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A's and Rays head April honors

ANAHEIM – The Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics went to Japan at the end of March and three days passed before anyone realized the A's were gone.

The Red Sox were the featured player.

The Red Sox would cope with the taxing travel.

The Red Sox would be favored in the East, in the American League, and in late October.

The A's? Work in progress.

As April wound down, however, they, like the Red Sox, were near the top of their division. For a month they pitched authoritatively and, yes, scored runs, right in the middle of Billy Beane's rather major – even for him – renovation venture.

So they stood with the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, St. Louis Cardinals and Florida Marlins as April show-ers, all of them arriving there the only way they could, with surprising amounts of pitching.

Indeed, at times in the final week of April, the A's – generally forecast to finish between fourth and, well, fourth in the AL West – led the AL in runs and ERA, efforts that forgave them their defensive inadequacies and spoke of their potential to stay around through the summer.

"A lot of people underestimated the young guys," said A's shortstop Bobby Crosby, a disabled-list regular who not only played all 29 games but drove in 15 runs. "And they underestimated the health of the team. We've still got guys that haven't really gotten on a roll yet. And we've still got Chavez out."

Eric Chavez hasn't played a game and Rich Harden has pitched but 11 innings, granted the sort of things the A's are used to. Harden could be back in a couple weeks, when he'd join a rotation that not only was the best in the game in April (3.25 ERA), but threw a lot of innings (169, fourth in baseball). Beane traded Dan Haren to Arizona and two pitchers he got back – Dana Eveland and Greg Smith – have combined to win five games and neither has an ERA as high as 3.00. Also gone: Nick Swisher, Mark Kotsay, Marco Scutaro. And on they go.

"I saw it a couple weeks ago," said Frank Thomas, who raced back to Oakland after being dumped by the Toronto Blue Jays in April's most classic snit. "I was impressed. A lot of their young guys made it difficult on us.

"I already knew what was over here. When things went down [in Toronto] I knew where I wanted to go. I never wanted to leave Oakland. Business took me away and business brought me back."

Much in the way he sold Haren high, Beane bought outfielder Emil Brown low, and Brown leads the A's with 25 RBIs. He batted .192 with no one on base and .458 with runners in scoring position. As a team, the A's hit .311 with runners in scoring position, almost 60 points higher than last season.

It is a strangely constructed team that holds 3½-to-4 designated-hitter types (Jack Cust, Mike Sweeney, Daric Barton, Thomas), that does not steal bases (of course) or hit home runs or catch the ball consistently, that does strike out a ton, but gets a little something out of everybody. It's worked for a month.

With that, we look at the rest of baseball over the first month, one that saw a major salary spike among middle relievers (Barry Zito), a swap in Cincinnati front-office execs (Walt Jocketty for Wayne Krivsky), the departure of a former 22-game winner (Matt Morris) and an any-more-questions start by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Better than we thought:

Oakland A's: Danger: Three-quarters of the starting infield – Barton, Crosby, Jack Hannahan – has committed 14 errors. All Angels infielders – starters and subs – have committed seven.

Los Angeles Angels: Picking up for injured starters John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar: Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana are each 5-0.

Chicago White Sox: Bullpen ERA 2007: 5.47; Bullpen ERA 2008: 3.50.

Kansas City Royals: Eleven errors tied for least in AL.

Baltimore Orioles: Go-go O's back at it; lead league in steals again.

Tampa Bay Rays: Worst to first: League-worst bullpen ERA in 2007, league-best in 2008.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Lead NL in scoring, ERA, wins, Brandons.

San Francisco Giants: Left fielders have two home runs; team leads baseball in stolen bases.

St. Louis Cardinals: Second to Diamondbacks in starters' ERA, first in starters' innings.

Florida Marlins: Very few innings from starters, watch for bullpen burn-out.

What happened?

NL West: After Diamondbacks, only Dodgers over .500, and just barely.

Cincinnati Reds: Edinson Volquez has four wins, rest of rotation has five.

Seattle Mariners: Ichiro batting .261; career .370 hitter in May.

Cleveland Indians: Travis Hafner has a .210 batting average and .302 on-base percentage; bullpen save percentage not much better.

Detroit Tigers: Waiting on Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya health, Justin Verlander location, Gary Sheffield bat.

Toronto Blue Jays: Roy Halladay has four complete games, 17 big-league teams have none.

New York Yankees: A-Rod, Posada on DL, Yankees last in league in starters' innings.

April MVP AL: Carlos Quentin, White Sox NL: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

April Cy Young AL: Cliff Lee, Indians; 5-0, 0.96 ERA. NL: Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks; 6-0, 1.98 ERA.

Comeback Player of the Month AL: Lee NL: Mark Hendrickson, Marlins; 4-1, 3.68 ERA.

Rookie player of the month AL: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox NL: Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs

Rookie pitcher of the month AL: Greg Smith, A's; 2-1, 2.73 ERA NL: John Lannan, Washington Nationals; 2-2, 2.64 ERA

April manager AL: Dave Trembley, Orioles NL: Fredi Gonzalez, Marlins