung at in one stretch. Nobody makes big league hitters do that. Nobody.
Pitcher who deserves a written apology from his team: Why are "wins" the most misleading stat in baseball? Because of pitchers like Matt Cain. That's why. This guy has allowed fewer hits all year (12, in five starts, totaling 35 innings) than Houston's Chris Sampson gave up in four innings last week. Yet somehow, poor Matt Cain is 1-2 for the season (despite a 1.54 ERA), and the Giants have managed to lose four of the five games he's started. In his last four starts, he has given up one hit, two hits, three hits (in a game in which he took a one-hitter into the ninth) and one hit, respectively. And the Giants still found a way to lose three of them (via two blown saves and a 1-0 loss). Criminal.
Weirdest division of the month: As loyal reader Justin Germany points out, until Monday the Cubs were the only team in the NL Central to outscore its opponents in April. And they were tied for last place.
Related development: In an April 13-15 series at Wrigley Field, the Reds scored in only two of 27 innings -- and still won two out of three.
The all-sub-Mendoza line team: 1B) Adam LaRoche (.133), 2B) Josh Barfield (.162), SS) Ben Zobrist (.148), 3B) Brandon Inge (.150), LF) Frank Catalanotto (.140), CF) Mike Cameron (.192), RF) Luke Scott (.194), C) Jason Kendall (.169). BENCH) Richie Sexson (.145), Alex Gordon (.173), Carlos Delgado (.188), Sean Casey (.192), Paul Konerko (.198).
Your April zero heroes: The No-Homer Club: David Wright, Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones, Mike Cameron, Rich Aurilia, Sean Casey, Edwin Encarnacion. The No-Wins Club: Bronson Arroyo (despite a 2.86 ERA), Jon Garland, Vicente Padilla, Aaron Cook, Woody Williams. Miscellaneous zero heroism: Dave Roberts had three triples and a homer -- but no doubles. And Ty Wigginton had three caught-stealings -- but no steals.
Walk-this-way stat of the month: Loyal reader Eric Orns noticed that heading into the final day of April, Jose Reyes had as many unintentional walks in April as Barry Bonds (13). Three years ago, Bonds walked 232 times -- and Reyes walked five times.
Religious experience of the month: As loyal reader Phil Yabut reports, the Nationals used Jesus Flores to pinch hit for Jesus Colome in their April 26 game against the Phillies. Uh, we guess they should have prayed for contact. Flores struck out.
Human transaction of the month: Pitcher J. D. Durbin was either the most unwanted man of the month, or the most wanted. We can't figure out which. If we include the final three days of March, he went from the Twins to the Diamondbacks to the Red Sox to the Phillies in a span of 16 days, all on waiver claims. Now here's the bad news: He accumulated more teams (four) than outs (two). His line in the only big league game he actually pitched in (April 4, for Arizona): 2/3 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 1 K.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Don't discount what happens in April. It might be early, but history has proved that the first month carries weight.