It's not especially scientific, but April 15th seems a safe date on which to begin a discussion of which teams are having a good April. While the first month of the season only represents roughly a sixth of its total length, it's always better to start a season strong than not. We may not have much in the way of predictive metrics on who's going to make the playoffs yet, but we can at least examine the teams that have played well this spring and take a stab at whether or not they'll keep it up as the weather gets warmer.
We're not quite to the point where it's worth being surprised Milwaukee's doing this well; if the Brewers are still leading the majors in wins at this time next month, then it's time for alarms to sound. But then, if the Brewers still lead the majors in wins this time next month, it means Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada have all finally put it together (Gallardo had a bit of a headstart on the other two) and Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza are turning in two of the best single seasons of their careers. That's a bit much to swallow all at once, but stranger things have happened. On the other side of things, the Brewers who are hitting are the ones you'd expect: Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Aramis Ramirez, Mark Reynolds, and yes, even Ryan Braun.
Wait, you say: Mark Reynolds? Well, yes. Reynolds is currently starting at first for the Brewers, having made the team as a non-roster invitee, and is hitting .233/.343/.567 out of the gate for the Crew. That's an impressively Reynolds-esque line, at least for when he was a younger player; age is never kind to players like Reynolds, whose major tool -- hitting for power -- is so reliant on other tools he does not possess to actually show up in game situations. While .233 is Reynolds' career batting average, it's reasonable to expect his slugging percentage to take a roughly 100 point dip in the near-future. Luckily for the Brewers, those other three guys -- Gomez, Braun, Lucroy and Ramirez -- are a fairly strong offensive corps. If Milwaukee really has got its pitching worked out, they could go on a tear this year. And basically only this year -- Milwaukee's window is closing fast, given how barren its minor league system is. But the 2014 squad should at least be able to make some noise.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox lineup looks like a completely different beast than last year, which is to be expected when a team replaces four starters. Rightfielder Avisail Garcia has sadly already ended his season due to injury, but Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton have made some serious noise since coming to town. (New second baseman Marcus Semien, on the other hand, has had little impact on anything except juvenile humor.) Abreu, the team's big power-hitting first baseman out of Cuba, has 13 hits in 13 games, including three doubles and four home runs; Eaton, the team's new everyday centerfielder, hasn't hit with the same pop but is hitting .327 and providing reliable defense in center -- something the White Sox have sorely missed the past few seasons.
The White Sox have the best offense in baseball at the moment, and though their 6.15 runs per game and 124 OPS+ as a team are bound to come down, it's not unreasonable to think they can hit well enough to stick in the top third of the league in hitting, though that was more likely before they lost Garcia. The pitching is a larger concern -- while Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are pretty solid at the top of the rotation, relying on Felipe Paulino, John Danks and Erik Johnson for league average innings over the course of a full season might be a bit much to ask. The White Sox are poised to make some noise in the Central, but if they do, they'll be looking for starting pitching at the trade deadline.
As the season began it looked like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were in the best position to capitalize on all the pitching injuries that had been sweeping the AL West, but the Athletics again look like the team to beat, even without Jarrod Parker and AJ Griffin in the rotation. Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Dan Straily and Jesse Chavez have ranged from very good to great to start the season, and if then-closer Jim Johnson hadn't had a disastrous start to his season the A's might have the best record in baseball.
Elements of the offense are once again a concern -- Josh Reddick has had an abysmal start, Josh Donaldson isn't quite hitting where he needs to be and the team's current offensive production is running through Alberto Callaspo and Coco Crisp, which seems unlikely to continue -- but the team is still getting strong platoon efforts from Brandon Moss and Derek Norris. Yoenis Cespedes will continue to do his normal, slugging-heavy Yoenis Cespedes things (though he really needs to get his OBP above .300). Enough of this team is a known quantity that if Gray and Kazmir continue to be successful at the top of the rotation, the Athletics should be in the driver's seat in the West to start the year.
Los Angeles Dodgers
When people picked the Los Angeles Dodgers to win more than 90 games and take another NL West division title, it was predicated on the assumption the Dodgers would have one of, if not the, best 1-2 pitching combinations in baseball in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. To start, both were injury question marks -- Kershaw with his shoulder/upper back, Greinke with his hamstring -- but both have returned healthy and effective, which is something of a rarity given the rather gruesome injury body count that's piling up around the league. It doesn't hurt that in their early absence, Hyun-jin Ryu and Dan Haren were stellar. Yes, that Dan Haren. Yes, we'll see how long he stays healthy.
It also doesn't hurt that the entire team is hitting to start the season, too -- though one imagines Dee Gordon's .982 OPS is going to become more modest, among others -- but this is also a team that's supposed to hit well, too. The Dodgers are, essentially, just doing what they were expected to do after a bit of a pitching scare in the last week before the season began, and that should be cause for excitement among Dodgers fans.
New York Yankees
Amidst the usual doom and gloom about CC Sabathia's early season velocity, which is a discussion that's had every year since he signed with New York (though given his age and his workload, it becomes a more legitimate complaint the older he gets), new Yankees Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have looked dominant in their first month in pinstripes. Pineda's been in the organization for a few years now, of course, coming over to New York from the Mariners in the Jesus Montero trade, while Tanaka was one of the Yankees' big-ticket offseason signings.
The offense has been good, too, with free-agent signings Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Kelly Johnson, of all people, leading the way. The only surprise here, really -- besides the people who thought the Yankees were likely to take finishing with a mere 82 wins in 2013 lying down -- is infielder Yangervis Solarte, who has a .913 OPS to start the season as the utility infielder-turned-starter and who easily has one of the best names in baseball.
The Braves were another team that had a major injury scare at the end of spring training, and unlike the Dodgers' theirs didn't correct itself with a little bit of rest -- projected top-of-the-rotation starter Kris Medlen was lost for the year to his second Tommy John surgery. What the Braves did instead was sign Ervin Santana, who's had two quality starts, and Aaron Harang, who has managed 18.2 innings of 0.96 ERA baseball somehow. Harang's current true talent level lies somewhere north of 3.5 runs higher than that, but Santana was always a decent bet to slide in and replace Medlen's production -- and with the rest of the rotation producing around him, the Braves no longer appear to have any pitching problems, something that was unlikely when guys like Gus Schlosser were being kicked around as fourth or fifth starters.
A bigger concern is that only Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman seem to have brought their bats, and of the guys who aren't hitting, two of them -- Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton -- can be reasonably expected to remain as futile as they are right now. But Jason Heyward should get better as the season goes on, and it's hard to imagine the Braves won't eventually decide Ramiro Pena is a better every day second base choice than Uggla, and that Heyward in center and Evan Gattis in left field with Ryan Doumit behind the plate every day is out and out superior to running Upton out there every day, so they should be fine. The Braves' biggest concern, as it was last year, is how well the Washington Nationals do -- and considering the Braves just finished sweeping the Nats in three, it's hard not to think they're feeling pretty good about that, too.