A scorecard just for April flukes

mlb week

April 30, 2006|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

One month down, and five to go.

April is about to be a memory, and that gives baseball fans just five short months left to enjoy the season.

A lot of things can happen between now and the end of September. Albert Pujols could go in a slump; the Orioles could find a stable stable of middle relievers and Tampa Bay Devil Rays prospect Delmon Young could play again in 2006.

Or not.

Plenty of surprising story lines have emerged in the first month, as they always do. Whether teams and players will keep the momentum going, however, is what makes baseball fun all season long.

Here's a look at the staying power of April happenings with the soon-to-be trademarked "Connolly's Fluke Factor Rating."

For those new to the rating system (which would be everyone), a CFFR of 1 means an ironclad, Devil-Rays-in-the-basement lock to happen. A CFFR of 10 is a finger-wagging, congressional-hearing-promise fallacy that will flop like Mark Buehrle in a rain delay.

FLUKE RATING: 8 The Cincinnati Reds are pennant contenders Every year a few unexpected teams start out hot and then wilt as the season unfolds (for a textbook example, see Orioles, Baltimore, 2005). No one is suggesting that this year's Reds will experience staph infections, steroid scandals and locust infestations the way last season's Orioles did. But it's hard to believe that the Reds can survive with a pitching staff that has a collective 5.06 ERA over its first 22 games. The offense is explosive, but you need to pitch to win late. So Reds fans should enjoy the early run.

FLUKE RATING: 4 Greg Maddux is Greg Maddux again It's difficult to explain why Maddux, after a season in which he posted his fewest wins and highest ERA in 19 years, would be so unhittable early. The guy even fanned seven Reds earlier this month. Then again, Maddux's mastery has been somewhat of a mystery for almost two decades. When he's on, he's the ultimate baseball artisan. So it's tough to bet against him. The best guess is that he doesn't win another Cy Young Award or ERA title, but he returns to 15 or more wins and an ERA under 4.00.

FLUKE RATING: 2 The Chicago White Sox are better than last year Print the playoff tickets. This club is the New England Patriots of MLB. The White Sox are so balanced that they can absorb injuries and don't need all their players clicking at once to win. The back end of the bullpen might still hurt them over time, and the AL Central is much tougher, but the additions of Jim Thome and Javier Vazquez have made a great team better.

FLUKE RATING: 5 Miguel Tejada will win the AL batting title On April 2, this was a whopping 10.5 on the meter. But then the season started and the real Miggy stepped forward. The Orioles shortstop and leader looked terrible with the glove at the WBC and bad all-around in spring training. But as soon as the games started to count, Tejada snapped back into his excellent play. Only special players can turn on the talent like that. And Tejada is a special player. But his highest average for a full season is .311, so he has a long way to go to capture the batting crown. We're all learning, however, that it's not wise to doubt Tejada's ability.

FLUKE RATING: 7 The Kansas City Royals are historically bad The Royals are bad. Really bad. But are they 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134) bad? Or even 1962 New York Mets (40-120) bad? Probably not. True, they lost 15 of their first 20 games, putting them on pace to challenge the '62 Mets for the worst winning percentage in the past 60-plus years. They're 0-9 on the road and already have suffered through an 11-game losing streak. Still, it's hard to believe that they can't win at least 40 more games this year or hit more homers than Albert Pujols (the Royals were tied at 13 after Friday's games). Heck, the Pittsburgh Pirates could out-lose the Royals.

FLUKE RATING: 1 Albert Pujols is baseball's best player This was pretty apparent last year after his NL MVP-winning performance. But Alex Rodriguez, the AL MVP, had to be in the discussion. And it seemed cruel to leave Barry Bonds out while he was rehabilitating his knee and psyche. But now Bonds is back and is obviously in too much pain to regain the title. And although A-Rod has done nothing to diminish his status, Pujols has been Triple Crown-worthy, and he just turned 26. Based on the statistics of his first 22 games, the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman is projected to hit 88 homers with 214 RBIs and a .342 average. OK, so that's probably stretching it a bit. He'll have 200 RBIs - tops.

FLUKE RATING: 10 The Yankees will continue to hover around .500 As much as the rest of the non-pinstriped world would like to see a collapse, the Yankees will be in the playoff hunt again. They started out slowly last year, remember. And already this team has pitched much better than in 2005, with an ERA of 3.50 through its first 20 games. It's only a matter of time before the Yankees find themselves in their customary spot atop the AL East.

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