We begin a new week with 17 teams within three games of first place, which pretty much says everything about how this season has started. Three division races have four teams within 3 1/2 games of the top.Hasn't any team opened up a large division lead? At this point last
We begin a new week with 17 teams within three games of first place, which pretty much says everything about how this season has started. Three division races have four teams within 3 1/2 games of the top.
Hasn't any team opened up a large division lead? At this point last season, the Astros had an 8 1/2-game lead in the American League West.
Not this season. The Astros are in a four-team scramble with the Angels, Mariners, and Athletics for the top spot.
So far, the Arizona Diamondbacks have baseball's largest lead -- 3 1/2 games over the Rockies and four over the Giants as they head to Dodger Stadium for a two-game series beginning Tuesday.
OK, so let's set up the week with a look at each day's best game:
TODAY: Nationals at Padres (10:10 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
The Nationals are doing a good imitation of the team virtually everyone on earth thought they'd be. They head to the West Coast having won seven of eight, including a nice walk-off victory on Sunday. Stephen Strasburg will make his fourth career start in his hometown, where he's 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA. He'll be matched against Padres righty Tyson Ross, who is having a career rebirth back with the Padres.
TUESDAY: Red Sox at Yankees (7:05 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
Are these baseball's two best teams? At this point, they're close enough to make every Red Sox-Yankees game an event as if that wasn't already the case. Did we mention that this just might end up being the greatest Red Sox-Yankees summer of them all? Hey, what's a great rivalry without a little exaggeration?
The Red Sox won two of three when these teams played last month at Fenway, and the Yankees were 6-7 when that series ended. A few days later, they got hot, winning 15 of 16 to get within a game of first place. On a side note, Yankees starter Luis Severino has allowed 11 earned runs in seven starts and has pitched his way into the "AL's best pitcher" conversation with Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and others.
WEDNESDAY: D-backs at Dodgers (10:10 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
Welcome to your new life, Alex Wood. With Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list, Wood is the new No. 1 starter of a team attempting to slug its way through a mountain of injuries in the National League West, which is very much a four-team race with the Rockies and Giants also in the mix. Arizona probably is the new favorite, and the Wednesday starter against Wood is lefty Patrick Corbin, who leads the NL with a 0.761 WHIP and is averaging 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
THURSDAY: Mariners at Blue Jays (7:07 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
This is a matchup of two really solid teams that see a clear path to the postseason if a couple of things break right. As for the Blue Jays, only the Red Sox and Yankees have scored more runs in the AL. Meanwhile, the Toronto bullpen has been the league's best. So far, the rotation has struggled, and in a race with the Yankees and Red Sox, that's something that has to be fixed. Likewise, Seattle's rotation has been a problem, with only lefty James Paxton pitching the way he was projected. Right-hander Felix Hernandez was in a nice groove, stringing together five consecutive solid starts before struggling Sunday vs. the Angels.
FRIDAY: Mets at Phillies (7:05 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)
These two teams are facing the harsh reality of a long season and a division race in which the top four teams are separated by just two games. The Mets are 6-14 since an 11-1 start thanks to an offense that has gone quiet (3.9 runs per game) and a pitching staff with a 5.10 ERA. The Phillies have lost six of eight, including four of six in Miami and Washington on this trip. But part of becoming a contender is slogging through the tough times, which makes this series even more interesting.
SATURDAY: Brewers at Rockies (8:10 p.m., ET, MLB.TV)
These two teams are off to nice starts after an offseason of significant change that has positioned both to get to the postseason. The Brewers have won four of six games at Coors Field the past two seasons. The Rockies are 15-8 on the road and 5-7 at home this season. Milwaukee's overhauled bullpen is off to a great start, while Colorado's has struggled.
SUNDAY: White Sox at Cubs (2:20 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)
This series may not end up deciding a postseason berth -- although it could -- but it's important to both fan bases, which is the whole point of these rivalry series. The White Sox have started slowly, but are so flush with Minor League talent that the future is bright. The Cubs have found themselves in a tough NL Central race with the Cardinals, Brewers and Pirates.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.