This is a week of interesting subplots played out against the backdrop of a National League postseason picture that remains as blurry as ever. With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the top eight NL teams are no more than 4 1/2 games out of a playoff spot.
As for the subplots, here are two that matter: Right-hander Adam Wainwright will make his first start since May 13 as the Cardinals attempt to figure out a role for him both down the stretch and possibly during the postseason.
To say that pretty much everyone who roots for the Cardinals, works for the Cardinals or covers them is cheering for Wainwright to carve out a role for himself would be an understatement.
For the last 13 years, Wainwright has been a role model for what every professional athlete should aspire to be -- and not just with 147 victories, 24 postseason games and three All-Star appearances.
In terms of giving back to the community, being a good teammate and caring about all the right things, Wainwright is just about as good as there ever is.
At 37, Wainwright is anxious to see if his cranky right elbow will allow him to begin writing a final chapter to his career, and it begins at 8:15 p.m. ET on Monday against the Pirates at Busch Stadium.
Justin Verlander will have a reunion of another kind on Monday, when he returns to Comerica Park at 6:10 p.m. ET for the first time as a member of the Astros. Before his trade on Aug. 31, 2017, Verlander started 380 games and won 183 times over 13 seasons with the Tigers while putting together most of what is certain to be a Hall of Fame resume.
Let's check out the best game each day this week:
MONDAY: Brewers at Cubs (8:05 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
The Brewers have won 14 of 19 games to get within two games of the first-place Cubs in the NL Central after being six out. Chase Anderson, Wade Miley and Zach Davies have given the rotation a boost at the most important time of the year, and Christian Yelich is making a run at the NL MVP Award with nine home runs and a .351 batting average during this stretch. Meanwhile, the Cubs have lost four of six just when they seemed to be about to close out the division race.
TUESDAY: Blue Jays at Red Sox (7:10 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
The Red Sox believe that a postseason front three of Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello is as good as any in the Majors. Sale's return from a second stint on the disabled list will begin a gradual process to build up the strength in his left shoulder and get him to October rested and strong. The Red Sox also have issues to sort out in the bullpen, but Sale is far and away the top priority.
WEDNESDAY: D-backs at Rockies (8:40 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
This is the latest the Rockies have been in first place since 1995, and they've won 27 of 39 at Coors Field. Since June 28, the Rockies are 30-6 in games started by Kyle Freeland (12-1), Jon Gray (9-2) and German Marquez (9-3). Shortstop Trevor Story leads the NL with 301 total bases and is tied for first with 75 extra-base hits. The D-backs have the division's toughest schedule down the stretch and could play 17 straight games against first-place teams, which would be a Major League record.
THURSDAY: Dodgers at Cardinals (7:15 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
The Dodgers have won 11 of 15 with a pitching staff that has been close to dominant and third baseman Justin Turner, shortstop Manny Machado and first baseman Cody Bellinger carrying the offensive load. The Cardinals have cooled off this month after going 22-6 in August and reinserting themselves back into the NL postseason picture.
FRIDAY: A's at Rays (7:10 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
The A's have the best record in the Majors since the Midsummer Classic (32-15) and have won 53 of 74 since mid-June. They've got five players with at least 20 home runs and have hit 52 in the eighth inning or later, which leads the big leagues. Did we mention that Oakland also has the American League's best ERA (3.34) since the All-Star break? The Rays are 14 games over .500 for the first time in five years and have outscored opponents 57-28 in winning seven of their last eight. The Rays would be in the running for a division championship if they played in the NL East, NL West or AL Central.
SATURDAY: Mets at Red Sox (4:05 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
Mets ace Jacob deGrom takes his fascinating quest for the NL Cy Young Award to Fenway Park. Despite an 8-8 record -- and proving how meaningless that statistic is -- deGrom leads the Majors with a 1.68 ERA, 7.3 Wins Above Replacement and a 220 ERA+. He has faced 574 batters with the scored tied or the Mets up or down by one run, the most by any pitcher in the big leagues this year.
SUNDAY: Nationals at Braves (1:35 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
The Braves are nothing if not tenacious: They've won 19 games in their final at-bat, second most in the NL. The Braves have scored 239 runs in the seventh inning or later this season, also second most in the NL. Rookie Ronald Acuna Jr. is batting .333 with 18 homers and 43 runs in 49 games since manager Brian Snitker moved him to the leadoff spot after the All-Star break.