After a busy week in baseball that saw 1,216 players get initiated into the professional ranks via the MLB Draft, the spotlight now moves back onto the pennant races as teams jockey for positioning in the standings.The week ahead features several matchups of clubs that figure to be in contention
After a busy week in baseball that saw 1,216 players get initiated into the professional ranks via the MLB Draft, the spotlight now moves back onto the pennant races as teams jockey for positioning in the standings.
The week ahead features several matchups of clubs that figure to be in contention come October, beginning with a marquee series at Nationals Park between the Cubs and Nationals. Both teams have been among the best in the National League this season. Chicago sits atop the NL Central with a 43-18 record, the best in baseball, while Washington (39-24) has a 4 1/2-game hold on the NL East.
The series kicks off Monday with Max Scherzer on the mound for Washington, looking to solve the big Chicago bats that tagged him for seven runs and four homers on May 6. It remains to be seen whether his teammate, Bryce Harper, will get any pitches to swing at in this series. When Chicago swept the Nats in four games at Wrigley Field last month, Harper was walked 13 times, resulting in him taking just four at-bats. Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark dubbed the tactics "scared baseball."
These will be the last meetings between these two first-place teams in the regular season, but they very well could take the field together again this fall. Though the Cubs lead the season series 4-0, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has been insistent that won't have any significance should these teams match up in the postseason.
"You saw last year, we beat the Mets seven times during the year and then they kicked our butts in the playoffs," Maddon said. "Things change, additions in the latter part of July, Trade Deadline, guys getting hurt -- there's so many things that change."
The Nationals won't be the only notable challenge the Cubs will face this week. They have another pivotal series looming at the end of the week, a three-game set against the division-rival Pirates. Despite boasting a winning record at 32-31, the Pirates are a distant third in the NL Central, trailing the Cubs by 12 games.
Chicago will begin that set with its ace, Jake Arrieta, toeing the rubber on Friday. Arrieta became the National League's second 10-game winner on Saturday, besting the Braves in Atlanta. The right-hander has made headlines for more than just his pitching lately, petitioning for a pitchers' version of the Home Run Derby. He should get a few opportunities to prove he can rake when he steps into the box against the Pirates.
"People think we can't hit," Arrieta said. "We'll show you we can hit home runs."
The Orioles also have a big week ahead as they must face two tough American League East opponents with first place up for grabs, beginning on Tuesday with three games against the Red Sox in Boston followed by a weekend series vs. the Blue Jays at Camden Yards. The Red Sox and O's are deadlocked atop the division at 36-26, while the Jays aren't far behind with a 35-30 record.
One player to keep an eye on in those games is Baltimore's Chris Davis, who has homered in five consecutive games, one shy of his career-best streak during the 2012 season (Sept. 26-Oct. 2), which matched Reggie Jackson's 1976 franchise record.
"I feel good in the box," Davis said. "I think a lot of it is from having good at-bats. I know it's going to get old, but keep going out there every day and try to grind out a good at-bat. You're not always going to be the hero, so to speak, but you go out there and take pride in your work."
The Indians will try to withstand a similar trial within a tightly contested AL Central, taking on the Royals and White Sox, two teams chasing Cleveland in the standings. The Tribe will first visit Kansas City for three games to wrap a 10-game road trip, then return home to host the White Sox at Progressive Field.
As it stands, the first-place Indians, with a 35-27 record, have a three-game lead on the Royals and Tigers, who are tied for second, while the White Sox trail by 4 1/2 games in fourth place. Cleveland swept the Royals earlier this month and took three of four against the White Sox in May.
"We're in a stretch here of division games and even though it's early in the season, it's important to play well in these games," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "[The Indians] are a good team and we've had some struggles against them, but it's a long season and we have a chance now to get going."
This week's schedule also features a reunion between Zack Greinke and his former club as he faces the Dodgers on Monday for the first time since signing with Arizona in free agency this winter.
The right-hander was among the best pitchers in baseball with Los Angeles, going 51-15 with a 2.30 ERA in 92 starts, but struggled early in his Arizona tenure. He appears to be rounding into form now, however, having won each of his last five starts. He enters Monday's game at Chase Field riding a 16-inning scoreless streak, including a shutout against the Rays last Tuesday.
"He's been rolling," D-backs manager Chip Hale said.
The Astros are looking forward to a reunion of a different sorts, as they expect to welcome back shortstop Carlos Correa on Tuesday for the beginning of a two-game Interleague series against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Correa has been out of the Houston lineup for three games after sustaining a sprained left ankle last Thursday.
"It's sore, obviously," Correa said. "I hate sitting in the clubhouse doing nothing, so I can't wait to get back out there.
"Hopefully, I'm ready to go on Tuesday."
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com.