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Weekend plans? How about a Max-Kershaw duel

Aces to face off in LA; Boston to get Pomeranz back; Colon set for encore
April 20, 2018

In the battle of weather vs. schedule, Mother Nature is throwing the equivalent of a no-hitter in the early going. She's not quite perfect, what with the West Coast climates that are often oblivious to her sick stuff. But just as seemingly every no-hitter needs a defensive gem attached to

In the battle of weather vs. schedule, Mother Nature is throwing the equivalent of a no-hitter in the early going. She's not quite perfect, what with the West Coast climates that are often oblivious to her sick stuff. But just as seemingly every no-hitter needs a defensive gem attached to it, she got some big assistance when that ice punctured the Rogers Centre roof and postponed a game between the Blue Jays and Royals this week. When even domed stadiums are serving as easy outs, you know Mother Nature is feeling it.
Perhaps this will be the weekend in which her icy grip on the schedule relents. We sure hope so, because there are plenty of storylines to settle in a season that so far has been devoid of real rhythm.
Here are five key topics to track this weekend.
1. Hollywood hype: The finger inflammation issue that sent Rich Hill to the disabled list is a brief bummer for the Dodgers. But for the rest of us, it has brought the benefit of the precious pairing that is Clayton Kershaw vs. Max Scherzer on Friday night at Dodger Stadium (10:10 p.m. ET).
Responsible for four of the last five National League Cy Young Awards (and six Cy Youngs overall), Kershaw and Scherzer are the Senior Circuit gold standards, and they've pitched like it in the early going. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 1.33 ERA and 0.67 WHIP through 27 innings, while Kershaw, despite some tough luck that has led to a 1-2 record, has a 1.73 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 26 innings.
The rare matchup of these Cy guys is a strong start to what ought to be an interesting weekend series between two NL heavyweight clubs that have been dragging a heavy weight so far. Affected by some big absences (Justin Turner, Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton) and some unexpected bullpen issues (Kenley Jansen, especially, hasn't looked right), the Dodgers and Nats lug sub-.500 records into this series. It very well may be an NLCS preview. For Bryce Harper, it very well might be a free-agency preview. But for right now, this series is just an opportunity for two talented teams to get real traction, and what better way to kick it off than with a Kershaw-Scherzer duel?

2. Pom wonderful: The Red Sox have posted baseball's best record in the early going with baseball's best rotation in the early going. That's no coincidence. Entering Thursday, Boston's rotation ERA of 1.91 was nearly half a run better than the next-closest club, and that -- even more than the magic of Mookie Betts -- has been the backbone of the Red Sox's success.
And now, the Boston rotation could be getting better. Left-hander Thomas Pomeranz will make his season debut Friday in Oakland (10:05 p.m. ET) after a flexor strain sidelined him the vast majority of Spring Training. Pomeranz was an All-Star in 2016, but by some metrics 2017 was his most complete season -- a 17-6 record, 3.32 ERA and 140 ERA+. If the Sox can get similar numbers out of Pomeranz in a unit already featuring a rejuvenated David Price and Rick Porcello and some guy named Chris Sale, that'll be, uh, just the way they Drew it up.
3. Class of '11: Seven years ago, Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy were taken back to back with the third and fourth overall picks in the MLB Draft by the D-backs and Orioles, respectively. They instantly became two of the more interesting pitching prospects in baseball, with the unorthodox nature of their aggressive long-toss programs (Bundy was out to 120 feet as young as 7 years old, and Bauer's foul-pole-to-foul-pole tosses were a pregame routine) a particular point of intrigue.
Both Bundy and Bauer have experienced their share of ups and downs in the years since (Bundy with Tommy John surgery, Bauer with a trade to the Indians), but it's possible each guy has turned the corner in his career and is now reaching the full potential and promise of that prominent Draft position.
Bauer has a 2.25 ERA through 20 innings over three starts and has been getting some good results with a slider he refined over the winter. Bundy's reformed slider allowed him to make significant strides in 2017 that he's built on with a sparkling 1.40 ERA through 25 2/3 innings over four starts this year. They'll oppose each other Friday night at Camden Yards (7:05 p.m. ET) in the opener of a four-game set between the Tribe and O's, and, if a pitching duel breaks out, it'll be just the way it was drafted up all those years ago.

4. Age before beauty: Where were you when Bartolo Colon took a perfect game into the eighth inning against the defending champion Astros? It was one of those sports moments that felt worthy of broadcast signal intrusion across the television spectrum.
Alas, Big Sexy had to settle for 7 2/3 innings in which he allowed just a run on one hit with a walk and seven strikeouts. But for the 44-year-old Colon, that outing ranked 11th in game score (79) among his 530 career starts.
What will he do for an encore? Well, Saturday's start against Seattle (8:05 p.m. ET), opposite the Mariners' James Paxton, is a good opportunity for Colon to continue to defy age. In his inimitable and seemingly infinite career, Colon has faced the Mariners more than any other team (37 appearances). He's held them to a .655 OPS -- the lowest of any of the 14 clubs he's faced at least 20 times.
Perhaps the biggest question: Will Colon get to face fellow 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki? Ichiro has been logging playing time against right-handers this year. But with Ben Gamel recently activated off the DL, the Mariners might not be able to maintain Ichiro on the active roster much longer.
5. Red(s) Scare: The Reds weren't the fastest team in history to pull the trigger on a managerial switch in a given season (the '88 Orioles, with Cal Ripken Sr., and '02 Tigers, with Phil Garner, hold that dubious record, at six games). But 18 games was all it took for the Reds to punt on Bryan Price, and now it's interim manager Jim Riggleman at the helm as the Reds enter a weekend set in St. Louis.
No one was expecting the Reds to vie for an October entry, but a 3-15 record and minus-46 run differential are certainly south of their capability. The offense -- especially the brilliant Joey Votto (.588 OPS) -- has drastically underachieved, and some young starting arms with upside (Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano) have not yet panned out as planned. Against a good Cardinals club that has begun to play to its potential this week, we'll see if the Reds can start to turn their season around under new leadership, with Double-A pitching coach Danny Darwin joining the Major League staff and Triple-A manager Pat Kelly becoming Riggleman's bench coach.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.