A strong April has launched the Brewers to the largest division lead in baseball on May 2, a five-game advantage over the St. Louis Cardinals. Pitching has carried the Brewers to the best first month in franchise history, as Milwaukee is fourth in baseball with a 3.00 team ERA. The Brewers have had 23 quality starts in 29 games, the most in the major leagues. Yovani Gallardo (above) is off to the best start of his career, while Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta have pitched well. Offensively, the Brewers have been average, finding themselves in the middle of the pack in most categories. Milwaukee is 14th in baseball in runs scored, 13th in batting average and eighth in home runs. The Brewers are 22nd in on-base percentage and are going to rely heavily on extra-base hits to score runs all season long. If the offense picks up and the pitching stays steady, the Brewers will be there in the end.
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St. Louis Cardinals, 15-14, second place
Much like the Brewers, the Cardinals have been strong on the mound. Adam Wainwright (above) has been dominant, while Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn have pitched well. Joe Kelly threw the ball well in three starts before injuring his hamstring. He's due back soon. The Cardinals have the third best team ERA in the major leagues at 2.87 but have seen a few of their bullpen arms struggle a bit. There's a ton of talent in the St. Louis bullpen and it should be a strength. Scoring runs is where the Cardinals have struggled. St. Louis is 23rd in runs scored and 19th in batting average. The two-out clutch hits the Cardinals received at an alarming pace last year haven't been there. Kolten Wong couldn't seize the job at second base and is back in the minors, while Peter Bourjos hasn't added anything.
Cincinnati Reds, 13-15, third place
Cincinnati played 19 games against 2013 playoff teams in April, just as the Brewers did. The Reds dropped five of the eight series they played, losing series to the New York Mets, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and two to St. Louis. Without closer Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati's bullpen has been one of the worst in baseball over the first month with a 4.76 ERA. Jonathan Broxton has filled in well at closer, but Sam LeCure is the only other reliever with an ERA under 4.00. Chapman's return from getting hit in the face by a line drive in spring training will be closely watched, but he should return to dominant form. Ace Johnny Cueto (above) has a 1.15 ERA, while Alfredo Simon has filled in for the injured Mat Latos admirably. Cincinnati needs Homer Bailey to get back on track, as the right-hander has a 5.50 ERA. The Reds are 18th in baseball in runs scored and currently don't have a hitter with a batting average over .281.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportCharles LeClaire
Pittsburgh Pirates, 10-18, tied for fourth place
Pittsburgh's disappointing start to 2014 can be attributed to its dreadful offense. The Pirates weren't a great offensive team when they made the playoffs a year ago, but Pittsburgh has scored three runs or less in 16 of its 28 games this season. Andrew McCutchen isn't getting much help, as the Pirates are hitting just .225 as a team. Neil Walker (above) and Pedro Alvarez have hit six home runs each, but their batting averages sit at .245 and .194. The Pirates traded for Ike Davis to help jolt the offense, but he hasn't been the answer. Starling Marte has struggled, while Jordy Mercer is hitting .159. The starting rotation has been solid and the bullpen nearly lights out, but the offensive struggles have been too much to overcome. After starting 6-3, Pittsburgh has lost 15 of its last 19.
Justin K. Aller
Chicago Cubs, 9-17, tied for fourth place
Unlike the Pirates, the Cubs were expected to be in the cellar of the division. Chicago just doesn't have the talent to compete in the division, especially with an offense that's 27th in baseball in runs scored. Chicago has to be encouraged by Starlin Castro (above right) and Anthony Rizzo (above left) getting off to strong starts. Emilio Bonifacio has been a nice addition and Welington Castillo is producing, but the rest of the lineup has been bad -- four regulars are hitting under .220. The top part of Chicago's rotation has been good, as Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and Travis Wood have pitched well. Samardzija and Hammel will be trade candidates in the summer. Edwin Jackson has been miserable again, while Carlos Villanueva has gotten shelled as the fifth starter. The bullpen has been alright considering they don't have a consistent closer. Defensively, the Cubs aren't very good despite only being 14th in errors thus far.