If there was any doubt on who or what the story was in Major League Baseball through the first month of the season, Kansas City Royals right-hander Zack Greinke answered that question in a resounding way on Monday with yet another brilliant performance on the hill.
On Monday against the Chicago White Sox, Greinke improved to a perfect 6-0 in six starts, tossing his second shutout of the season to lower his earned run average to a mesmerizing 0.40.
In 45 innings this season Greinke has allowed just two earned runs, both of which by the way came in the same start.
The progression of Greinke has been fascinating to watch.
Heralded as the Royals best pitching prospect since Brett Saberhagen when he came upon the scene in 2004, Greinke struggled not only on the field, but off of it, as he missed most of the 2006 campaign with a social anxiety disorder.
Armed with all the potential in the world, the Royals treated Greinke with kid gloves -- and rightfully so -- from that point on, slowly bringing him along, even letting him pitch out of the bullpen in 2007 to get him right, both mentally and physically.
However, he made 32 starts last year and his finish last season served as a sign of things to come. With wins in four of his last five starts, the Royals showed even more faith in their ace, locking him up to a four-year, $38 million extension.
Now he is quite simply the best pitcher in baseball and like Saberhagen before him, he has fans in Missouri thinking about the postseason, even if we are only a month into the season.
With Greinke leading the way, though, the Royals are surprisingly atop of what at the moment looks like a very winnable AL Central.
Of course, the Minnesota Twins played the whole month of April without catcher Joe Mauer and the Detroit Tigers have the firepower to win a division, but Cleveland and defending champion Chicago don't appear to be real contenders.
Anyway, with all that said let's hand out some awards to the players and teams that had the best and worst first 30 days of the league's season:
BEST PITCHER - (See Above)
BEST PLAYER - ALBERT PUJOLS
When all the Alex Rodriguez steroid revelations reared their ugly heads this offseason, people started to look to Albert Pujols as the next guy to maybe go after Barry Bonds' record the "clean way". Pujols even stated in a Sports Illustrated article that it was OK to believe in him. Hopefully he is telling the truth, because he is off to a scintillating start this season, belting 10 homers with 30 RBI, 26 runs scored, while hitting .337 through 26 games for the NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals. Plus he has only struck out nine times this season. Ten Homers and nine strikeouts, unbelievable. He is hands-down the best player in the game.
SURPRISE TEAM - SEATTLE MARINERS
You can go a bunch of ways here. The Royals, Toronto and Seattle can all state
solid cases, but I am going with the Mariners. I still don't believe in Toronto. Honestly, I don't now how the Jays keep winning with that patchwork starting staff. Aside from a three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto has yet to play anyone else in the American League East. That means no games yet against the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, or Tampa Bay Rays. Beat them and maybe we will talk.
If Greinke can continue his dominance, Kansas City could very well be the team to win this award at the end of the season, but I thought the Royals were going to be good coming into this season.
So, I am going with the Mariners, the team who lost 101 games a year ago, but as I write this finds itself in first place in the American League West. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who were picked by just about everyone on the planet to win the division, have started to come on of late, but the injuries to their starting staff still concern me.
BIGGEST TEAM DISAPOINTMENT - TAMPA BAY RAYS
While there may be some debate on which team has been the biggest surprise this season, there is no doubt which team has been the biggest disappointment. After 97 wins, an AL East title and a trip to the World Series a year ago, big things were expected from the Rays. While Evan Longoria (.365, 8 HR, 34 RBI) has held up his end of the bargain, a good bunch of the Rays, most notably B.J. Upton, have been miserable. Upton is hitting .157, while catcher Dioner Navarro is batting a paltry .179. Their strong staff has been nothing to write home about either, save for a few strong Matt Garza outings.
David Price anyone?
BIGGEST FREE AGENT BUST - CC SABATHIA/MARK TEIXEIRA
Sure it is probably way to early to judge this sort of thing, but that is what we do, especially when the New York Yankees shelled out $341 million for these two players this offseason. Sabathia, a notorious slow starter, has gotten his 2009 season off on the wrong foot going 1-3 with a 4.85 ERA, while Teixeira has failed miserably in trying to fill the void in the lineup left by the injured Alex Rodriguez. Despite playing a terrific first base and claiming to have a sore wrist, Teixeira has hit just .198 with five home runs, 12 RBI and has failed numerous times in big spots for the Yankees.