To the baseball gods, we offer thanks for a moment this weekend cool enough to ripple across two continents. We've even got a proper amount of time to prepare for Shohei Ohtani the hitter vs. Masahiro Tanaka.Some fans have looked forward to this matchup of these two stars from Japan
To the baseball gods, we offer thanks for a moment this weekend cool enough to ripple across two continents. We've even got a proper amount of time to prepare for Shohei Ohtani the hitter vs. Masahiro Tanaka.
Some fans have looked forward to this matchup of these two stars from Japan from the moment Ohtani signed with the Angels in December. At some point, we hoped that the paths of two of the most accomplished Japanese players of our time would cross.
• Up-to-the-minute standings | Weekend probable pitchers
We were excited about an Ohtani-Tanaka pitching matchup this weekend, but Ohtani's start has been pushed back. Instead, we could have something even better: Tanaka pitching to Ohtani.
Now let's keep our fingers crossed that he's in the lineup on Sunday afternoon, with a chance to take aim at Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field. That the Yankees pursued Ohtani as intensely as any team is an interesting subplot.
As we preview the weekend's storylines, this is where we begin:
Shohei Ohtani vs. Masahiro Tanaka (hopefully)
Once upon a time, Tanaka was someone against whom Ohtani could measure himself. When they faced one another in Japan in 2013, they were at different places in their careers.
Tanaka was 24 years old and on his way to a 24-0 season that helped catapult him into Yankees pinstripes the next season. Ohtani was an 18-year-old rookie who could only dream of doing the things Tanaka had.
Tanaka held Ohtani hitless in 11 at-bats and struck him out six times in 2013. But as Tanaka said last week, "There's no comparing him physically now with how he was when I pitched against him."
Five years later, Tanaka has established himself as a smart, resilient competitor who, despite some recent struggles, is on pace to pitch 200 innings and win 18 games.
As for Ohtani, 23, he's having one of the most remarkable seasons in Major League history, doing the thing virtually no one thought possible. He's not just a two-way player. He's excelling as a two-way player.
Here's what Ohtani has done:
Hitter: .319 batting average, .991 OPS, seven doubles, one triple, six home runs in 104 plate appearances -- good for nearly 1.0 WAR.
Pitcher: 4-1, 3.35 ERA, 1.066 WHIP, 11.6 K/9, seven starts, 0.9 WAR.
• As a hitter, Ohtani has hit 50.8 percent of his batted balls at 95 mph or higher, 17th highest in the Majors.
• Ohtani has a 97.1-mph average fastball, the third hardest in the Majors among starters, trailing only Luis Severino (97.6) and Noah Syndergaard (97.4).
There is so much we do not know about how this is going to play out. Will fatigue catch up to Ohtani? For that matter, how will he adjust as scouting reports reveal his weaknesses? Those are discussions for another day. For now, we should all sit back and enjoy the ride.
You didn't count out the Mariners, did you?
The Mariners return home for a 10-game homestand against the Twins, Rangers and Rays after a remarkable stretch. Playing without Robinson Cano and Dee Gordon, their two most important offensive pieces, the Mariners saw their five-game winning streak end on Thursday afternoon in Oakland.
The Mariners are clearly going to be offensively challenged for a while -- Cano was suspended for 80 games after violating the league's Drug Agreement, while Gordon's fractured right toe is expected to sideline him for a couple of weeks -- but the pitching has been tremendous.
Perhaps the most positive sign is lefty Marco Gonzales, who threw seven scoreless innings against the A's on Wednesday. As James Paxton emerges as the new staff ace, the Mariners are hopeful Felix Hernandez can get back on track and give the team a chance to push the Astros in the AL West race.
Suddenly, the Dodgers are looking a lot like the NL West favorites
Funny how things change when a team gets its best player on the field. Shortly after the Dodgers got third baseman Justin Turner back, they've played their best baseball of the season, winning six of seven and cutting their NL West deficit from 8 1/2 games to 3 1/2 as the Padres come to Dodger Stadium for a weekend series.
With Clayton Kershaw expected to return in the next couple of weeks, the Dodgers (22-27) will add to a rotation that has had a 1.43 ERA during the 6-1 stretch. Their everyday lineup still has issues, but the Dodgers are a far cry from when they were 16-26.
Here's our latest World Series preview: Braves at Red Sox
Why not? The Red Sox are as good as advertised, thanks to Mookie Betts leading baseball's second-highest-scoring offense. Meanwhile, the Braves are having the kind of turnaround season every franchise dreams of. In Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr., they have two of the most electric performers in the game. They do not have a dominant pitching staff, but they have so many high-ceiling young arms that the problem seems fixable either internally or via trade.
Are the Cubs going to get out of fourth place?
It's never about just one thing. For the Cubs, though, it's actually not all that complicated. With the Cubs' offense and bullpen performing at a high level, the rotation seems to be the area of most concern, and this weekend's series against the Giants could offer some clues.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon is handing the ball to Jose Quintana on Saturday and Yu Darvish on Sunday. Quintana is coming off a start of seven scoreless innings in Cincinnati, his best of the season. He has allowed one or zero earned runs in four of his last five starts and is headed in the right direction.
Darvish, too, has been at his best lately, coming off a six-inning, one-run performance in Cincinnati.
Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and a UCLA family feud
Thank goodness for Indians right-hander Adam Plutko. In 2011, he was the No. 3 starter on a Bruins rotation headed by Cole and Bauer. This weekend, his role will be to play peacemaker and maybe stand between the two of them if somehow they'd agree to a group photo for, you know, the UCLA alumni magazine.
Cole and Bauer do not hide the fact that they didn't like one another when both were in college. Bauer took the rivalry to another level earlier this season when he accused Astros starting pitchers of doctoring baseballs.
Specifically, he wondered how pitchers could join the Astros staff and suddenly have higher spin rates, which translates to better stuff. He said secretly applying pine tar -- which is against the rules -- would do the trick.
He did not mention Cole by name, but with Cole being the newest member of the Astros' rotation, it wouldn't take a member of the UCLA math department to figure it out.
But on Thursday, Bauer took a step toward patching things up by praising Cole. Anyway, these former Bruins will be pitching against one another on Sunday at Progressive Field when the Astros and the Indians wrap up a four-game series. Let's everyone play nice.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.