Something's brewing in Major League Baseball as the weather heats up. Something's brewing in Milwaukee and Arizona, too.
The last full week in May is upon us, and the Brewers and D-backs, largely expected to rebuild in the National League Central and West, respectively, are contending in their divisions with almost a third of the season in the books. And they're looking good doing it, too.
The week ahead brings us many juicy storylines -- a Texas two-step, welcome returns from injury, and a possible postseason preview -- but perhaps none more fun than the first series between the first-place Brewers and second-place D-backs, a four-gamer set for Thursday through Sunday in Miller Park.
Both have innovative young general managers (Milwaukee's David Stearns and Arizona's Mike Hazen) and energetic young skippers (the Brewers' Craig Counsell and the D-backs' Torey Lovullo). Both have an intriguing core of position players and pitchers, with prospects on the rise. And both have won seven of their last 10 to stay right where they are in the standings.
The Brewers enter the week ahead at 25-19 with a 1 1/2-game lead over the second-place St. Louis Cardinals. A big reason has been the dynamic slugger Eric Thames, who came back to MLB via several big-time years in the Korean League. Another has been the better-than-expected work of the starting rotation. And now the club has Ryan Braun back from the disabled list and is on schedule to get a key starter, Junior Guerra, back from injury in the coming week.
"I don't like to use 'rebuilding team' anymore,'' Brewers starter Matt Garza said. "The organization went through that process, but these guys here want to win. They come in and put their work in, and they are reaping the rewards right now.''
The same can be said for Arizona. The D-backs roll into the week ahead with a record of 26-19, which has them a very competitive two games behind first-place Colorado, tied with the Dodgers for second place. Arizona has been without injured outfielder A.J. Pollock and will have to go at least the next 10 days without right-hander Taijuan Walker, who went on the DL with a blister, but the D-backs are playing with confidence.
"We talked about how we're just going to have to pick up the slack," D-backs hitting coach Dave Magadan said. "That's exactly what guys have done."
Other teams around the American and National Leagues have been in the same predicament, but the coming week might provide some long-awaited sunshine.
The Red Sox, for example, could see ace left-hander David Price make his final rehab start Wednesday at Triple-A before rejoining the team after missing the start of the season because of elbow issues. Their AL East-rival Blue Jays might also get similar good news regarding the heralded left side of their infield, third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who are nearing returns from lengthy DL stints.
The Indians hope to see more progress from their No. 1 starter, Corey Kluber, who could be ready for a rehab outing this week as he strives to return from a lower back strain, and the Mariners, who have suffered injuries up and down their roster, could welcome back second baseman Robinson Cano, starter James Paxton and outfielder Mitch Haniger before the next seven days are over.
Meanwhile, there are several scintillating matchups still on tap in the week ahead.
The Rangers have been as hot as any team in the game, and they'll see how they stack up as a road team chasing first-place Houston in the AL West when they dive into the cauldron known as a seven-day trip through Boston and Toronto.
And on Friday night in Los Angeles, two teams projected by countless prognosticators to meet in the NL Championship Series, just as they did last season, will play each other once again. The defending World Series champion Cubs, who are treading water in the Central at 22-20, face the Dodgers in what could be a first look at another October classic.
The Cubs aren't where they want to be right now, but they put up 13 runs on the Brewers in a victory on Sunday and hope to take serious momentum at the plate into the new week.
"I think we were due as a team offensively," said Chicago third baseman Kristopher Bryant, who homered twice Sunday. "We haven't really been doing much early on here, so I think it was a matter of time for us."