April games only one leg of baseball marathon
Ah, April, the very mention falls sweetly on a baseball fan's ear as it begins anew and another marathon baseball season is under way. April means spring is heading toward summer, and then into the autumn for the fortunate few. Ah, April is here, and that means baseball is back.
But, now that it's here, what does April really mean in the grand scheme of the baseball season? It's much more than just Opening Day, sure, a full month when rebirth and high hopes linger in the air. It's a month to make a statement, no question. Frankly, nobody's really listening to statements until about the All-Star break, but April's a good place to start.
Fact is, there's a long, long way to go after April blows through the baseball calendar, so April in the simplest sense is much like Opening Day -- the beginning of a long season and a cause for celebration, but really just one piece to the puzzle, one that can be deceiving at times.
April, above all, is about first impressions, and those already are being made throughout the game, from a successful first day in the American League for the Astros to heady debuts for several players. In a team sense, April is unique among baseball's six months, by its very nature providing every team the opportunity to get the long season off to a good start.
"I think whether you're talking about individuals or a team collectively, when you have success early in the year, certainly, the confidence is going to grow," Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Boston's successful debut in the Bronx on Monday.
That's logical enough. But, as a whole, April's actual worth in a team's overall journey that is the 162-game season can be a bit of a mystery.
History tells us it's better to have a winning April than not -- and, well, duh. You don't have to know that 37 of the 42 playoff teams of the last five years were .500 or better in April to know that, although that fact demonstrates how April can set a tone.
On the flip side of that tone, you can ask those who have had a difficult April, and you can be sure they know it's better to get off to a good start in the season's first month than it is to go the other way.
Exhibit A: The 2012 Angels, who entered the season with high expectations but found themselves fighting an uphill battle the rest of the season after an 8-15 April.
"Everybody picked us to win," Angels ace Jered Weaver said, "and we took that into the season and thought that was the way we were going to go about it. It didn't quite work out that way."
Said star outfielder Mike Trout, who incidentally didn't arrive for 2012 until April 28: "You don't want to put yourself in a hole in April. Then you look back in August and September, and you're scoreboard watching. That's what happened last year. It wasn't a good feeling."
Obviously, there isn't a team out there that wouldn't like to have a winning record from the very first day, the very first month. But even for those who eventually end up hoisting the World Series trophy in October, a win on Opening Day itself has been less frequent than you'd think: Five of the last six World Series winners started off with a loss in the opener, and seven of the last 10. As for a winning April, however, you have to go back to the 2003 Marlins to find a team that didn't have a winning first month en route to claiming a World Series title. The Marlins started that season off at 14-15, including an Opening Day loss.
Over the last five years, only five of the 42 teams that have reached the postseason finished April (and any March games, if applicable) with a sub-.500 record, and none of them went all the way. The 2012 A's were 11-13, the '11 D-backs 11-15, the '10 Rangers 11-12, the '10 Braves 9-14 and the '09 Angels 9-12.
Those 2010 Rangers reached the World Series, though, and then they went 16-11 in April 2011 en route to another World Series appearance. Then came 2012, and they were the most successful team in baseball through April with a 17-6 record -- only to have a 15-16 mark in September/October tell the tale of their season. The A's knocked them off the AL West perch in the final series, and then they lost in the first Wild Card playoff to the Orioles. The success of April was a distant and irrelevant memory.
The goal, as Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler knows, is to be solid throughout the season, good in April but good in August, too. Being the best in April doesn't help in September.
"I think we lost energy," Kinsler said. "You can say we got used to winning or took it for granted, but I don't think that's completely accurate. I just think we hit a tough stretch at the end of the season. But I think this year you're going to see a very steady team."
That's really the goal. Sure, everyone wants a solid April, but they want the same out of May, June, July, August and September. That's the best way to have a winning October, which is what every team seeks.
April matters. But just as Bryce Harper won't hit 324 home runs and Clayton Kershaw won't have a 0.00 ERA when the season is through, teams that shine or struggle in April have a long season to go.
Like Opening Day, it's a start.