Charlie Blackmon is remaining modest about his stellar start.
”You can’t read too much into a month of baseball, but it’s definitely better to start off good than bad,” the Colorado outfielder said.
Blackmon is hitting .359 with six home runs, the latter already matching his career high. Before this season, the 27-year-old Blackmon had played only 151 games in the majors, and his lack of discipline at the plate seemed to be holding him back. After striking out once every 5.3 plate appearances last year, he’s whiffed once every 14 in 2014.
So there are signs that Blackmon’s torrid performance at the plate is not a fluke. Although a month of games is hardly a definitive sample, here – courtesy of STATS – are the players who led the majors in batting average at the end of April in each of the last 10 seasons, starting in 2004: Barry Bonds, Derrek Lee, Miguel Tejada, Lee again, Chipper Jones, Kevin Youkilis, Robinson Cano, Matt Holliday, Matt Kemp and Carlos Santana.
Blackmon joins that list, and none of the other players on it can be described as a flash in the pan. In fact, with the exception of Holliday (.296) and Santana (.268), they all finished the year over .300 after leading the big leagues in hitting through April.
Here are five things to watch around the majors this week.
KERSHAW COMES BACK: Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (strained back) is scheduled to come off the disabled list and start Tuesday at Washington. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has not pitched since beating the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-1 in the season opener in Australia. He injured himself tossing on the side a few days later.
RAY OF HOPE: Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski took some heat this offseason when he traded dependable right-hander Doug Fister to Washington. Remarkably, Robbie Ray – the left-handed prospect the Tigers received in return – may pitch in the big leagues before Fister does in 2014. Ray has been outstanding at Triple-A this year and will make his major league debut for the Tigers on Tuesday against Houston. Fister, meanwhile, has been out all year with a back injury, although his return for the Nationals appears imminent.
TIGHT RACE: The entire NL East – from first-place Atlanta to last-place Miami – is separated by 1 1/2 games. Not only have the top teams failed to separate themselves, but the Marlins (16-15), Philadelphia Phillies (15-14) and New York Mets (16-14) have all played well enough to avoid a big early deficit. The Marlins host the Mets in a three-game series starting Monday night.
SOUTHPAW SENIORITY: Cliff Lee and Mark Buehrle are both 35, and neither left-hander seems to be fading in 2014. Lee has struck out 45 with only six walks, and Buehrle is 5-1 with a 2.25 ERA. Lee takes the mound for the Phillies on Wednesday night against Buehrle and the Toronto Blue Jays.
CROSSTOWN RIVALS: Cuban slugger Jose Abreu hit his major league-leading 12th homer Sunday for the White Sox. This week, he’ll get his first taste of Chicago’s interleague rivalry when the White Sox play the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Monday and Tuesday. Then the teams will play two more games Wednesday and Thursday – with the White Sox hosting on the South Side.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Thanks to a steady number of off days and rainouts, the Tigers have played only 26 games this season – six fewer than the division-rival White Sox. Aside from Detroit, no team has played fewer than 29 games. Arizona leads the majors with 34.
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.