We're past the All-Star break and well into the dog days of summer for the 2023 season.
Over the course of the next two months, playoff races will heat up and take all sorts of twists and turns, such as the Orioles recently overtaking the Rays for first place in the AL East. That type of fluctuation of teams and players changing spots will be rampant, especially in light of the upcoming Trade Deadline.
As the regular season nears August, every new series will take on even more importance. That's no different this week with several series that could have huge playoff implications, especially with the Aug. 1 Deadline being almost a week away.
Here are the five series to watch during the week of July 24.
Orioles (61-38) at Phillies (53-46)
3 games (Monday-Wednesday)
Head to head: This is the first time these two clubs have played each other since 2021, when the Phillies took two of three games in Philadelphia. What's most notable about this matchup is that in the previous 62 Interleague games between each other since 1997, they've both never been above .500 at the same time ... until now.
Storyline: How can it not be the Orioles? The team has already won more games (61) this season than it did in all of 2021 (52). The Orioles' remarkably consistent play -- they've played at least two games above .500 in every individual month this year -- helped them recently leapfrog the Rays for first place in the AL East. Production from young stars in Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson and an elite bullpen (have you seen what Félix Bautista has done?) have expedited Baltimore's projected competitive window.
Watch out for: Baltimore's lineup. This offense can really, really hit. Of the dozen hitters who've had at least 100 plate appearances, seven of them have a wRC+ north of 120, all of whom are slotted in as everyday guys right now. The O's offense is less about having a few elite hitters -- Ryan O'Hearn leads the team with a 141 wRC+ -- and more about the sum of their parts. As of right now, there is no letup facing the Orioles lineup.
Rangers (59-41) at Astros (56-44)
3 games (Monday-Wednesday)
Head to head: It's been a close battle for the AL West rivals in their previous seven games in '23. The Astros have taken four of those games but have been outscored 39-35 by the Rangers in the process.
Storyline: Can the Astros narrow their divisional deficit? For as well as the Rangers have played and all of the uncharacteristic issues (performance and injury) the Astros have had, a three-game sweep by Houston could completely flip the script. Conversely, if the Rangers can pull off a sweep, their chances of winning the division will increase even more. With only one more three-game series remaining between the two teams after this series, it feels like this matchup holds even more importance.
Watch out for: Chas McCormick. A common theme of great teams maintaining their greatness -- such as the recent Astros, Braves and Dodgers teams -- is the ability to continuously find new productive players. Even with the performance or injury issues surrounding Astros hitters such as Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman, Houston has been able to make up for it with guys like McCormick. The 28-year-old has made the transition from a solid regular in 2021-22 to one of the best hitters in the Majors this year. His 144 wRC+ trails only 16 hitters who've had at least 200 plate appearances.
Reds (55-46) at Brewers (55-45)
3 games (Monday-Wednesday)
Head to head: The Brewers have thoroughly dominated the season series, taking eight of 10 games from the Reds with a 41-29 run differential. That has been an obvious difference maker in the Brewers' half-game lead over the Reds in the division.
Storyline: Which team will make the most of this final 2023 matchup? Only a half-game separates the two NL Central division hopefuls in what is their last series against one another, at least in the regular season. A sweep from either team wouldn't necessarily dictate the final standings but it'd go a long way for either team pulling ahead.
Watch out for: Christian Yelich. While not quite at the levels of his 2018-19 window, Yelich has returned to greatness after three years of mixed results. Yelich is a top-15 position player by WAR (3.5) with a 131 wRC+ that ranks in the top-25. The main driver for Yelich's success? His quality of contact is the best it's been since 2019 -- Yelich has a .380 expected wOBA that trails only 16 hitters.
Mets (46-52) at Yankees (53-47)
2 games (Tuesday-Wednesday)
Head to head: The last six games between the two New York teams dating back to 2022 have been about as evenly matched as possible. They split their two-game set earlier this year at Citi Field, scoring 10 runs apiece. In 2022, the two clubs split their four games while each scoring 13 runs.
Storyline: What does each team do from here? It's no secret that both teams are performing well below their expectations and are each on the outside looking in at a playoff spot. In the case of the Yankees, they could see the return of Aaron Judge soon and are at least in reachable distance of a Wild Card spot. The same cannot be said for the Mets, who have the fifth-worst record in the NL. Shocking as it would've sounded before the season, both teams could be sellers at the upcoming Deadline.
Watch out for: Francisco Alvarez. Were it not for Corbin Carroll's excellence in Arizona, we might be talking about Alvarez winning NL Rookie of the Year. The 21-year-old slugging catcher has been one of the handful of bright spots for the Mets, crushing 19 home runs in 73 games. With a 31-home run pace, Alvarez is looking to become just the fifth rookie catcher in AL/NL history with a 30-HR season and the first since Mike Piazza did it for the Dodgers in 1993.
Angels (51-49) at Blue Jays (55-45)
3 games (Friday-Sunday)
Head to head: The two clubs faced off in a hectic three-game series in Anaheim in April that saw the Blue Jays win two of those games. In the series finale, Toronto won a 12-11 extra-innings thriller that decided the series.
Storyline: Shohei Ohtani. Who else would it possibly be? He's the talk of the baseball world for more reasons than one. He's the best player in the world, with two-way dominance that's led to a commanding lead in WAR; his 6.6 WAR is 1.5 wins better than the next-closest player (Ronald Acuña Jr. at 5.1 WAR). Adding intrigue to Ohtani's excellence is the discussion on whether or not the Angels will actually move the impending free agent at the Deadline.
Watch out for: Ohtani. Once again, the answer to this one is pretty obvious. Ohtani leads all qualified hitters in home runs (36), triples (7), OPS (1.072), SLG (.674) and wRC+ (184). In 111 2/3 innings on the mound, he has a 120 ERA+ and the third-highest strikeout rate (32.2%) among qualified starters. It's the third straight year of two-way superstardom that the sport hasn't seen in over a century, if ever. Ohtani is scheduled to start in the series opener on Friday.