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Appreciating April

You gotta love April baseball because the surprises and shockers never cease to amaze us.

The champion Red Sox can't get anybody out, having lost eight of their first 11 games. The Cubs are even worse with the highest ERA in the MLB universe.

Meanwhile, Detroit, picked to finish at or near the bottom of the Central Division of the American League, is on top while Tampa Bay, which will provide the opposition the next three afternoons on the South Side, has a major league-best 1.88 ERA which helps explain their 7-3 record, good for first place in the AL East.

Perennial ace Max Scherzer of the Nationals is 0-2. This from a guy who's lost only 13 games over the last two seasons. Chris Sale's record is the same as Scherzer's coupled with an 8.00 ERA.

On the plus side, the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger already has eight home runs and 18 RBIs and is hitting .455. That's almost an entire season for more than a few part-time players.

Locally, White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who missed the two-game Cleveland series last week for the birth of his second child, is hitting 127 points higher than any other hitter in baseball after collecting four hits Sunday in a pathetic 12-5 loss to the high-flying Mariners. If Anderson gets just one hit in his next 24 at-bats, he'll still be hitting over .300.

Meanwhile, his keystone partner Yolmer Sanchez is one-for-24.

See what fun early April is?

It's a slice of any week or two during the season when some guys are on fire while others appear on their way to Lake Elsinore, Toledo, Binghamton. Are the first couple of weeks an indicator of an entire season? Well, a year ago at this time, Mike Trout was hitting .184, and he wound up at .312 and a 12-year, $426 million contract.

Then again, Boston's MVP Mookie Betts was hitting .345 last year after a couple of weeks. He was amazingly consistent, ending the season at .346. So you never know.

As far as the local American League contingent is concerned, the young season is just as much a mixed bag as the rest of baseball. Ricky's Boys created an optimistic buzz last Wednesday when they beat the Indians and Cory Kluber 8-3 before opening the home season over the weekend against Seattle.

The Mariners are another story. During the off-season, general manager Jerry Dipoto granted free agency to 20 players off the 40-man roster, and he traded away another 10. Gone were established players including Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura, closer Edwin Diaz, and starting pitcher James Paxton. The team that clobbered Sox pitching over the weekend for 29 runs, 35 hits and nine homers was picked to finish near the bottom of the AL West after winning 89 games a year ago.

Yet 11 games into this season, the Mariners at 9-2 are off to a better start that the 2001 club that went on to win 116 games. They've homered in every game so far for a total of 27 which leads all teams, and they've scored almost eight runs a game. These are the kind of fellows who thoroughly enjoyed visiting Chicago over the weekend to face a White Sox pitching staff with a composite ERA of 6.52. Only the Cubs have a worse mark.

We're offered a juxtaposition beginning today with Tampa Bay. The Rays' attack - especially compared to Seattle - is rather meager, but, as mentioned earlier, they have been extremely stingy when it comes to pitching. In addition to Anderson, the Sox have other potent bats in the lineup who are off to solid starts in Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada and Leury Garcia. However, Sanchez, Welington Castillo and Yonder Alonso are not. Daniel Palka, last season's team leader in home runs, is hitless in 21 at bats. They'll need lots more balance to beat last season's Cy Young winner Matt Snell this afternoon.

Super rookie Eloy Jimenez no doubt holds the key to the Sox attack. So far he has seven hits, all singles, and he's struck out 11 times, the most on the team. He's been fed a steady diet of breaking pitches and change-ups. To his credit, Eloy has hit the ball to all fields, so teams have not shifted on him. This guy obviously is not a singles hitter, and once he starts putting up some power numbers, the Sox will become far more formidable.

If it's any comfort, baseball's second-rated prospect - Jimenez is No. 3 - Fernando Tatis Jr. of the Padres is slashing .222/.300/.744 with 12 strikeouts, compared to Eloy's .226/.294/.520. A dash of patience is required.

The Sox got a huge boost on Friday when Mariner shortstop Tim Beckham committed three first-inning errors, leading to three runs. The Sox had a 6-1 lead before starting pitcher Reynaldo Lopez self-destructed and was gone after Ryon Healy's no-out, two-run homer in the sixth.

Thankfully there was more generosity on the part of the Mariners, who surged ahead 8-6 as reliever Cory Gearrin took over in the seventh inning. Gearrin, a 32-year-old right-hander with eight years' experience in the big leagues, faced four hitters without retiring any of them. He threw 14 pitches, of which 11 were balls. He walked Garcia and Anderson, who beat a throw to second on Abreu's fielder's choice ground ball. Gearrin topped it off by hitting Castillo with a pitch to force in a run. When the inning ended, the Sox had a 9-8 lead. Anderson's homer in the eighth topped off the final count of 10-8.

Gearrin, who has pitched for five different teams, also couldn't find the plate in his prior appearance before Friday. For his career he averages about four walks per nine innings.

He wasn't the only pitcher last week who had a meltdown. Take the case of David Robertson, a genuine professional who saved 84 games for the White Sox in 2015-17. Pitching for the resurgent Phillies, Robertson entered last Wednesday's game against the Nationals in the bottom of the ninth and the score knotted at 8. After a leadoff single, Robertson walked the next three hitters to end the game. That just doesn't happen.

But it did also for Cubs' reliever Steve Cishek, another guy with 10 years' experience whose career walks per nine innings is 3.4. Summoned last Wednesday in the eighth inning in Atlanta to protect a 4-2 lead, Cishek walked the first three hitters on 15 pitches before giving up a three-run double as the Braves stole the game. Then pitching Saturday in Milwaukee, he retired the side in order in the ninth inning on eight pitches, of which just one was out of the strike zone.

As much trouble on occasion as some pretty good pitchers have finding the strike zone from 60 feet, six inches, consider Oakland's center fielder Ramon Laureano, who recorded three assists against the Red Sox in their four-game series last week. Included was a Herculean throw to nab Xander Bogaerts at the plate in the A's 7-0 victory last Monday. Statcast measured the heave at 270 feet and 96 mph. A perfect strike.

Like I said, it's tough to beat April baseball.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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