The Rangers entered the weekend tied atop the American League West with Seattle, and emerged with a three-game lead after sweeping the Mariners. Now is not the time to get complacent, however, as the surging Astros roll into Arlington as hot as the Texas summer.Monday's series opener between these Lone
The Rangers entered the weekend tied atop the American League West with Seattle, and emerged with a three-game lead after sweeping the Mariners. Now is not the time to get complacent, however, as the surging Astros roll into Arlington as hot as the Texas summer.
Monday's series opener between these Lone Star rivals is just one of several storylines to keep an eye on. In Pittsburgh, a pair of players meet their former clubs in new places. Up in the Bronx, Angels starter Matt Shoemaker will test his new-and-improved arsenal against a struggling Yankees offense. And in Los Angeles, a budding starter for the Rockies should feel right at home -- in more ways than one.
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Here is a look at what to watch for today in the Majors (all times ET):
Lone Star tussle: HOU@TEX, 8:05 p.m.
The Rangers swept their in-state rival for the second time this year on May 22 in Houston, but the Astros have rattled off wins in 11 of their last 13 games since then. Houston's top three hitters in the lineup -- George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa -- have hit for a combined .944 OPS in that span.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch said after Sunday's comeback victory against Oakland -- the team's 13th come-from-behind win this season -- that he feels his potent lineup is never out of a game.
"We've been playing good baseball," Hinch said. "There's nothing we can't do on the field. We have a lot of confidence now. We don't feel have that nervous energy when you fall behind."
Colby Lewis (5-0, 3.09 ERA) will get the ball in the opener for Texas. The big right-hander is 10-1 in his career against the Astros, with his last loss to Houston coming all the way back on June 25, 2010.
Stat that matters: Lewis will start Monday after an extended five days of rest, something he's excelled at recently. Since the start of 2015, Lewis has gone 12-3 with a 3.05 ERA when starting after extra rest.
Niese, Mets reunite: NYM@PIT, 7:05 p.m.
Last fall marked the pinnacle of Jonathon Niese's eight-year career with the Mets, when he found himself pitching in big late-inning moments during New York's postseason run. Now, the lefty is looking to help a hungry Pirates squad reach the same heights as Pittsburgh opens a big series with Niese's former club. Niese has raised his ground-ball rate significantly over his last five starts, leading to a stellar 2.64 ERA in that span.
The Pirates traded away second baseman Neil Walker to acquire pitching depth with Niese, and now the Pittsburgh native returns to PNC Park for the first time. All Walker's done this season is pace National League second basemen with 13 home runs (just three shy of his entire 2015 total) and compile a 16-game streak of reaching base safely that was snapped Sunday in Miami.
Even more impressive is Monday's starter Steven Matz, who is 9-1 in his first 12 career starts against NL teams and has yet to lose in eight starts away from Citi Field.
Stat that matters: Entering Sunday, Pirates outfielder Starling Marte had chased 37 of the last 67 pitches (55.2%) he had faced outside of the zone. Therefore, he may find Monday's matchup with Matz preferable, as the Mets' southpaw has recorded the ninth-lowest chase percentage (33.6%) of all Major League starters with two strikes in the count this season.
Up off the Matt: LAA@NYY, 7:05 p.m.
Angels fans could be forgiven for fearing the worst from Shoemaker after the 2014 breakout star posted a 9.12 ERA and gave up six home runs through his first six starts of 2016. Since then, Shoemaker has relied much less on his four-seam fastball and dramatically increased the use of his splitter -- to tremendous success. The right-hander has averaged an 11.48 strikeout-per-nine innings rate over his last four outings, more than doubling his 5.22 K/9 rate over his first six. In that span, Shoemaker's ERA has dropped more than 3 ½ runs.
"I think earlier the mentality got away from me," Shoemaker said of his slow start. "I was kind of out there throwing, and now I'm actually pitching. "I think that's the biggest thing, the biggest adjustment. I'm trying to execute each pitch, have a purpose." Shoemaker will face a Yankees lineup that entered Sunday with the lowest team average (.236), on-base percentage (.301) and slugging percentage (.377) in the Junior Circuit.
Stat that matters: Despite earning just three wins on the season, Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka, who starts Monday, entered Sunday's game ranked fifth among AL starters with 1.8 WAR. Tanaka has allowed two or fewer earned runs in eight of his 11 starts in 2016, but has received an average of just 2.45 runs of support per start while on the mound.
Road warrior Chatwood comes home: COL@LAD, 10:10 p.m.
Rockies right-hander Tyler Chatwood got roughed up for five runs (four earned) on seven hits in his Wednesday home start against the Reds. But he's been nearly lights-out away from Coors Field, allowing just two earned runs all year over 33 2/3 innings for an MLB-best 0.53 ERA on the road. In his last road outing May 21 in Pittsburgh, Chatwood set a new Colorado franchise record by completing 27 2/3 straight scoreless innings on the road. Now Chatwood is set to make his first start at Dodger Stadium since July 13, 2013. With plenty of family expected to be in attendance, it could make for another comfortable road start for Chatwood.
Stat that matters: Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson has been one of the hardest outs in baseball lately. Entering Sunday, Thompson had posted a 1.217 OPS and collected 25 total bases in 32 at-bats with two-strikes -- the best marks of any hitter in baseball during the past 30 days.
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Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.