It's now June, a major month for movement in Major League Baseball. The standings picture will grow increasingly clear. Executives will come out of the Draft that begins Monday and begin to decide what to do with their roster holes or surpluses, giving shape to the summer trade market. What's
It's now June, a major month for movement in Major League Baseball. The standings picture will grow increasingly clear. Executives will come out of the Draft that begins Monday and begin to decide what to do with their roster holes or surpluses, giving shape to the summer trade market. What's real will more clearly distinguish itself from what's frail.
In that spirit, the first weekend of June promptly presents us with some piqued division duels among its major matchups. Here are five topics to track this weekend.
1. Dodgers drumbeat
The Dodgers were 8 1/2 games back in the National League West as recently as the start of play on May 17. But sandwiched between Justin Turner's May 16 return from a broken wrist and Clayton Kershaw's (brief) return Thursday night from biceps tendinitis has been a run much more in line with what we expected from the defending NL champs. But with young stud Walker Buehler picking up the injury-battered pitching staff, Kenley Jansen looking more like himself and Matt Kemp somehow vying for a batting title, they've won 10 of their last 14 to pull within four games of the first-place Rockies.
• Up-to-the-minute standings | Weekend probable pitchers
That doesn't mean they're totally out of the woods, as the back tightness Kershaw felt Thursday will put him back in the MRI tube, but the bottom line is a lot better than it was a few weeks back. And Kenta Maeda's injury has manager Dave Roberts scrambling with his rotation, to the point where he might follow the Rays' recent strategy by having a reliever start Friday's game ahead of "starter" Dennis Santana's big league debut.
Anyway, the Dodgers' recent run is what makes this weekend's series in Colorado so scintillating. This is the Rockies' chance to fend off the hard-charging Dodgers, and they'll try to do so during a homestand in which they've won four of six and scored nearly as many times (39) as they've struck out (41).
2. Nats where it's at
In Atlanta this weekend, there's a similar storyline taking shape -- the perennial power that started slowly is trying to assert itself against an upstart squad.
The Baby Braves have owned the NL East lead the better part of the last month, but the Nationals caught up to them in part by winning a franchise-record 10 consecutive road games. That streak was snapped Thursday, when Sean Newcomb's seven strong innings and Ozzie Albies' two-hit night sparked a 4-2 win for Atlanta. Albies had been coming back down to earth a bit in recent days, and Ronald Acuna Jr. hit the shelf with a mild left ACL sprain. When young clubs surge up the standings early, you sometimes wonder when regression might begin to set in. But if the Braves can play the Nats tough this weekend (avoiding Max Scherzer in the four-gamer feels like a victory, in and of itself), they can lend credence to the idea of really keeping Washington honest all summer.
The four-game set between these squads continues Friday at 7:35 p.m. ET at SunTrust Park, with Washington's Stephen Strasburg opposing Atlanta's Mike Foltynewicz.
3. Pitching in
The Red Sox and Astros -- 2017 American League Division Series foes who could be bound for an October repeat -- continue their four-game set at Minute Maid Park this weekend, and how do you like these pitching matchups?
Friday, 8:10 p.m. ET: Gerrit Cole (5-1, 2.05 ERA) vs. Chris Sale (5-2, 2.76)
Saturday, 7:15 p.m.: Justin Verlander (7-2, 1.11) vs. David Price (5-4, 4.04)
Sunday, 7:35 p.m.: Charlie Morton (7-0, 2.26) vs. Rick Porcello (7-2, 3.65)
Three Cy Young Award winners, a World Series hero and two of the better offseason trade acquisitions in recent memory.
So ... not a bad weekend, really.
Verlander, Cole, Morton and Sale all rank in the top eight in the AL in ERA, and Porcello is 20th. And Price has a 2.49 ERA and .191 average against over his last four starts. So while both of these clubs have eye-catchers on the offensive side, the probables have prominence in this potential postseason preview.
4. Rapid reunion
The Rays opened the summer swap season by dealing their closer. Perhaps that's an appropriate role for the club that has famously used relievers to open games this season.
Anyway, it didn't take long for the schedule to reunite Alex Colome with Tampa Bay. Colome's Mariners are facing the Rays in a weekend set at Safeco Field that begins just one week after the four-player swap in which Colome and outfielder Denard Span went to Seattle for Minor Leaguer pitchers Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero. That was an early bit of go-for-it gusto for a Mariners club that has played well in the wake of the Robinson Cano injury and suspension (they won 11 of their first 13 without Cano). Colome has already demonstrated his value both as a setup man for elite young closer Edwin Diaz and as a replacement ninth-inning option on days Diaz is unavailable.
But even in the midst of willingly parting with prime pieces like Colome, the Rays have hit their stride in recent weeks, winning 12 of their last 16. They'll open the series with their unconventional "opener" strategy, starting veteran reliever Sergio Romo in Friday's series opener.
5. Taking Twinventory
If a legit division race is going to break out in the AL Central, one would figure the next few days are critical. The Twins went into the season viewed as the only real threat to the Indians' throne, but Minnesota did not take advantage of a month-long stretch from April 26-May 25 in which the Tribe dropped 16 of 27. During that stretch, the Twins gained just two games in the standings, going from 3 1/2 back to 1 1/2. Beset by the slow starts of James Dozier, Miguel Sano and the twice-injured Byron Buxton (back on the DL with a broken toe), the Twins haven't maintained the momentum from last year's second-half surge that got them into the AL Wild Card Game.
So they're simply going to need to take care of business in their 16 remaining head-to-heads with the Indians. On Thursday at Target Field, they erased an 8-0 deficit, only to give up the go-ahead home run to a red-hot Francisco Lindor. The four-game set continues Friday at 8:10 p.m., with Minnesota's Jose Berrios opposing Cleveland's Carlos Carrasco.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.