"When you dig a hole, your first goal is to get back to .500," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "In some other sports, you might get to the postseason below .500, but not baseball. That can be a tough task, but until you get back to .500, you're not going to be taken seriously anyway."
Many expected 2017 to be a transition year for the Yankees, who have infused youth into what had been an aging roster. But the kids helped New York to a share of first place at the end of April -- quite a change from a year ago, when the Yanks' 8-14 April set the stage for a summer sale. Could this year's surprise start turn general manager Brian Cashman into a buyer rather than a seller when July rolls around?
"It's easier to answer if you get off to a bad start," Cashman said. "If you get off to a great start, you still have five months. If you get off to a horrible start, you've got like a month and a half to get it right."
That's where the Blue Jays and several other teams find themselves. But unlike the summer months, the answers for those teams must come from within, as transactions this early in the season are few and far between.
"Front offices don't seem to do much until after the Draft, which is the second week of June," Cashman said. "For better or worse, you're pretty locked in. It's hard to make any external changes, so you're either going to have to maintain your success or fix what's broken organically until the Draft."
Which teams are in danger of declaring themselves as early sellers? Which teams might already be thinking about what can be added in the months ahead? Here's a look at five teams in each category.
POISED TO BUY
Had you been told that Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius would play eight combined games, Greg Bird would hit .107 with a .479 OPS and both Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia would have the two highest ERAs in the rotation during the opening month, you'd likely have predicted another rough April for the Yankees.
But Aaron Judge, Starlin Castro, Austin Romine and Ronald Torreyes picked up much of the slack and the bullpen has been as good as advertised. Rather than adding another prospect or two in July, perhaps Cashman will be looking to add a starter to his rotation to bolster the Yanks' run at an American League East title.
After going 6-2 to start the season, the Angels lost six in a row and 10 out of 12, then closed the month by winning six out of seven to finish April at 14-13. So are they Jekyll or are they Hyde? May will be telling for Mike Scioscia's team, which has already employed eight starting pitchers in the first 27 games.
Now with Tyler Skaggs out 10-12 weeks and Garrett Richards out indefinitely, the Halos will need the rest of the rotation to step up and everybody in the lineup not named Mike Trout to help the reigning AL MVP Award winner if they want to put together another winning month and declare themselves contenders in a tough AL West. They might need to add a starter or two from outside the organization to really make a postseason run.
Eric Thames' incredible return to the Majors has received the lion's share of the attention in Milwaukee this season, but the 13-13 April for a team not expected to contend was about much more than the slugger. Travis Shaw and Ryan Braun are off to solid starts, the catching platoon of Jett Bandy and Manny Pina has been very productive and Chase Anderson posted a superb 2.10 ERA through his first five outings. The Cubs are still overwhelming favorites in the National League Central, but the Brew Crew could thrust itself into the playoff picture with a strong May.
Rockies and D-backs
A division dominated by the Dodgers for the past four years has a couple of new kids at the top, as Colorado and Arizona each won 16 games in April. The D-backs rank third in the NL in runs scored, while the Rox rank fifth, as Arizona has four players on pace to drive in 100-plus runs and Colorado has three. The D-backs' rotation has been solid, though Shelby Miller is out for the year. The Rockies have gotten surprising starts from Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland, who each have three victories and sub-3.00 ERAs. The two teams enter May trying to stave off the Dodgers -- and each other -- in what looks to be a very competitive division.
POISED TO SELL
As detailed above, the Blue Jays' quest to get to a third straight postseason took a hit with their dreadful April. With Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez all on the disabled list, Toronto has a tough road ahead if it hopes to get back in the race. If it can't, Donaldson and Happ -- as well as potential 2017 free agents Francisco Liriano, Marco Estrada and Jason Grilli -- could find themselves on the trade block.
Kansas City ranks last in the Majors in runs scored by a wide margin, so it's no surprise the Royals' 7-16 April was the worst record in baseball. The team's 4.06 ERA hovers around the middle of the league, but if the offense doesn't find some success, impending free agents such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain might find themselves with new baseball homes.
If it wasn't for bad luck, the Mets would have no luck at all this season. New York's star-studded pitching staff has endured preseason injuries to Steven Matz and Seth Lugo, gotten a mediocre return from Matt Harvey and only one quality start in the 10 games started by Zack Wheeler and Robert Gsellman. Oh yeah, and now the Mets are without ace Noah Syndergaard for the foreseeable future. The offense ranked 11th in the NL in runs scored in April, getting nothing at all from Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker and Jose Reyes. With the Nationals off to a blazing start and the Marlins and Phillies playing decent ball, the Mets are in danger of becoming an NL East afterthought.
Granderson, Walker, Reyes, Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda and Addison Reed could all become free agents at the end of the season, giving GM Sandy Alderson plenty of trade chips if he decides to sell.
Seattle had high hopes after GM Jerry Dipoto's offseason retooling, but an 11-15 April left the Mariners in last place in the AL West. The offense hasn't been a problem, as Seattle finished the month ranked second in the AL in runs scored. The pitching, on the other hand, had a 4.71 ERA, good for 14th in the 15-team league. The best news for the Mariners is that the Rangers also had a poor start (11-15), but the Astros' 16-9 record left Seattle 5 1/2 games out of first place after only one month. Another month like that and Trader Jerry could find himself active this summer. Hisashi Iwakuma, Jarrod Dyson, Marc Rzepczynski and Jean Segura could be made available if the Mariners' season doesn't turn around.
San Francisco was hoping to start a new "odd-year" trend in 2017, but this season has been just plain odd for a club accustomed to winning. The Giants' 9-17 start was the worst in the NL, as they finished April with the last-ranked offense and 10th-ranked pitching staff in the league. Given their history, nobody is counting San Francisco out just yet, but with three teams playing well in the NL West, another bad month could force the Giants into becoming sellers, with Hunter Pence, Eduardo Nunez and Matt Cain among those potentially on the block.