The Week Ahead: D-backs heating up at right time
In Major League Baseball, you're never really out of it until the mathematics just don't add up anymore.
For the clubs in contention as The Week Ahead leads us to the tail end of August, that means there's still plenty of time to make a statement that could last all the way into October.
So while fans have grown accustomed to seeing teams such as the high-flying Cardinals and Royals, the West-leading Dodgers and Astros, and the East-beast Yankees, Blue Jays and Mets all steaming along in great position for the postseason, other clubs have been hanging in there against huge odds. A good performance in the next seven days could vault these surprise contenders into the limelight, even before September begins.
Take the Arizona D-backs. Chip Hale's team wasn't supposed to do anything in the stacked National League West, but look at them after Sunday's shutout win over the Reds and they're 62-61, over the .500 mark for the first time in 108 games, and only five games behind the first-place Dodgers.
"You want to be there, you want to be playing for something," Hale said. "These guys are obviously always playing for their pride. They're going to bust their tail regardless, but when you see [that] you have a shot, we are playing some teams that we are going to be fighting for that playoff spot, whether it's the division or Wild Card, so they feel it. They can see ahead of them."
Immediately ahead of them lies a huge challenge. Arizona has to play the Cardinals, who have the best record in baseball, in a four-game series to start the week, before playing the A's for three over the weekend. Then again, all seven games will take place in their home park, Chase Field. They are primed to do more damage in the division.
The same goes for the surging Texas Rangers. They've won nine of 11, including Sunday's 4-2 triumph over the Tigers in Detroit. One of the newest Rangers, pitcher Cole Hamels, got the victory, which is a good sign, and one of the most recent Rangers to come back from an injury, lefty Derek Holland, will get the ball Tuesday when Texas gets its next opponent, the Blue Jays, to begin a three-game series at home. It figures to be a great opportunity for the Rangers to prove they're in this thing for the long haul, especially since they're only four games behind the Astros in the American League West and a game-and-a-half ahead of the third-place Angels.
Speaking of those Astros, this will be the week of the encore for Mike Fiers, the Houston starter who pulled off a no-hitter of the Dodgers last week. Fiers might get a day or two of extra rest after his 134-pitch epic, which will push him to a start toward the end of the week.
First things first for the Astros, though, and that's a very intriguing late-August series that could be a preview of a postseason tussle when Houston visits the Yankees for three games beginning Monday night.
The other team in New York, the first-place Mets, figure to get a lot stronger this week. That's because third baseman and captain David Wright is due to be back at third base for New York in its series opener Monday in Philadelphia after four months on the disabled list with a hamstring strain and then spinal stenosis.
"I can honestly tell you I'm excited to have him back because his presence on our team is big," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "You've seen the difference in our clubhouse when he's there. There's a different atmosphere."
The same can be said for the first-place Royals in the AL Central and their four-time Gold Glove left fielder, Alex Gordon, who is busy rehabbing with Triple-A Omaha and could be back with the parent club soon, although maybe not by the end of this week.
But there will be plenty more to pay attention to on the Major League slate in the week ahead.
The Royals will play the Orioles in a series that is huge for the fortunes of Baltimore, which needs to keep winning to stay in the AL East and Wild Card race. The same goes for the Twins and Rays, who play each other in a monstrous series for both teams early this week.