The current American League Central leaders will take on the defending division (and World Series) champions for the first time this season when the White Sox welcome the Royals to Chicago for the opener of a three-game set tonight.
The Sox have encountered their roughest patch of the season, losing four straight and six of seven before beating the Astros behind a Chris Sale masterpiece on Thursday. Still, they hold a 2 1/2-game lead over the Indians, with the Royals sitting 4 1/2 games back. Kansas City begins a six-game trip today with a meager 7-13 road record, compared with 13-7 at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals, who won 12 of 19 from the Sox a year ago, will have to deal with Chicago left-hander Jose Quintana and his 1.54 ERA.
That's only one of the intriguing series openers available on MLB.TV today. Elsewhere, the surprising Phillies send Aaron Nola to the mound against the Braves, Boston's Jackie Bradley Jr. tries to extend his hitting streak to 25 games against Corey Kluber and the Indians, and Jake Arrieta takes his incredible run of success to the West Coast to face the Giants.
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Here is a look at what to watch for today in the Majors (all times ET):
Young guns: [email protected], 7:05 p.m.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding season for both the Braves and Phillies, but the latter is bucking expectations so far. Despite getting outscored by 28 runs overall, Philadelphia sits at 24-17 after winning eight of its past 11, including two of three at Atlanta last week. A major reason why the club is one game behind the Nationals for first in the National League East is its young pitching. Nola, who will turn 23 next month, has made five straight quality starts, posting a 1.32 ERA and 35-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 34 innings. He takes on 23-year-old Braves righty Matt Wisler, who has a 1.93 ERA in three outings this month, including holding the Phillies to three runs over eight innings on May 10.
Stat that matters: Nola's Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is 2.14. Only two qualified pitchers have a better mark this season: Clayton Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard.
Going for 25: [email protected], 7:10 p.m.
Bradley's 24-game hit streak is the longest in the Majors this season and the longest by a Boston player since David Ortiz put together a 27-game run between 2012 and '13. The slick-fielding center fielder is batting a scorching .407/.460/.780 with 17 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs during his streak.
"I feel like making hard contact is the most important thing and squaring up balls, striking out less, giving myself an opportunity to at least put the ball in play and see what happens," Bradley said after going 2-for-3 with a homer in the second game of Wednesday's doubleheader at Kansas City.
Kluber will try to stop the streak, but the Cleveland right-hander and 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner has not quite found his groove this season, posting a 4.30 ERA through eight starts. In his season debut on April 5, Boston got him for four runs on nine hits over 5 1/3 innings. Yet Kluber has had an easy time compared with Sox starter Clay Buchholz (6.11 ERA), who has allowed four runs or more in six of his eight outings.
Stat that matters: The Red Sox have an MLB-high seven qualified players who have an OPS+ of at least league average (100).
Sox roll with Quintana: [email protected], 8:10 p.m.
Sale is 9-0 with a 1.58 ERA after his complete-game victory on Thursday, but he isn't the only White Sox left-hander enjoying a great season thus far. Quintana is second in the Majors to Arrieta with a 1.54 ERA, having allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his eight starts to fuel early All-Star talk.
"That's a dream for any pitcher to make the [All-Star Game]. But it's too early to talk about that," Quintana said after a hard-luck loss at Yankee Stadium last Saturday. "That's the best goal for us, but my focus is on the team right now and trying to win games."
The Royals counter with Dillon Gee, who made his first start of the season last Saturday, following seven relief appearances. Gee, with 111 career starts, allowed three runs over 5 1/3 innings against Atlanta.
Stat that matters: Quintana has allowed only one home run, or 0.2 per nine innings. That's the lowest rate of any qualified pitcher.
The Two Jakes: [email protected], 10:15 p.m.
This is a battle of two first-place teams, the Cubs with MLB's best record and the Giants with an eight-game winning streak. San Francisco's Jake Peavy sports an unsightly 7.43 ERA, but his most recent outing was an encouraging one. Peavy tossed six innings at Chase Field and held the D-backs to one run on three hits, with two walks and five strikeouts, notching his second quality start in eight tries. The other Jake, the Cubs' Arrieta, has been on a roll since last summer. He owns a microscopic 0.98 ERA over his last 28 starts, with opponents batting .150 against him. After a relatively rough start against the Nationals (five innings, three runs), Arrieta was right back in line last Saturday, allowing two runs and striking out 11 Pirates over eight innings.
"I was aggressive with my fastball down in the strike zone and got some punchouts looking with the fastball, and when I do that, I know I'm in a pretty good spot," Arrieta said.
Stat that matters: Arrieta has allowed no more than three runs in 28 straight starts, the longest streak in modern MLB history.
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