Rookies, rivalries, sluggers and Skenes highlight 5 series to watch

June 24th, 2024

This week features rivalries renewed on both coasts, Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani looking to continue their respective home run binges and Paul Skenes facing one of the hottest lineups in baseball.

It promises to be an exciting seven days with marquee matchups, and there are sure to be some unforgettable moments.

Here's a look at five series to watch this week:

Guardians at Orioles
3 games (Monday-Wednesday)

Head-to-head: These two clubs will meet for the first time this season in what could very well be a postseason preview. Cleveland took four of seven games against Baltimore in 2023.

Storyline: The Guardians, under first-year manager Stephen Vogt, have been a surprise division leader in the American League Central. Entering the week with the best winning percentage (.653) in the league, Cleveland is once again led by perennial All-Star and MVP candidate José Ramírez, who has an .857 OPS with 19 homers and 67 RBIs on the season. The O’s, of course, have been on the rise for a couple of years now, and Baltimore is looking to take the next step following their first postseason appearance in seven years last fall. Led by catcher Adley Rutschman and shortstop Gunnar Henderson, the Orioles are keeping the heat on the division-leading Yankees, just 1.5 games behind New York in the AL East.

What to watch for: MLB Pipeline’s No. 21 overall prospect, outfielder Heston Kjerstad, is reportedly being called up for his third Major League stint prior to the series opener against the Guardians on Monday. Kjerstad was sizzling at the plate with Triple-A Norfolk, hitting .300/.397/.601 with 14 doubles, a triple, 16 home runs and 58 RBIs in 56 games. With Baltimore’s bats cooling off during a three-game sweep by the Astros in Houston, Kjerstad may provide a boost as they return home to face Cleveland.

Rangers at Brewers
3 games (Monday-Wednesday)

Head-to-head: The Brewers swept the three games between these clubs at Globe Life Field from Aug. 18-20. All-time, the teams have met 352 times (the majority of those games took place when both clubs were in the AL), with Milwaukee winning 191 of those contests and Texas winning 161.

Storyline: The defending World Series champs have had to grind through the first half of the 2024 campaign without a fully healthy pitching staff and with some key position players like Josh Jung and Evan Carter missing time due to injury as well. But Texas has won four straight entering their three-game set at American Family Field against Milwaukee, with Max Scherzer making a successful return on Sunday and Jacob deGrom (Tommy John surgery) expected back after the All-Star break. The Brewers, meanwhile, have inverted their blueprint from the past several years under first-year manager Pat Murphy -- for a club that had consistently relied on excellent pitching and just enough hitting, Milwaukee is now getting more offensive production to stay atop the NL Central despite trading Corbin Burnes to Baltimore and with Brandon Woodruff and Devin Williams sidelined.

What to watch for: Wyatt Langford has been a different hitter since returning from the injured list in late May. In the month of June, his OPS is nearly .900 and he’s raised his season OPS by nearly 100 points. He launched his first career grand slam on Saturday against the Royals, and over his last five games, he’s hitting .421 (8-for-19) with three doubles and two homers. A preseason Rookie of the Year candidate, Langford got off to a slow start in his first taste of the Majors after breaking camp with the Rangers last spring. But he may be turning that around.

Yankees at Mets
2 games (Tuesday-Wednesday)

Head-to-head: The 2024 Subway Series will begin on Tuesday at Citi Field after the Mets and Yankees split four games against each other last year.

Storyline: These two clubs meet at an interesting time given their overall season trajectories and their recent performance. The Yankees have the most wins in baseball and have been infused with a jolt of energy through the acquisition of Juan Soto, who along with Judge are twin AL MVP candidates through the first half of the season. But the Bronx Bombers have lost three consecutive series and also slugger Giancarlo Stanton to a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, the Mets, who have foundered for much of the season, are an MLB-best 13-6 in June after taking two of three from the Cubs at Wrigley over the weekend.

What to watch for: Judge. The most feared home run hitter in the game has an OPS north of 1.300 this month and has an MLB-leading 28 home runs and 70 RBIs on the season. And he’s done that despite a slow first month -- on May 1, he was hitting .207/.340/.414. Judge is must-see TV virtually every time he steps to the plate, but especially now with the run he’s been on.

Pirates at Braves
3 games (Friday-Sunday)

Head-to-head: The Pirates took two of three from the Braves in Atlanta from May 24-26. Last season, the Braves took four of seven from Pittsburgh.

Storyline: Don’t look now, but the Braves have won eight of their last 10 games and just took two of three from the Yankees in the Bronx over the weekend. Atlanta has been dealt a lot of adversity so far in 2024, losing flamethrowing right-hander Spencer Strider and reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. for the season due to injury. But a slumbering offense has awakened, with Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, Sean Murphy and newcomer Jarred Kelenic finding their power stroke recently. The Bucs, meanwhile, haven’t been able to put together a consistent stretch of winning baseball, but with their one-two rookie punch of Paul Skenes and Jared Jones atop the rotation, and a red-hot Bryan Reynolds at the plate, that could change.

What to watch for: Skenes. The rookie phenom with a 102 mph fastball wowed again on Sunday against the Rays, and through his first eight Major League starts, the big right-hander has a 2.14 ERA with 61 strikeouts and only eight walks in 46 1/3 innings. Skenes against anyone is appointment viewing, but with the Braves swinging the bats the way they are, this could be a tremendous matchup.

Dodgers at Giants
3 games (Friday-Sunday)

Head-to-head: The Dodgers have dominated the season series between these ancient rivals, winning five of the first six games between the clubs.

Storyline: The Dodgers have a comfortable lead in the NL West, and it’s certainly no time to be overly concerned, but with both Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Walker Buehler sidelined with injury, not to mention superstar shortstop Mookie Betts, the situation could cause some uneasiness among the Dodger faithful. Still, Tyler Glasnow continues to overwhelm opposing hitters and Ohtani is … well, doing Ohtani things -- over his last seven games, he’s smashed four home runs with projected distances greater than 450 feet. The Giants have lost five straight and seven of their last nine following a sweep by the Cardinals in St. Louis over the weekend.

What to watch for: What will Ohtani do next? If it seems like you’ve heard that question before, it’s because you have. Ohtani just continues to amaze even when you think he couldn’t possibly be any more spectacular. In his last seven games, Ohtani hasn’t just launched four homers over 450 feet, he’s belted six homers overall with a 1.848 OPS. McCovey Cove could be busy this weekend the way Shohei is swinging the bat.