5/1/2014 12:51 P.M. ET
It's been an especially Happy April for Brewers, A's
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
Opening months are tricky. First, there's uncertainty. That's because teams change as players come and go, group dynamics evolve, etc. Some years, everything clicks. Other years, nothing works.
No one has figured out why some seasons take on a magical quality. Bring that rookie up and watch him win six in a row. Insert that career bench guy into the starting lineup and see him drive in six game-winning runs.
This opening month has seen plenty of teams feeling pretty good about themselves: for instance, the Angels.
If you're not blown away by a 14-13 record and a 3 1/2-game division deficit, you haven't been where the Angels have been. After two straight killer Aprils, the Halos are alive and well, and they'll take it. They were 8-15 and nine games out on May 1, 2012. They were 9-17 and eight games out on May 1, 2013. By comparison, 14-13 looks pretty sweet. They're also scoring more runs and allowing fewer, which is a proven formula for improvement.
Albert Pujols looks a lot like his old self, and general manager Jerry Dipoto's acquisition of left-hander Tyler Skaggs is looking better by the day. The bullpen is leaky and may need repair. But the Angels are looking like a team capable of doing the things they were supposed to do in 2012 and '13.
The Braves are thrilled with a 17-9 start. To lose three starting pitchers -- two of them, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, for the season -- and then to still have the best rotation in the game (2.32 ERA) is a remarkable accomplishment.
The Braves' start looks even better considering their offense is 28th in runs scored, behind every team except the Astros and Padres. If B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward get going, Atlanta might just win the National League East a second straight year.
The Angels and Braves are just a start. The Marlins, Mets, Phillies, Twins, White Sox, Giants and Rockies all have to feel they're in a good place as we turn the page on April.
Still, this opening month closes out with two teams seeming head and shoulders above the other 28, and it's these two teams who win our first annual Happiest April award. Take a bow, A's and Brewers.
On this first day of May, they're baseball's two best, most complete teams, two teams that may have the staying power through the long grind ahead. That's because both of them have pitching. At least, that's where it starts.
Milwaukee (20-8) was widely picked to finish fourth in the NL Central. It shows how much we know. Inside the Brewers' clubhouse, they never thought that. General manager Doug Melvin had a very nice offseason, adding, among others, right-hander Matt Garza and relievers Will Smith and Francisco Rodriguez.
The Brewers figured that if they could stay healthy and if Ryan Braun could return to his old form, they might surprise some people. Their staff ERA of 2.82 is the third best in baseball. Rodriguez hasn't allowed a run in 16 appearances and is 13-for-13 in save chances. Smith has allowed one earned run in 15 appearances. As for that rotation, four of the five have been terrific. Only Garza has an ERA above 2.87.
Now about those A's. No team in baseball leaves April feeling better. They're first in the American League with a 2.78 ERA and third in scoring runs. In other words, this is a team with virtually no weakness.
To have a rotation with the AL's best ERA (2.85) after losing two starters -- A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker -- reflected the tremendous job general manager Billy Beane has done stockpiling pitching. Free-agent signee Scott Kazmir is 4-0, and Sonny Gray has emerged as a staff ace in his first full season in the big leagues.
And there's right-hander Jesse Chavez. At 30, he's doing things he never did in stops with the Royals, Pirates, Braves and Blue Jays. In six starts, Chavez has allowed more than one earned run just once and has been far more than Oakland could have hoped.
If the A's don't suffer anymore crushing injuries, they appear to be capable of rolling deep into October. In third baseman Josh Donaldson, they may have baseball's most unheralded star. All in all, Oakland's team is a tribute to Beane's genius and to manager Bob Melvin's brilliance at making it all work.
Plenty can happen over these next six months. With 22 of 39 teams within 3 1/2 games of a postseason berth, nothing has come close to being decided. But plenty of teams feel good about how things have gone. Onward, fellas.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.