May momentum: Contenders aim to make their move
Tigers, Rockies among clubs hoping to continue hot start to second full month
The month of April is in baseball's rearview mirror, and the landscape you see getting smaller and smaller through that reflective rectangle is dotted not only with trees but with those small sample sizes we all love to comment on and wonder about.
So while May doesn't always determine which teams might be standing when October begins, most observers of the game would agree that it means more than April.
At this point in the schedule, with at least 30 games down for every team but the Detroit Tigers, it's no longer "early." Many teams have settled on lineups and pitching rotations after the oddities of April have settled into a realistic rhythm. Injuries have happened and will happen, but that's expected. Depth has already been tested, and key contributors have been identified from a pool of players that might not have even been considered when clubs broke camp in late March.
So if it's the month to move, who's going to move?
The first week of May is over, and the Tigers are one team already surging. As a matter of fact, through Tuesday, they haven't lost this month, having won seven in a row to improve to 19-9 and take a commanding five-game lead in the American League Central.
This shouldn't come as a surprise to a team that's been a divisional juggernaut in recent years, especially with two-time-defending AL MVP Award winner Miguel Cabrera hot again, but Detroit's dominance this early could portend good things for a team that got swept in the 2012 World Series and didn't make it out of last year's AL Championship Series.
"This is the way that we're expected to play baseball," Tigers ace Justin Verlander said. "We can do a lot of little things. We can also bang. And I think the fundamental of this team is starting pitching, as it should be with every team. You keep guys off the board and allow the offense to go out and score runs, and that's how you win a lot of ballgames."
The Tigers aren't the only team that has started off May well. The Rockies have started off the month by winning five of six, and they are averaging more than eight runs a game in the process. The Mariners have won five of six in May, too, and they are above .500 again.
In other words, there's May momentum going on in the Majors, as always, and we can only wonder which teams we'll be looking at during the postseason, saying, "We remember when."
Taking a quick look back at last year, for example, three teams stood out for what they did in May.
The St. Louis Cardinals were always going to be a good team in 2013, and they were good in April, going 15-11, but they turned it on in May, going 20-7. By the time the month was over, they were at 35-18 and bearing down for what would end up being the most intriguing divisional battle in baseball last year, with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds both making the postseason in the NL Wild Card Game slots.
Part of the reason for that was that the Pirates also took off in May, parlaying a 15-12 April into a 34-21 record at the end of May after winning 19 of 28 in the season's second month.
The Bucs could use that mojo this year, entering Wednesday's play at 13-20, although help could be on the way in the next month or so in the form of outfielder Gregory Polanco, their top prospect, who has been tearing up Triple-A.
The Cleveland Indians could use a bit of magic soon, too. Tuesday's win over Minnesota helped, but the Tribe is still 14-19 entering Wednesday and in last place in the AL Central.
"The name of the game is to score early," Cleveland outfielder Michael Brantley said. "Give the pitchers a lead so they can get a little more comfortable and even more aggressive. We need to do a better job of just continuing to put pressure on the defense and continue to put runs on the board."
Doing it in May would be the best thing for the Indians, and they have recent history to build on. Long before the Tribe had won 10 in a row to close out the 162-game slate in 2013 and ended up in the AL Wild Card Game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland had rebounded from a 11-13 April to go 18-12 in May.