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Rivalries renewed: 10 things to watch this week

Dodgers-Giants, Yankees-Red Sox play; Astros travel to face Indians @RichardJustice

You know it's going to be a good week when Dodgers-Giants and Yankees-Red Sox are on the schedule.

And when an Astros-Indians series looks like it might be a preview of the American League Championship Series.

You know it's going to be a good week when Dodgers-Giants and Yankees-Red Sox are on the schedule.

And when an Astros-Indians series looks like it might be a preview of the American League Championship Series.

And when five teams are separated by two games in the National League Central. Over in the AL Central, everyone is separated by three games.

Chris Sale will make his fifth start of the season for the Red Sox on Wednesday. Against the Yankees, no less. Have you checked his pitching line? Sale's ERA is 0.91, his WHIP 0.71. In 29 2/3 innings, he has walked six and struck out 42. Sometimes a guy rides a wave of hype into town and manages to fulfill every last bit of it and then some.

That's true of new Brewers first baseman Eric Thames and his eight home runs in 64 at-bats. And there's Bryce Harper. He's hitting .400 and on pace for something like 180 RBIs.

Video: WSH@NYM: Harper opens the scoring with two-run homer

Baseball seasons unfolded by days, weeks and months, and every segment bringing an unexpected pleasure.

Here's a preview of this week:

1. Dodgers-Giants: Old rivalry, new storyline
The Dodges and Giants have combined to win eight of the past nine NL West titles, and they were favorites to battle for the title again.

That may still happen, but the Rockies and D-backs are both off to great starts, while both the Dodgers and Giants enter their four-game series Monday at AT&T Park under .500.

Both are being tested by injuries. San Francisco is without Madison Bumgarner indefinitely after sustaining injuries in a dirt-bike accident, dramatically reducing the club's margin of error, especially in a starting rotation that isn't the deepest in baseball.

Video: Bochy discusses Bumgarner's dirt-bike accident

Matt Cain's start Monday night suddenly feels even more important than it already did.

For Los Angeles, this season is starting to feel like last one, with 10 players on the disabled list, including No. 2 starter Rich Hill. Last season, the Dodgers won a fourth straight NL West title despite a staggering injury list.

Game on again.

2. Yankees-Red Sox: As good as ever
This rivalry that resumes Tuesday never gets old. The Red Sox were consensus favorites to win the AL East, but the Yankees may be baseball's most interesting team with some veterans -- CC Sabathia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley -- playing great, and the talented kids -- especially right fielder Aaron Judge -- off to a hot start.

Boston is off to a slow start offensively, while New York is second in the AL in runs, only trailing Tampa Bay. The Yanks' bullpen has a 1.39 ERA -- best in the Majors -- but the Sox are close behind at 2.21.

Video: CWS@NYY: Chapman notches his fourth save of the year

Forgive the cliche you're about to read: it doesn't matter what the numbers say. It's the Yankees and Red Sox. It's worth your time.

Wednesday's game is Sale vs. Masahiro Tanaka. Get your popcorn.

3. Is this Astros-Indians series an ALCS preview?
The Astros are 13-6 and leading the AL West by three games, despite not playing nearly as well as they're capable of (shortstop Carlos Correa is hitting .197, center fielder George Springer .216). Likewise, the Indians are 10-8 and tied with the Tigers atop the AL Central.

Here's what's more important than the record for Cleveland: Outfielder Michael Brantley looks like his old familiar self after missing most of last season. And Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco are healthy again and lining up behind Corey Kluber to create a rotation that might be the AL's best.

Video: CLE@CWS: Brantley smacks a two-run homer to right

4. You didn't write the Cardinals off, did you?
The Cardinals were 3-9 a week ago, so you're forgiven if a little doubt creeped into your brain. Since then, they've won six of seven with starting pitching that has been as good as advertised. Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha are off to tremendous starts, and once Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty start to hit -- and they will -- the Cards will look like themselves again. Actually, they already do.

5. Maybe the Rays were right about Steven Souza Jr. and Corey Dickerson all along
Just a little offense. That's all the Rays need. That's all they haven't had the past few seasons. Tampa Bay has finished 24th, 25th and 27th in runs the past three seasons, wasting a lot of good pitching.

In that time, the Rays have remade their offense a couple of times. Last season, their hopes were on the production of two young corner outfielders -- Souza and Dickerson.

Video: HOU@TB: Souza Jr. crushes homer off foul pole in left

Tampa Bay stayed course with both. It now leads the AL in runs with Souza hitting .347 and Dickerson .314.

And the Rays (10-10) look like they might be capable of being competitive in a division race that has zero clarity.

6. Have the Rockies and D-backs convinced you yet?
Offensively, both teams have stars -- Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock for Arizona and Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez for Colorado. Both have an assortment of young arms, from the D-backs' Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray to the Rockies' Antonio Senzatela and Tyler Chatwood.

It may still end up being a Dodgers-Giants division, but the Rockies and D-backs are gaining confidence every day.

Video: COL@SF: Senzatela strikes out Crawford swinging

7. What would Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez do for an encore?
Ramirez was one of baseball's most pleasant surprises of 2016, or as Indians manager Terry Francona put it, "He saved our tails." He entered last season with a .239 batting average but was given a chance to play every day. Ramirez took it, hitting .312 with 46 doubles.

Here we go again. The Tribe has a much deeper lineup, but Ramirez is still doing his part, hitting .309 and tied for the AL lead with 17 RBIs.

Video: CLE@CWS: Ramirez crushes a solo home run to right

8. No surprise the Rangers have their mojo back. Big surprise how they're doing it
The Rangers have 28 home runs, the second most in the Majors. No surprise there. They've scored eight runs three times and seven runs twice. They even scored 10 once.

Here's what you didn't see coming: Texas' starting rotation has the second-best ERA in MLB at 3.04. It's not just Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, although both have been good. Martin Perez, Andrew Cashner and Nick Martinez have made seven starts and combined for a 2.82 ERA.

Video: KC@TEX: Cashner tosses six scoreless innings

Only the bullpen has been a problem, and it has been a big one. But there are enough good arms out there to give manager Jeff Banister flexibility.

Given that the Rangers have had a 28-10 advantage over the Astros the past two seasons, the AL West could an heavyweight fight.

9. It's getting late early for the Blue Jays
No team needed a victory more than Toronto did on Sunday. Rallying from behind in the eighth for a 6-2 victory in Anaheim, the Blue Jays (5-13) stopped a nearly incomprehensible slide.

Video: TOR@LAA: Stroman induces a DP to win the game

Toronto's injury list is among the longest in baseball, and the AL East has four other teams thinking they're good enough to go to the playoffs. But Sunday was at least a step in the right direction.

10. How much fun is it to watch Ryan Zimmerman play baseball?
Zimmerman was the face of the Nationals before Harper and Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. He's also one of baseball's real good people and consummate pros.

These past two seasons have been a frustrating mix of injury and mechanical struggles for Zimmerman. Now he's hitting .387 and doing a really good imitation of the happiest man in baseball.

Video: WSH@NYM: Zimmerman's single plates third run for Nats

Some of Zimmerman's turnaround may have come after technical discussions with Daniel Murphy about launch angles. Surely good health is a part of it. Regardless, he has given the Nats a lineup as deep as any, helping solidify a team capable of an October breakthrough.

Richard Justice is a columnist for You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice.