Memorial Day is the baseball season's first significant checkpoint, so if your favorite team is in first place, throw some burgers on the grill and invite the neighbors over. As for the historical significance, draw from it what you will.Since the start of divisional play in 1969, teams that were
Memorial Day is the baseball season's first significant checkpoint, so if your favorite team is in first place, throw some burgers on the grill and invite the neighbors over. As for the historical significance, draw from it what you will.
Since the start of divisional play in 1969, teams that were in first place on Memorial Day had about a 50-50 chance of finishing there -- 74 of 151. What we're all getting is a full day of holiday baseball, with the Astros and Yankees starting it in the Bronx at 1:05 p.m. ET, and the Phillies and Dodgers starting seven hours later at Dodger Stadium.
Let's run down the schedule and pick our favorite game of each day this week:
Monday: Astros at Yankees (1:05 p.m. ET, ESPN, MLB.TV)
When the Astros last saw Yankee Stadium, they'd just lost three straight American League Championship Series games and were on the brink of elimination. But they handed the baseball to Justin Verlander, who'll start on Monday, in Game 6 at home and never trailed again, winning the final two contests, 7-1, and, 4-0.
Verlander has never been better than he is right now -- 1.08 ERA and 0.71 WHIP -- and will be matched against Yankees rookie Domingo German, who has been hit hard in his last two starts. German's four shutout innings in relief of injured Jordan Montgomery on May 1 helped the Yankees to a 4-0 victory over the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Tuesday: Phillies at Dodgers (10:10 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
This series amounts to a litmus test. We're just not sure for which team. The Phillies have passed every test so far even though the Nationals remain the nearly consensus favorite to win the National League East. As for the Dodgers, they've bounced back from a 16-26 start behind a pitching staff that has been as good as any in recent weeks.
Right-hander Jacob Arrieta makes his 10th start for the Phillies after allowing more than two earned runs only once in his first nine outings. Righty Kenta Maeda has strung together 14 2/3 shutout innings in his last two starts and is one of the reasons the Dodgers have crept back toward .500.
Wednesday: Angels at Tigers (7:10 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
One of the most significant starts of the season will take place a few hours before this game when Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes makes his first start in almost two years. His return from Tommy John surgery adds to a pitching staff that is already one of baseball's best and would seem to solidly position the Cardinals for a return to the postseason.
But we just can't quit Shohei Ohtani, who seems likely to make his eighth pitching start for the Angels (manager Mike Scioscia has not confirmed) on Wednesday. Perhaps it's the highest possible compliment that we're no longer surprised that he's succeeding as a bona fide two-way player.
Instead, we want to see this kid play and enjoy the show. In three starts this month, he has a 2.25 ERA and has struck out 26 in 20 innings. The Angels have won six of his seven starts. As a hitter, he has six home runs and a .929 OPS.
Thursday: Indians at Twins (8:10 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
This is the start of a stretch in which the Indians, the AL Central leaders, and Twins will play seven times in an 18-day stretch. This is another chance for Minnesota to make a run at first place in the AL Central. So far, it's been unable to unseat the Tribe at a time when Cleveland has been unable to get its bullpen issues solved.
If this is a bullpen series, it's going to be lopsided. The Twins' bullpen has been one of baseball's best this month, while the Indians are last in ERA by a wide margin. This series features two of this month's hottest hitters -- Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario.
Friday: Rays at Mariners (10:10 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
This is one of the most interesting matchups of the week. For one thing, the Rays will be seeing some familiar faces, thanks to Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto shoring up his club on Friday by acquiring outfielder Denard Span and reliever Alex Colome from the Rays.
Also, this is one of Tampa Bay's scheduled bullpen days (or is lined up to be), in which manager Kevin Cash plays a mix-and-match game from the first inning. The Rays are the first to do it, but at a time when bullpens are getting deeper and deeper, they won't be the last.
As for the Mariners, they're a reminder that groups have egos, too. Some of us thought they were toast when Dee Gordon was injured and Robinson Cano suspended. Instead, they've played their best baseball of the year in a tribute to manager Scott Servais and a clubhouse led by third baseman Kyle Seager and others.
Saturday: Nationals at Braves (4:10 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
The Nationals have had a remarkable season even if teams heavily favored to win their division aren't given extra points for overcoming adversity. To have survived a ridiculous number of injuries and still be in contention while the Braves, Phillies and Mets all got off to better starts says plenty about the job rookie manager Dave Martinez has done.
These two teams split their first six games as the Atlanta kids, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, took the sport by storm. The Nationals followed that example by calling up 19-year-old outfielder Juan Soto and putting him right into the lineup.
Sunday: Pirates at Cardinals (2:15 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
The Pirates are beginning a stretch of 19 straight games against the Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers and D-backs. If they're still in contention in mid-June, it will be a huge statement about their staying power.
The Cardinals are hoping that a nearly overpowering starting rotation can overcome the problems they've have generating runs and nailing down games.
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.