Accuse of exaggeration if you must, but that might have been the best April in MLB history.
We had two Dodgers-Padres series that managed to not only meet but exceed preseason expectations, reflected in both the results and the ratings. We had two-and-seventh-ninths no-hitters. We had the greatest player of his time (Mike Trout, duh) at the peak of his powers, along with teammate Shohei Ohtani delivering the best, to date, of his two-way capability. We had the A’s rattling off 13 straight wins, the usual April surprises (Yermín Mercedes, really??) and Anthony Rizzo striking out “Frederick” Freeman. Best of all, we had fans in the stands for the first time in ages and the interactions we missed so much.
But we’re just getting started with this MLB season. So here are 10 predictions for the second month that just May come true.
1. The Twins will storm to the top of the AL Central.
It was an abnormal April for the Twins. They had four games postponed, two seven-inning doubleheaders (in which they went 0-4) and five games that went to extra innings (in which they went 0-5).
But a May schedule that features 11 games against the Rangers, Tigers and Orioles will be more to their liking. Rookie Alex Kirilloff, who crushed his first two big league home runs on Friday night, and the return of Miguel Sano will lengthen a lineup in which Byron Buxton is making an early MVP case and Nelson Cruz continues to defy time. And Kenta Maeda (6.56 ERA) will kick into gear.
(Just don’t ask me how the bullpen suddenly heals itself, as I haven’t figured that out yet.)
2. The Jarred Kelenic Show will begin in Seattle.
It is not unusual for the promotion of premier prospects such as Kelenic to occur in the summer months, and we should expect to see him soon after he gets a few more at-bats in the high Minors. (He has played in only 21 games above Class A, after all.)
But with a heavy dose of the Orioles, Rangers and Tigers in their May schedule, the M’s are going to remain frisky in the winnable AL West. And as a left-field need becomes more apparent, it will be time to make the call for Kelenic -- a confident kid with a loud bat that is going to make an instant impact.
3. Francisco Lindor will hit his 200th career double.
Mr. Smile entered Friday with 192 career doubles. He will get to this milestone as part of a big bounce-back month after a slow start that has already seen him booed at Citi Field. And hopefully, after Lindor strides into second, we will have our second, unexpectedly effusive 200th career double celebration of the season. Bet you didn’t know that 200 doubles is the new 500 homers.
4. Bryce Harper will have another huge month.
Aside from getting hit in the face by a 97 mph fastball, Harper had a great April with a 1.063 OPS. But we’ve almost come to expect this from Bryce in the season’s opening month. In his career, he has a .300/.430/.599 slash in March/April. It's the adjustments that come afterward that have so far limited this superb talent to “only” one MVP year (2015) and no All-Star appearances since 2018.
Harper, though, has drastically reduced his chase rate this season, from 28.3% to 22.5%. This has helped him do more damage with his swings. His barrel rate, for instance, is up 4.7%. And the advanced metrics tell us that, as good as his early 2021 numbers are, he’s actually hit into a bunch of bad luck. There will be no May-laise here. Harper’s going to keep powering the Phillies.
5. Dustin May will be the NL Pitcher of the Month.
Hey, these are bold May predictions, right? (Sorry.)
Nothing outlandish about this one. May flashed his potential in his rookie year in 2020, but this season he’s figured out how to put batters away with his arsenal that includes a 98 mph sinker, 98 mph four-seamer and 93-mph cutter, along with a curveball on which batters had gone 0-for-21. May had a 19.6% strikeout rate last year, but finished April having struck out 37.2% of batters faced.
6. Ji-Man Choi will homer in his first at-bat of 2021.
One of the most lovable players in MLB has been rehabbing from knee surgery and could join the Rays by the middle of the month. He’ll instantly go deep (from the left-hand side … so don’t get too excited).
By the way, with the Red Sox returning to earth a bit, the Blue Jays still trying to get healthy and the Yankees still inspiring a nationwide case of schadenfreude, the Rays will be in first place in the AL East come June 1.
7. Can you say first-place … D-backs?!
We have been understandably obsessed by the quality of the Dodgers-Padres rivalry, to date. Meanwhile, the surprising Giants have just been chilling at or near the top of the NL West since mid-April, with relatively little attention paid to the turn-back-the-clock performances of Buster Posey and Evan Longoria.
It's the D-backs, though, that will be the “Wait, what?” team of May.
They’ve already shown the signs of it with a strong recovery from a 5-10 start. Torey Lovullo has matured as a manager and is mixing and matching his lineups to great effect. Staff ace Zac Gallen has had a strong return from a forearm fracture. The lineup has banged out one of the highest home run totals in MLB. And a light schedule in the first half of this month will allow Arizona to build off its recent successes. They will not win the West. And neither will the Giants. But with the Dodgers and Padres still sorting through some injury issues and finding their footing, the division will continue to look deeper than advertised this month.
8. George Springer will have a four-homer game.
You probably didn’t know that three of the last six four-homer games in MLB history all took place in the month of May.
You also probably don’t care about that truly useless trivia.
But mark my words: You WILL care when Springer, having recently returned from a quad issue, makes up for lost time with, yes, a quad-homer night in the hitter’s haven known as TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla. Teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. nearly pulled off the feat on April 27, but Springer’s going to do it on … May 19 vs. the Red Sox (and no, this date was not randomly selected, why would you think that?). Springer’s impressive individual achievement will make up for May’s absence of any no-hitters of either the nine- or seven-inning variety.
9. Joey Votto will bang.
Votto gave a great quote to C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic during a power slump two years ago when he asked a teammate aloud, “Can I still bang?” Cincinnatians loved it so much that they turned it into a T-shirt.
Alas, Votto didn’t bang much in that 2019 season or early in 2020. It compelled one of the most patient hitters in baseball history to sell out for more power with a new plate approach. But Votto enters May with a with a .242 batting average and .308 on-base percentage that is worrisome for a 37-year-old. Dig deeper, though, and we see Votto has been crushing the ball, with an average exit velocity in the 85th percentile and an expected SLG of .590.
Fresh off hitting his 300th career home run on Friday, Votto’s going to go on a homer spree this month, and the Reds will stay relevant with Luis Castillo turning his season around and Sonny Gray settling into the season after an injury-delayed start. Votto still bangs.
10. Jacob deGrom will give up four runs in a game … and win!
May 15 vs. the Rays. deGrom goes six innings and gets touched by a three-run home run by Randy Arozarena and an RBI double from Francisco Mejía – the most earned runs he has allowed since Sept. 3, 2019. But the Mets' bats actually back him in an 8-5 victory at Citi Field.
To this point, deGrom has allowed exactly two (that’s two as in … two!) earned runs in 2021 and lost both games in which he had the gall to give up such a run. The baseball gods will finally throw him a bone.