Nobody in Chicago could lose. Those teams in Houston and Atlanta couldn’t win. The NL West was sinking. A rookie shortstop in Colorado was rising.
And it all made for an astounding first month of an already-fascinating season. So let’s take a look at the stuff that astounded us most.
Bulletin: Cubs and White Sox finish April in first place!
Of all the crazy sights you can see in Chicago, it would be tough to top this one: The Cubs leading the NL Central by three games and the White Sox leading the AL Central by three as we flipped our calendars to May.
If you said to yourself, “Hey self, that seems really rare,” well, you’ve got that right. How many other times, since baseball went to two leagues, have both the Cubs and White Sox finished April in outright possession of first place? Exactly once!
That was in 2008, when both teams went on to win their divisions. But before that? I was insane enough to go through the standings for every April back through 1901. Never happened. Just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, I asked the Elias Sports Bureau to double-check. They verified that it’s never happened.
They did remind me that in 1973, the Cubs were tied with the Mets for first at the end of April and the White Sox (10-5) led the Royals (13-8) by percentage points. But that was it, even if you include ties for the top.
And how many times in history have we ever finished an April in which the Cubs and White Sox had the best records in their leagues? How about zero times? Yes, zero before this.
So is this the Year of the Cubs or the Year of the White Sox? Doesn’t matter. It’s the Year of Chicago.
NO LOSING STREAKS FOR THE CUBS
Bulletin: Cubs go through April without losing two in a row!
Even if we’re not quite ready to decree this the Year of the Cubs, it was definitely the April of the Cubs. And right at the top of their list of fabulous feats last month? How about not losing two games in a row -- at any point.
So when was the last time the Cubs made it through April without a single two-game losing streak? How about 1952! But as Elias reports, they only played 13 games all month back then (and went 9-4).
Which means it’s time to delve deeper. What was the last year any Cubs team went this many games into a season without a two-game losing streak? That would be, oh, a mere 109 years ago, according to Elias. Wildfire Schulte’s 1907 Cubs went 33 games deep into that season before finally losing two in a row – on May 26 and 27!
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENTIAL?
Bulletin: Cubs have plus-79 run differential in April!
OK, one more on the Cubs. They scored 136 runs in April. That was the most in baseball. Meanwhile, they allowed just 57 runs. That was the fewest in baseball.
So here’s what you need to know:
Last time the Cubs had a plus-79 run differential in ANY calendar month? How about September 1935 (when they went plus-90 on their way to the World Series), Elias reports.
Last time any National League team had a plus-79 run differential through 22 games? How about 1905, when Boileryard Clarke’s New York Giants did it (at plus-85). That team won the World Series.
The only other team in the World Series era that had a run differential that good after 22 games? That would be Hideki Matsui’s 2003 Yankees (at plus-82). That team lost the World Series.
And just four times in the last 40 seasons have the Cubs even had a plus-79 run differential for a whole SEASON. Those four years: 1984, 1989, 2004 and 2008.
So, um, viva la differential!
NO WINNING STREAKS FOR THE ASTROS
Bulletin: Astros go through April without winning two in a row!
Where would you rank those Houston Astros on your Most Disappointing Teams list? We’d place them solidly at No. 1. And speaking of that number, that was the Astros’ longest winning streak in April: one.
So how rare is it for a team to make the postseason one year and then go through the entire month of April the next year without winning two games in a row? Well, it may not be that rare by Cubs standards. But for anybody else? Yikes.
The last team to do it? Elias tells us it was Gary Mathews Sr.’s 1982 Phillies, who made it through a win-streak-free 19-game April before finally winning back-to-back on May 2 and 3 -- games No. 22 and 23.
But there’s an asterisk alert. That Phillies team made the “postseason” the year before only because it was a strike year and they were in first place when the strike hit in June. So baseball decided to match up the first-half and second-half leaders in each division that October. Hence, those Phillies were a “playoff team.”
The last team to do it without an asterisk was Amos Otis’ 1981 Royals. That team’s first two-game winning streak came on May 1 and 2. In games 14 and 15.
But no matter how you compute this, one thing doesn’t change: Never in Carlos Correa’s lifetime has a playoff team spent this much time hunting for a two-game winning streak.
Bulletin: Braves have nine-game and eight-game losing streaks in the same month!
Well, the Braves may not have made the playoffs last year. But if the Astros are looking for a team that had a worse April than they had, Atlanta would be the place to look.
You might recall the Braves started out the season by going a grim 0-9. Then, after a brief intermission for a four-game winning streak, they turned around and lost eight more games in a row.
So how many teams in history have ever had two losing streaks that long in the same April? Well, that’s actually a trick question.
Technically, only Dmitri Young’s 2003 Tigers ever had two losing streaks like that. They also started the year 0-9, then won a game, then lost eight more in a row on the way to a scary 3-22 April and 119-loss season. But if we’re being technical, we also have to note that they played their opener that year on March 31. So you be the judge of whether they did it twice “in April.”
And then there’s another team whose April losing binge doesn’t quite fit these exact criteria. That would be Jeff Stone’s 1988 Orioles, covered by the great Tim Kurkjian. Those O’s made history by kicking off their season with a historic 21-game losing streak. So technically, they didn’t have two separate losing streaks as long as this team in Atlanta just had. They merely squished all the losses together in one big streak.
Either way, it’s safe to say these would be two teams the Braves would not want to go down in history with. And neither would anyone else!
BELOW SEA LEVEL IN THE NL WEST
Bulletin: Every team in the NL West finishes April with a losing record!
The bad news for the Dodgers, Giants and Rockies is that they came out of April one game under .500. The good news? That was somehow all it took for them to wind up the month in a virtual tie for first place -- in a division in which everyone was submerged below sea level.
So how rare is that, you ask? I can help you with that, I say. Just two other times in the division-play era have we looked up on May 1 and found an entire division under .500.
The last time it happened? That was 1996, when the Astros and Cubs finished April at 13-14 – and tied for first place in the NL Central. FYI, the Cardinals won the division that year – with 88 wins.
The only other year it happened? That was 1994 in the AL West, when your first-place team, as we moved into May, was the 10-13 Seattle Mariners. And boy did that turn out to be a harbinger of things (and losses) to come. When the strike pulled the plug on the season that August, all four teams in that division were at least 10 games under .500 (with Texas “on top” at 52-62).
So is that where the NL West derby is headed? Hmmm. I’ll take the “over.”
BEST STORY OF THE MONTH
Bulletin: Trevor Story makes history with 10 April homers and 17 extra-base hits!
Ten home runs. And a total of 17 extra-base hits. Did anyone in baseball have a more astounding month than the rookie shortstop for the Colorado Rockies? Let’s put that month in perspective this way:
Just two players since 1900 got that many extra-base hits in their first calendar month in the big leagues, according to Elias. One was Joe DiMaggio (23 extra-base hits in May 1936). The other was Albert Pujols (17, in April 2001).
But ... DiMaggio hit just four home runs that May. And Pujols hit only eight homers that April. So get the picture? No player in modern history piled up at least 17 extra-base hits and 10 homers in his very first month in the major leagues. Wow.
Here, though, is the best way to sum this up. What do all these stars have in common: Andrew McCutchen, Joey Votto, Robinson Cano, Adam Jones, David Wright, Evan Longoria, Victor Martinez? The answer: They’ve never had 10 home runs and 17 extra-base hits in ANY month they’ve spent in the big leagues. But Trevor Story just did that in his FIRST month in the big leagues. And that’s just mind-boggling.
All right, so he plays in a home park (Coors Field) where gravity sometimes seems to take a vacation. Whatever. The games counted. The numbers counted. So no whining will be permitted by the proper authorities (by which I mean me). This. Happened. Just like all of this happened -- in the astounding April of 2016.