MLB - 3 Up 3 Down (05/01/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
Three Up, Three Down – reviewing baseball from the month of April.

A look at the notable and disappointing teams from the month of April with updated rest of season projections and playoff probabilities for each team.

Three Up

New York Yankees

Season: 13 wins – 9 losses, 1st in the AL East

The Yankees are on top once again. The Evil Empire can thank early season production from veteran players for the surprising start. Alex Rodriguez, back after a yearlong suspension and nearly 40 years old, is hitting well for having only played 44 games since 2013. A-Rod has smashed five home runs and is just one shy of Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list.

Mark Teixeira, coming off of two awful years, is third in the majors with eight dingers and is on pace for a 59-homer season. The starting rotation has been solid with the third best ERA (3.23) in the American League and the bullpen has been lights out. All of which has helped the Yankees to a record of 14-8 on the run-line (64% RL).

Before the season began, we projected the Yankees to play .500 ball and gave the Pinstripes a 31 percent chance to reach the postseason. After a hot April, the Yanks are now 55 percent likely to make the playoffs.

However, a wrist injury for Masahiro Tanaka has landed the team's ace on the disabled list. Some fear Tanaka may need Tommy John surgery. At the very least, the Yankees hold on the top spot in the division is tenuous. New York has the oldest offense in baseball and now without its top pitcher will need to rely on CC Sabathia, who missed most of 2014 with a knee injury, and Michael Pineda, who due to injuries has only made 17 starts in the majors since 2011.

New York Mets

Season: 15 wins – 8 losses, 1st in the NL East

The Mets are tied for the most wins in baseball. New York tied a franchise record with eleven wins in a row helping the club to its best start since 1986, the last Mets club to win the World Series. This is weird, to say the least, because the Mets have gone six straight seasons without a winning record and nine years with no playoff berths.

The Mets are the 27th team since the year 2000 to win at least 11 straight games. The previous 26 teams averaged over 92 wins per season. So this year's team is a lock for the postseason, right? Not so fast.

Despite the injuries and suspensions, New York has been lucky benefiting from an excellent record (5 wins, 1 losses) in one-run games. Neither the team's hitting or pitching ranks in the top half of the majors in efficiency and the Mets are just the 21st overall team in our most recent Power Rankings.

Having one of the best records in baseball in April does not guarantee a spot in October baseball. Despite the great start and the early 4.5 game lead in the division, the Mets are less than 40 percent likely to play beyond the 162nd game of the season.

Kansas City Royals

Season: 15 wins – 7 losses, 1st in the AL Central

The Royals were the surprise of last year's postseason but many didn't expect the magic to carry over. However, Kansas City was our pick to win the AL Central. Boy do we look smart right now.

The Royals averaged 4.02 runs per game in 2014, rankings ninth in the American League. This year run production in Kauffman is up. Kansas City is averaging 5.41 runs per game, second in the league, and batting .306 as a team.

It's unlikely that the team maintains that batting average but the club's young bats are starting to produce. Eric Hosmer has a .310 average, .404 on-base percentage, .488 slugging percentage and three home runs. Mike Moustakas is raking with a .356/.420/.522 slash and three homers. Salvador Perez is the hottest hitting catcher in the game with .326/.337/.488 and three home runs. With such a young bunch, it's not unreasonable to expect one or more of these Royals to have a breakout year.

In the last 100 years, 43 teams including the 2015 Royals and Tigers have started the season 6-0. On average, those teams won 92 games. Kansas City is currently projected to win 91 games and has a 79.4 percent chance to reach the playoffs. What KC fans will like the most is that the Royals have the best odds to win the World Series in the American League.

Three Down

Washington Nationals

Season: 10 wins – 13 losses, 5 games out of 1st in the NL East

Washington was everyone's pick to win the World Series. After signing Max Scherzer in the offseason the Nats starting rotation was terrifying as it included Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and now Scherzer. A rough April has the World Series favorites looking mortal.

Don't expect the Nationals to stay down for long. The team currently leads the majors in errors, a problem that is likely to improve with Denard Span returning to the lineup and Anthony Rendon expected back in May, both major defensive upgrades. The offense has suffered as well with Span, Rendon and Jayson Werth missing time. The trio were arguably the best hitters for a team that finished with a top five offense a season ago. Washington led the majors in ERA and FIP last year, expect the Nats at the top of the list by season's end. Finally, since 2012, when the Nats began their run of success (two division titles in three years), the team as a favorite has gone 238-150 (61% straight-up). So far this season the Nats as favorites are just 7-11 straight-up. Recent history suggests Washington will win a few more games when they're favored.

Washington is projected to win the NL East, has a 72 percent chance to make the playoffs and has the third best chance to win the World Series in the National League.

San Francisco Giants

Season: 9 wins – 13 losses, 4.5 games out of 1st in NL West

The Giants have stumbled out of the gates and into last place in the NL West. The defending champions can't score. One of the reasons for the lack of runs is untimely hitting. San Francisco is hitting .219, 25th in the majors, with runners in scoring position. The other, there is a power outage in the Bay Area. The Giants have belted 14 home runs, ranking 25th in the big leagues.

The offense isn't the only problem. The pitching staff has been mediocre with a 3.96 ERA (16th in baseball). Madison Bumgarner didn't have his fastball to start the season, but last year's World Series MVP is starting to pitch to form (two or fewer earned runs in each of his last two starts). If Bumgarner continues to pitch like he is capable then the rotation will be fine.

San Francisco won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014 but failed to even reach the playoffs in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Is the early season failure the result of the “odd year” curse? Unlikely, but superstitious Giants fans might be ready to write this year off and start looking ahead to 2016.

The defending champions are projected to finish third in the NL West and have a 13% chance to break the curse and reach the postseason.

St. Louis Cardinals

Season: 15 wins – 6 losses, 1st in the NL Central

The Cardinals are leading their division, the pitching staff has the best ERA (2.43) in baseball and the team has the second best run-differential (+37 runs) in the game. So why is St. Louis on the “Three Down” list?

Simply, the Redbirds are my favorite team and I'm a homer. So losing our ace Adam Wainwright has me scared. Since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2011, the All-Star pitcher has 55 wins (2nd in MLB), a 2.99 ERA (6th), seven shutouts (1st) and 13 complete games (1st). You'll excuse me for not believing the rotation can maintain its sparkling ERA without one of the best pitchers in the game.

However, Cardinal Nation should relax knowing that even without Wainwright, St. Louis is still projected to win the division. In the last four years, the Cards have owned the NL Central with a 138-95 (59% straight-up) record.