If you want to take a couple minutes to watch a certain horse race this weekend, that is -- ahem -- Justify-able.But beyond the Belmont Stakes, there's a lot of compelling baseball taking place, even if no players are currently on a Triple Crown pace. Here are five topics to
If you want to take a couple minutes to watch a certain horse race this weekend, that is -- ahem -- Justify-able.
But beyond the Belmont Stakes, there's a lot of compelling baseball taking place, even if no players are currently on a Triple Crown pace. Here are five topics to track this weekend in the Majors:
1. Train-ing day
They call the Yankees-Mets matchup the Subway Series, and right now it sure feels like these trains are headed in opposite directions.
The Yanks are the juggernaut they were expected to be -- their lineup lengthened all the more by the impact of rookies Miguel Andujar, who was timely in hitting his first grand slam this week, and Gleyber Torres, who might be the American League's best rookie not named Shohei Ohtani.
The Mets, on the other hand, have now lost six straight to continue their downward spiral. They are 16-31 since an 11-1 start to the season. Stop us if you've heard this before, but injuries have invaded the Mets' season. Beyond that, rookie skipper Mickey Callaway indicated the pressure to perform in the Big Apple has gotten the best of his ballclub, accurately (though perhaps not helpfully) pointing out that New York "isn't Cleveland."
• Listen to the Morning Lineup Podcast
This weekend's Subway Series takes place at Citi Field, where the Mets do hope to have some good news in the return of Yoenis Cespedes from a hip strain.
The three-game set begins with an MLB Network Showcase game and concludes on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball with a beauty -- Noah Syndergaard vs. Luis Severino at 8:08 p.m. ET. Perhaps this Interleague, intracity rivalry will bring out the best in a Mets club that desperately needs to start heading in a different direction.
2. West's best?
It was roughly around this time last year when the Dodgers began to separate themselves from the loaded pack atop the National League West and a D-backs-Rockies Wild Card matchup became a fait accompli.
When those teams finally got to the one-game playoff at Chase Field, things definitely got wild, with the D-backs prevailing in an 11-8 win. But as you might have expected from the final standings, winning that game turned out to be nothing more than an invitation to get pummeled by L.A. in the Division Series.
This year, though, it appears there is something much larger at stake for Arizona and Colorado. The Dodgers' depth has been tested by injuries, and so the series taking place this weekend -- pitting the D-backs and Rockies against each other at Coors Field (Zack Greinke and German Marquez oppose each other in today's 8:40 p.m. opener) -- takes on added prominence as a battle between two legit division hopefuls.
The Rockies got swept by the Dodgers last weekend, and the D-backs dropped two of three to the Giants this week, so there's a lot to this division race. But right now, these two clubs are at the top of the heap with much more than the Wild Card in mind.
3. Dollars and sense
When the Braves and Dodgers made a trade over the offseason, it was mostly about money. Atlanta sent Matt Kemp to L.A., and the Dodgers sent Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Charlie Culberson and Adrian Gonzalez (who was then DFA'd) to the Braves.
Basically, the Braves, who had a manageable payroll, took on the immediate 2018 financial commitments, and the Dodgers, who had a bloated payroll and were trying to get under the luxury tax threshold, got some present-day salary relief by taking on a Kemp contract spread out over two seasons.
But a funny thing has happened in the lead-up to the Braves' and Dodgers' weekend meeting at Dodger Stadium: Kemp has actually made this look like a baseball trade, not a financial transaction. He takes All-Star-caliber production (.353/.384/.599) into tonight's 10:10 p.m. series opener, in which McCarthy (5-2, 4.83 ERA) will get the start for Atlanta.
Of course, at the time of the deal, you also wouldn't have expected the Braves, who moved Kemp to open a spot on the field for (the currently injured) Ronald Acuna Jr., to be seriously contending in the NL East and the Dodgers to find traction in the NL West at this stage.
4. J(ake), Crew
The matchmakers among us pegged the Brewers and Jacob Arrieta as a proper pair last offseason.
Having finished a game -- and a pitcher -- short of October in 2017, it seemed Milwaukee was a ripe location for Arrieta to land. He could build off his familiarity with the NL Central, bring a veteran presence to an iffy rotation and, perhaps, come back to haunt the Cubs club that let him go.
But the Brewers' analytical front office was wary of a high-dollar commitment to Arrieta given his age and seemingly diminished stuff. Turns out, a lot of teams were wary, which is why Arrieta ultimately signed a financially fruitful, but short-term, three-year, $75 million contract with the rebuilding Phillies.
Perhaps the outcome is working out best for both sides. The Brewers' pitching staff, buoyed by one of the best bullpens in baseball, has been plenty good enough to contend in the Central, and Arrieta has brought a 2.66 ERA (through 11 starts) and, as we saw Sunday in his pointed postgame comments, high expectations for the youngest roster in the game.
On Saturday at Citizens Bank Park, Arrieta opposes Brent Suter and the Brew Crew at a time when both clubs are trying to prove their staying power.
5. Long live the King
On the list of 2018 outcomes that rate as easy (for the unbiased observer, anyway) to root for, Felix Hernandez pitching in a playoff game has to rate pretty high.
King Felix has been one of the best pitchers of his generation, but his peak years simply happened to align with the Mariners' slog toward what has become the longest postseason drought in North American professional sports.
It's a post-prime Hernandez these days, but his Mariners have played well enough not only to overcome the absence of a suspended Robinson Cano but to take the lead in the American League West standings. And there are moments when Hernandez attains a level of brilliance reminiscent of his prime, albeit with vastly different raw stuff.
One of those moments came Sunday, when Hernandez carved up the Rays for eight innings in which he allowed just a run on five hits in Seattle. And on Saturday, he'll have a shot at an encore when he faces the Rays again, this time at Tropicana Field, where he'll oppose Blake Snell.
If the Mariners keep playing the way they have in recent weeks, perhaps there will be a much bigger -- and very much long-awaited -- start in the King's future.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.