Battle of NL powers highlights big weekend
Yanks to face potential trade target Happ; Cain, Samardzija, Carrasco back in action
Very soon, it will be time to congratulate and to bellyache. They'll announce the American League and National League rosters for the 2018 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on Sunday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). And we'll use that opportunity to salute the stars and grumble about the snubs, because that's a July tradition as tried and true as fireworks on the Fourth.
But there's still plenty of baseball between now and then. So here's a rundown of some hot topics heading into the weekend in MLB.
1. Movers and shakers
Baseball historians -- or, you know, people who have just been around a while -- will tell you that before they were the Atlanta Braves, they were the Milwaukee Braves from 1953-65. After all these decades since that move and the subsequent rebirth of baseball in the Cream City with the 1970 arrival of the Brewers, and Atlanta and Milwaukee have yet to meet on the postseason stage.
This weekend, the Brewers and Braves continue the four-game set that began Thursday night at Miller Park. Milwaukee is getting healthier at the top of the lineup, with Christian Yelich returning from a back injury earlier this week and Lorenzo Cain expected to be activated from a groin strain. The Braves, meanwhile, are trying to finish up a challenging road trip against contenders (the Cardinals, Yankees and Brew Crew) on a winning note after sweeping St. Louis and dropping two of three in the Bronx.
Atlanta vs. Milwaukee is a much bigger series than anybody could have imagined it would be back in 1965. Or back in March, for that matter.
2. What's Happ-ening?
Luis Severino has matured into the absolute ace of the Yankees and a bona fide AL Cy Young candidate in a season in which he's gone 13-2 with an AL-best 1.98 ERA and Major League-best 214 ERA+.
But somewhere in between the 24-year-old Severino and the soon-to-be-38-year-old Carsten Sabathia, there are a lot of question marks in that Yanks rotation. And this weekend, fans of the Bronx Bombers won't have to look far for a potential solution.
Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ opposes Severino at 4:07 p.m. ET Saturday at Rogers Centre, pitting a top trade candidate against a top award candidate. Happ is in the final year of his three-year, $36 million deal with a Toronto team that will be looking to move its expiring assets, and his track record (119 ERA+ over the last four seasons) and experience acclimating to new places (he's been dealt four times in his career, including three July deals) make him a potential target for a club like the Yankees that needs more stability in its starting set to take some of the pressure off young Severino.
What better way to scout Happ in these waning days before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline than to face him?
3. Return to Me
We've got a handful of important injury returns this weekend, so let's run through them…
• The Giants got Johnny Cueto back from an elbow issue on Thursday in the opener of a four-game set with St. Louis at AT&T Park, Jeff Samardzija will return from a shoulder problem on Saturday (4:05 p.m. ET). Mediocrity has not prevented the Giants from remaining relevant in the NL West so far, and a healthier rotation would go a long way toward making an actual push.
• Carlos Carrasco returned to the Indians' rotation against the A's on Thursday at Progressive Field after getting hit by a line drive on June 16.
• While the Brewers, as mentioned, are expected to get Cain back from a groin issue, Kristopher Bryant (shoulder) could be ready to return to the Cubs. No move is a small move at the top of the tight NL Central race.
• But Paul DeJong's anticipated return to the Cardinals against the Giants this weekend might be an even bigger deal, if only because St. Louis, in danger of missing the postseason a third straight year, needs all the help it can get to push past its ongoing flirtation with the .500 mark. DeJong could give the Cards a boost offensive and defensively.
4. Harvey Day
The Reds acquired Matt Harvey from the Mets on May 8 and made no secret that they viewed him much the same way Christina and Tarek El Moussa view your basic bungalow on that "Flip or Flop" show.
Harvey needed more than just a fresh coat of paint when he arrived in Cincinnati. The Mets foreclosed on him as he carried a 7.00 ERA, diminished stuff and continued questions about his effort level. But away from the spotlight, Harvey has seen his velocity creep back up (his fastball averaged out around 94.9 mph in his last start) and the results have been encouraging. Harvey has a 2.31 ERA and .501 OPS against in his past four starts, including a victory over the Cubs on June 21. He'll face the North Siders again on Saturday afternoon (2:20 p.m. ET) at Wrigley Field, with his trade value pointed north in a market in which impact starting pitching is always at a premium.
This outing will give us another window into whether Cincinnati succeeded at turning Harvey into an HGTV-worthy reclamation project.
5. Big in Japan
Kenta Maeda, with a 3.36 ERA and 116 ERA+ in 15 appearances, is one of the reasons the Dodgers survived the extended absence of Clayton Kershaw and others this season, and Shohei Ohtani is a big, big reason why the Angels have even a sliver of hope of staying alive in the AL Wild Card race. They are appreciated here in the States for their impact on their squads, but that's nothing compared to the attention they receive in their native Japan, where their potential matchup on Friday in the 10:07 p.m. opener of the Freeway Series at Angel Stadium -- with Maeda slated to start for the Dodgers and Ohtani limited only to possible DH duties for the Halos -- is a big deal.
The two overlapped in Nippon Professional Baseball for three seasons (2013-15), but they only faced each other a handful of times because they played in separate leagues.
"The Japanese media obviously has been creating hype," Maeda told reporters through his interpreter. "But I am looking forward to facing another Japanese player."
That's how the Freeway Series will open. It will conclude on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.