You know April is great. After all, it's my birth month. Of course, you may look a bit more forward to the weather starting to turn and the return of baseball games that count.
We hear all the time that all the games count. But it's my take that April 2015 is extremely important for the Cubs. And I'm going to make that case for you in a five-part series. Today we'll look at how April affects your playoff chances. Then the next four days we'll look at hitting, pitching, the schedule, and predictions.
We know the last three years have been rough on the Cubs. The rosters have had limited talent and doubtful outlooks heading into the season. But even for the eternal optimists, the team's performance in April has more or less crushed the season.
2014: 9-17, 9½ GB in last place (on the way to 73-89)
2013: 11-16, 5 GB in last (66-96)
2012: 8-15, 7 GB in last (61-101)
That's, well, awful. So the season has been buried before it even began. A record like that puts you on a path to selling at the deadline. Compare that to the records of the NL playoff teams the last three years (*all GB is in relation to the respective division leader).
2014:Washington (16-12, 1½ GB), Los Angeles (17-12, 1 GB), St. Louis (15-14, 5 GB), Pittsburgh (WC; 10-18, 9 GB), San Francisco (WC; 17-11, 1st)
2013: St. Louis (16-11, 1st), Atlanta (17-10, 1st), Los Angeles (13-14, 3½ GB), Pittsburgh (WC; 16-12, ½ GB), Cincinnati (WC; 15-14, 2 GB)
2012: Washington (14-9, 1st), Cincinnati (11-11, 3½ GB), San Francisco (12-11, 4½ GB), St. Louis (WC; 15-8, 1st), Atlanta (WC; 14-10, ½ GB)
So, out of 15 NL playoff participants the last three years, 13 of them played .500 baseball or better. One more was just a half game under. Only last year's Pirates overcame a rough start to make the playoffs, thanks in part to the Brewers cooling off considerably after a blistering start (20-9 in April, finishing 82-80).
But it's almost sort of possible to play too well in April. Of the eight teams to play .600 or better ball in April, half missed the playoffs! That includes the 2012 Dodgers, who missed the playoffs after a 17-7 (.708) start. Others who missed the playoffs despite hot starts: 2013 Rockies (17-11), 2014 Braves (17-10), and the aforementioned Brewers.
Still, the Pirates were the only team to overcome a rough April to make the postseason.
So what's the takeaway? Put down the shovel and avoid digging a huge hole in April. Play .500 ball, but don't start too fast. The baseball season is a marathon, made far more challenging when you start at the back of the pack. Aim to pace the field.
What are your thoughts on April? Let's start the conversation today and we'll pick it up tomorrow by focusing on hitting.