The Week Ahead: Clubs aim to hit break on high note
The American League and National League All-Star rosters have been revealed, so it's likely that a good portion of Baseball Nation's Monday morning will still be spent discussing studs and snubs, who might win the Home Run Derby, who might win the Final Votes and who might end up earning home-field advantage for the 2013 World Series.
This, of course, is the fun of talking baseball, which is a good thing.
While the All-Star break won't officially commence until next Monday, and the 84th Midsummer Classic won't be played until a week from Tuesday at Citi Field in New York, the Final Vote drama and any other alterations -- and count on it, there will be some -- to the two rosters will be big news in the coming seven days.
First, however, these next seven days are primarily for games that count toward the regular-season standings and for the players from all over the 30 clubs of the Major Leagues trying to finish off their first halves strong.
Take the Yankees, for example. They enter the week at 48-40, even after a heartbreaker and rarity of a Sunday loss in which the Orioles -- specifically Adam Jones -- beat Mariano Rivera. They are still hanging around in the AL East, a mere five games behind first-place Boston, and they've done all this without Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.
Neither veteran infielder will be back next week, but both are getting closer and could be back shortly after the break. If both are healthy and come close to approaching what they accomplished in their primes, the Yankees will have to feel like they've pulled off the Trade Deadline swap of the century. If both are understandably slow to ease back in from their injuries, the Yanks will mix and match as they have all season.
Either way, all eyes will continue to be on the Minor League ballparks where A-Rod and The Captain continue their rehab assignments. Oh, and let's not forget Yankees starter Michael Pineda, who's also on the way back and will continue his rehab start schedule this week.
And as impatient as Yanks manager Joe Girardi might be to write these names into his lineup card each day, he's being realistic about the situation.
"I don't ever put a time limit on it, because I don't think it's fair to the player, and I don't think it's fair to us," Girardi said. "They're ready when they're ready, and when we feel that they're ready."
Who else is ready this week?
Are the Pirates ready to keep stunning the Majors like they seem to be doing on a weekly basis? And are they ready to finally take solid control of the NL Central?
After Sunday's game, they enter the new week in the only dead heat at the top of a Major League division. Pittsburgh and the St. Louis Cardinals are both 53-34. And while they don't play each other until a four-game set at PNC Park that includes a doubleheader starting on July 29, both teams have good tests this week. The Bucs will be home, entertaining the high-flying Oakland A's for three and then hosting the Mets for a weekend three-game set.
The Cardinals will get the Astros at home for a quick two-game Interleague foray before an off-day and a four-game weekend series against the Cubs in Chicago.
The Pirates tied up the Cubs on Sunday with two out in the ninth inning when Starling Marte homered, but they went on to lose that game. Regardless, they are finding ways to stay in this pennant race for the long haul, and people are starting to believe that they're championship-caliber.
"They never quit, man," Bucs starter A.J. Burnett said of his teammates. "And that's something you can't teach. Play 'til the last out, that's what we do. Marte battled through some pitches, got to a point he could get extended, and you see what happened. But the Cubs had a lot of fight left in them, too."
Teams all over the Majors have fight left in them heading into the break.
The A's and Rangers appear to be destined to fight out the AL West to the wire, just like they did last year. After Sunday, Oakland held the division lead by a half-game.
The resurgent Dodgers won a huge game against the Giants on Sunday and will emerge this week with a new starter in Ricky Nolasco, acquired from the Marlins over the weekend for three Minor Leaguers. Nolasco is set to make his debut in the blue on Tuesday night in Phoenix against the first-place D-backs. The Dodgers trail Arizona by 4 1/2 games entering Monday, so they could make a big statement in that three-game set in the desert.
Elsewhere, things are starting to really heat up in the AL Central. The second-place Indians trimmed another game off the lead of the first-place Tigers on Sunday by beating Detroit, and the two clubs will go at it again one more time on Monday. Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer will go for a 14-0 start to the season, which would match Roger Clemens' feat in 1986.
If Scherzer were to equal Clemens' 14-0 start, he'd be one win away from tying the AL record, set by Johnny Allen for the Indians in 1937 and matched by Dave McNally for the Orioles in 1969. Rube Marquard holds the Major League record with a 19-0 start for the Giants in 1912. Marquard finished the season with a 26-11 mark.
And let's not forget trades. More could come this week as the July 31 non-waiver Deadline gets closer.
Nolasco and Scott Feldman moved in recent days. The Nationals landed Scott Hairston late Sunday night. More arms and bats could be changing zip codes soon. We've heard the names Matt Garza and Jake Peavy being bandied about, and they're not the only ones.
In other words, it isn't about All-Stars all the time this week. We've got many, many reasons to keep staying tuned.