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Week Ahead: Opening month winds down

Power shift in AL East; Kipnis back for Tribe; NL West is wild
MLB.com @DougMillerMLB

It's not early anymore, baseball fans.

Once the week ahead comes to a close, we'll bid adieu to the first month of the Major League season. Sample sizes are getting large enough to possibly draw conclusions. Some teams need to get it in gear pronto if they're to right the ship and sail to October. Some are just waiting for the right opportunity to get hot, even as the weather occasionally keeps its spring chill.

It's not early anymore, baseball fans.

Once the week ahead comes to a close, we'll bid adieu to the first month of the Major League season. Sample sizes are getting large enough to possibly draw conclusions. Some teams need to get it in gear pronto if they're to right the ship and sail to October. Some are just waiting for the right opportunity to get hot, even as the weather occasionally keeps its spring chill.

And all over the ballparks of the American and National Leagues, there are plenty of first-month stories that are worth following as we close out April.

How about the AL East? While the young and powerful Red Sox were picked by many to win the division and are not surprisingly right there in the thick of things, with an 11-8 record after Sunday's win over Baltimore, the Orioles and Yankees are ahead of them at the moment and will play each other in a dramatic weekend series in the Bronx.

Baltimore, which sits in first place at an AL-best 12-5, has been buoyed by solid starting pitching despite the absence of ace Chris Tillman, excellent relief pitching despite the recent injury to closer Zach Britton, and contributions from all over the lineup, including a breakout power surge by rookie Trey Mancini, who has five home runs and 11 RBIs in 13 games.

"I'm seeing the ball pretty well and I'm just trying my best," Mancini said. "All I'm really focusing on is relaxing. Luckily everything else is taking care of itself. I know through the year there's going to have to be adjustments that I'll make."

The Yankees, meanwhile, are hanging with the Orioles with a record of 11-7, and they're doing it with catcher Gary Sanchez on the disabled list because of a strained right biceps. Slugger Aaron Judge is on a tear, starter Luis Severino is emerging as the force the Yankees always thought he'd be, and the team is reveling in an early-season feeling of good chemistry.

Video: NYY@PIT: Judge launches a 457-foot homer into orbit

"That's what this team is about," Judge said. "It's about 25 guys pulling the same rope and getting the job done. We all know if one guy doesn't get it done, we've got 24 guys behind them to get the job done. It's been fun this year."

Things have been fun for the Astros, too. They're 13-6 and atop the AL West, and this week they begin with quite a challenge: three games, starting Tuesday, against the defending AL champions in Cleveland. The Indians are treading water in the AL Central, tied for first with Detroit with a record of 10-8, and they just got second baseman Jason Kipnis back after a lengthy DL stint.

"Obviously, I'm overcome with excitement right now for getting going," Kipnis said. "These guys are starting to play better baseball right now. You knew it was only a matter of time with the lineup we have, that they were going to get things going."

In the NL, all eyes will continue to be on Milwaukee, where the Brewers, including the reborn Eric Thames, are mashing home runs and bringing to mind the 1982 Harvey's Wallbangers team of sluggers that made it to the World Series.

Video: STL@MIL: Thames crushes a two-run homer in the 5th

"I was joking about us being the new Wallbangers," said Thames, who played in Korea last year but has resurfaced as MLB's early leader with eight home runs. "This team can hit, man."

This week, the Brew Crew gets to stay home in Miller Park for three games against the Reds and a weekend three-pack vs. the Braves. And while that's going on, two more surprise early contenders will lock horns in the wild West.

The Rockies and Diamondbacks might be an unlikely 1-2 in the NL West right now, but they're playing like they intend for things to stay that way.

"You've got to hand it to everyone," D-backs shortstop Chris Owings said of his team's recent run of success. "Guys are just cheering each other out there. You can feel it in the dugout. We're just waiting for something good to happen instead of something bad to happen. It's really special."

Also special: The two teams are playing each other this weekend, a three-game set in Phoenix beginning Friday night that's sure to have implications on the standings as April comes to a close.

Video: SF@COL: Rockies notch a five-run inning vs. Giants

The Rockies have been hurt by injuries -- starters Chad Bettis and Jon Gray, first baseman Ian Desmond and outfielder David Dahl, among others, are all on the DL -- but Colorado is playing well in part because of brilliant work by the bullpen. And a 6-0 record in one-run games doesn't hurt.

"We've been hit pretty hard," manager Bud Black said on Friday. "If you look at the talent that we have on the disabled list, that's real talent. This [bullpen] does a nice job of going pitch to pitch, inning to inning, and just recording outs."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.