Saturday Sports: MLB Monthly Report: A-to-Z

We’re about a month into the MLB season, and there have already been plenty of surprises and disappointments. While it is still early, I decided to break down some of the season’s developing story lines. Some of these have affected the season so far, while others’ results are yet unknown but are worth watching. Here is my A-to-Z breakdown of April 2011 of the season. Andre Ethier - He started hot last year before a freak injury limited his effectiveness for the remainder of the year. This year, he has come out of the gates even hotter, setting an April major-league record with a 26-game hitting streak. Can he continue this impressive start?

Bautista, José - There was not a more polarizing figure in baseball last year than Bautista. His incredible home run barrage was often called a fluke, and Bautista's value entering the season was a hot topic of debate. He has actually started this season even better than he played last year; looks like his production is for real, adding a .361 batting average to his impressive 9 HR.

Carl CrawfordThe Red Sox have 142 million reasons to be disappointed thus far, as a .160/.202/.234 line is not what we expect from one of the game's best outfielders. I expect him to turn it around and justify his big contract, helping the Red Sox compete for the division title.

Dan Haren - Always displaying incredible potential, Haren has finally captured his form and entered the ranks of the elite. His performances thus far have earned him the "ace" label.

Eastern Surprises - The Florida Marlins leading the NL East through almost four weeks was shocking. The Phillies have since overtaken them, but the Marlins have the look of contenders. In the American League, the Red Sox were the trendy pick to win the East. After a month, they are sitting in last place. Is it too early to worry?

Francisco Liriano - Many experts considered Liriano a top contender for the AL Cy Young in 2011. However, he lost his velocity, movement, and command, leading to a 9.13 ERA and the Twins stuck in the AL Central basement. Perhaps a new month is just what he needs, as he started May in terrific fashion.

 

 

Grady Sizemore's return is a huge boost to the Indians' outfield.

Grady Sizemore - He's back, ready to build on his 30/30 season from 2008. The best-looking guy in baseball is finally looking good at the plate and has Cleveland's baseball fans and women alike getting excited again.

Hanley Ramirez - .200 batting average and zero home runs in April. Enough said.

Indians - Nobody was giving this team a chance, but they are leading the Central by 4.5 games and just welcomed Sizemore back to the lineup. Can this team continue to win, or will their luck run out?

Jered Weaver - He had been great for some time now, but he has now joined the upper-echelon, looking like the early AL Cy Young favorite.

Kemp, Matt - Playing like an MVP, Kemp has bounced back from a poor 2010 to recapture the form that made him one of the most promising young players in the league.

LA Takeover - Bud Selig has seized control of the Dodgers from owner Frank McCourt, and it looks like a lengthy legal battle could be in store. Only time will tell if this once-proud franchise will be restored to prominence.

Michael Pineda - The Mariners rookie has been nothing short of brilliant, already showing his ace potential. He appears to have all the tools to make the top of the Mariners' rotation a formidable duo.

Near No Hitters - No, there weren't actually any in April. But Josh Johnson has been close on multiple occasions, and Anibal Sanchez came agonizingly close as well. Must be something in the water in Florida...

Orioles Pitchers - Zach Britton has been a revelation, Jeremy Guthrie continually gives the team a chance to win, and Brian Matusz will return from the DL in early May. With this staff, this team could play spoiler late in the season.

Padres' Offense - They are batting near the Mendoza line as a team, and don't really show any signs of turning things around. They have entered full-fledged rebuilding mode, and look barely competitive at the moment.

Quentin, Carlos - After years of promise and fluctuating performance, it looks like he may be ready to become the top-tier outfielder many experts believed he would. With a .294/.385/.598 line, he has thus far been the only capable White Sox hitter, while his 6 HR tie him for 15th in the majors.

Braun got a huge contract extension in return for huge offensive numbers.

Ryan Braun - Already signed through 2015, the Brewers extended his contract through 2020 for an additional $105 million. Currently leading the majors in home runs, he has overtaken Prince Fielder as the centerpiece of the franchise and the lineup's most feared hitter.

Starlin Castro - While many analysts didn't believe he could maintain his production, he is having a tremendous follow-up to his impressive 2010 campaign. He is still just 21 years old, meaning we still have no idea just how great he could become.

Troy Tulowitzki - There is not a better shortstop in the game today. In fact, there hasn't been one since Alex Rodriguez moved to third base. He is garnering plenty of MVP consideration, a rare occurrence at a talent-starved position. Not to mention he has the Rockies atop the NL West despite limited production from teammate Carlos Gonzalez.

Utley, Chase - The Phillies' star second baseman is unable to contribute to the club, yet they are still atop the NL East. Can they remain an elite team without their offensive leader, or will they miss his bat come summer?

Votto, Joey - His triple-slash line– .372/.504/.628– shows that his production has not slowed coming off an MVP-winning campaign. He also leads the league in walks and runs scored. My favorite stat? Against left-handers, he is 11-for-22; as a left-handed hitter, that creates some serious matchup issues for opposing managers.

Wild Wild West - Every team in the AL West has shown promise this season. The Rangers high-powered offense has them atop the division, while the A's starting staff has given them a chance to win almost every day. The Angels have combined two steady aces with just enough offense, while the Mariners have a solid rotation supported by not quite enough offense.

Xavier Nady - Just kidding. Not a whole lot of options with "X."

Yankee Surprises - Bartolo Colon is pitching like its 2005, when he led the league in wins. Russell Martin has the look of an elite catcher again, after being tossed aside in LA due to declining production. Phil Hughes has been absolutely terrible, and Rafael Soriano looks like a bust already.

Zack Greinke - The Brewers are third in the division as April comes to a close; if they had Zack Greinke in the rotation, they could easily by sitting atop the NL Central. His offseason pickup basketball injury is starting to look pretty significant.