As is customary here at Eye On Baseball, it's time to run down the "weekend" series -- that is, the series that take place either Thursday-Sunday or Friday-Sunday -- for Major League Baseball. This time around we actually only have three series pitting winning team against winning team, but there are several tasty matchups beyond that.
Speaking of things that activate the taste buds, it is the Hoagie Scale -- meaning the bigger the sandwich, the more important it is that you watch the series in some shape or form. By all means, dive in ...
It's a battle of first-place teams that could ultimately be a preview of a playoff series, though it's way too early to legitimately worry about something like that.
The two clubs, however, come in under quite different circumstances. The Giants have won six of their last seven and just finished with their best April record (17-11) since 2003. Yes, seriously. The Giants won the World Series twice in the past five years and this was their best April of the bunch.
The Braves, meanwhile, were riding high at 17-7 before being swept by the Marlins. They were embarrassed in the first two games of the series, being outscored 18-3, before blowing a seventh-inning lead in the series finale.
Of note: Minor is making his 2014 debut on Friday while both Bumgarner and Wood look to bounce back Sunday from bad outings last time out.
Bummer: No Tim Hudson against his former team. Boo.
Some good angles here. It's the defending champs against the team that has rather obviously been the best in the American League to this point. Plus, remember the Red Sox at one point tried to pry A's general manager Billy Beane away from Oakland. A's regulars Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp and Brandon Moss used to play for the Red Sox, too.
For the A's, they'll look to further establish themselves as the team to beat in the AL after their utter beatdown of the Rangers in Texas.
For the Red Sox, they looked like they had gotten back on track before being swept in a doubleheader Thursday by the Rays. Still, they're only three games out in their mediocre division (yes, we'll get to that below), so a series win here could help move things forward.
Interesting nugget: Sonny Gray, who is starting to establish himself as one of the AL's elite pitchers, has never faced any of the Red Sox players at the big-league level.
Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati Reds
Thursday: Reds 8, Brewers 3
Friday: Wily Peralta (3-1) vs. Mike Leake (2-2)
Saturday: Yovani Gallardo (2-0) vs. Johnny Cueto (2-2)
Sunday: Kyle Lohse (4-1) vs. Alfredo Simon (4-1)
This could be a nice little battle of opposites. The Brewers were the best and maybe the most surprising team in April. The Reds would be on the short list of most disappointing teams.
However, some course corrections are in order. The Brewers bullpen, for example, is coming off one of the most ridiculous months ever while the Reds have several areas where they'll obviously improve. This series could be a turning point for either, or the Brewers could turn around and cement their place in first while burying the Reds even further. After one game, the Reds have the upper hand, but there are three more.
New York Mets at Colorado Rockies
Thursday: Rockies 7, Mets 4
Friday: Zack Wheeler (1-2) vs. Jorge De La Rosa (2-3)
Saturday: Jenrry Mejia (3-0) vs. Franklin Morales (3-1)
Sunday: Dillon Gee (2-1) vs. TBD (likely Jhoulys Chacin)
These were two of the bigger surprises in baseball through April and both real fun stories. And if you think this is ranked too high, consider that this is one of three series of these 15 that pits a pair of winning teams against each other (Giants-Braves and Rangers-Angels being the other two).
Unfortunately, the series opener was a stinker, with the Rockies showing their stuff and the Mets just not showing up until the ninth, when it was too late. Still, the pitching matchups the rest of the way arguably favor the Mets and the return of Chacin -- one of baseball's most underrated starters last season -- is interesting.
For the hitting streak fans: Keep an eye on Nolan Arenado. He has a hit in 21 straight games.
The chief competition in the AL Central for the Tigers is probably either the White Sox or Royals. As things stand now, the Tigers hold a 2.5-game lead over Kansas City, which is within "sweep range," so this is definitely a meaningful series.
The Tigers swept the Royals (in two games) to open the season, but they needed a late comeback to stave off a Verlander loss and then a walk-off win in the 10th inning of the second game to make it happen. So both were filled with drama. Maybe we'll see a repeat here and actually get three games of that close-game action.
Something to worry K.C.: Miguel Cabrera is hitting .419 with five multi-hit games in his last seven.
Only a half-game separates these teams for second place in the AL West behind the mighty (damn right I said MIGHTY) A's. The Angels are fresh off a sweep (winning type), while the Rangers come in on a four-game losing streak. Also of note: The Angels have the second-best run differential in the majors, behind only the A's.
It's only the first week of May, but this is an important test for the Angels. Not only are they above .500 for the first time since opening day of 2013, but the Rangers were 15-4 against them last year. That kind of ownership needs to be shaken off before becoming a contender in a division where there's a clear-cut top dog above these two.
This series pits the AL East leader against a team that only trails it by three games. That's good drama there.
So why isn't it higher?
Because the AL East has been a steaming pile of mediocrity this year. Notice how I just said, though not specifically, that the Rays were three games out of first place? They're tied for last place. No other division is this close. The Yankees are the only team over .500 in the division and they have a negative-13 run differential. Not only that, but they have depth issues in the rotation, a lackluster lineup and just got swept at home (in two games) by the Mariners.
I've long been told the AL East is so good that the losses come because they beat up on each other. Well, the AL East is collectively 25-29 outside the division.
This series still bears watching for several reasons, of course, among them the possibility that the Rays ride a doubleheader sweep in Boston into a hot streak and, of course, the ridiculously awesome stuff of Tanaka.
Overall, though, I'm underwhelmed considering the stature of these clubs. Sorry.
Reminder: These two fan bases do not like each other. It all started when the Nationals fans kept trying to make it a rivalry and the Phillies fans were all "that's cute, but we own the division and you guys suck." Well, the Nationals won the division in 2012, were better last year and come into this series with a better record this season.
Expect good pitching here, as the Phillies have their three best going against two of the Nationals' top dogs while Roark boasts the top ERA in the Washington rotation. Plus, the Nationals are missing some key offensive pieces while the Phillies have been inconsistent with the bats.
Something to watch: Cole Hamels is off to a poor start since returning from injury, but he's 15-6 with a 2.58 ERA in his career against Washington. Only Denard Span and Adam LaRoche of the Nats have had good success against him against the projected Nats lineup.
I actually think I'm gonna coin "sneaky sleeper," because I seem to use it every single Hoagie entry. I'm using it here. On paper ... blah, blah, blah. Look, we all know the Dodgers are the more nationally-recognized team. The Marlins were dregs last year, the Dodgers went to the NLCS, the Marlins were predicted to suck again, the Dodgers were predicted to go pretty far, the Dodgers are now 17-12 while the Marlins don't have winning record. Again ... blah, blah, blah.
The bottom line is this is a good series. First of all, Jose Fernandez is going to win against this Dodgers offense while his offense takes care of business against Maholm. Bank that.
From there, these Marlins are feisty. They just swept the Braves. The Dodgers, meanwhile, haven't been playing nearly as well as they can. I know they're five games over .500, but they can do better (yes, even without Clayton Kershaw) and the bullpen is overtaxed, especially Kenley Jansen.
Bottom line: I think this will be fun. Don't underestimate it.
Ready for some crooked numbers? The Indians and White Sox rank 13th and 14th, respectively, in rotation ERA in the AL entering the series. The White Sox lead the AL in runs scored and the Indians have the potential to put up some offensive numbers -- they just aren't hitting as well as they can right now.
The main item to watch here, though, is how the Indians respond to an 0-6 road trip. They return home six games under .500. Last season, when they were a playoff team, they were never more than five under.
Oh, and of course keep an eye on Jose Abreu. He's kind of exciting, you know.
In looking at the respective talent levels of the two ballclubs, this one should be ugly and an argument could be made that we should move it down to "slider" territory. It is, however, one of baseball's best traditional rivalries. Wood and Hammel have the capability to turn in quality starts while the Cardinals have been pretty mediocre so far this year.
That's as pretty a picture as I can paint.
Something to watch: Wainwright enters Friday with a 25-inning scoreless streak. The last team to score off him? The Cubs, who were able to plate four against him in seven innings earlier this season.
If nothing else, there should be no shortage of offense here. Neither team has, for the most part, pitched well this year while there's a lot of offensive potential in the Orioles and the Twins' offense has been good (again, for the most part).
Excellent sub-plot: The unbelievably inefficient Jimenez against the overly patient Twins. He may not even be able to make it through five innings, even if he's throwing a shutout (and he won't be).
Secondary sub-plot: Both teams had to play doubleheaders Thursday and then go into extra innings in the second game of said double-dip. They'll be looking to save bullpens early in the series while each offense should, conceivably, want to work deep counts. This favors the Twins, because the Orioles are one of the most impatient offensive teams while we already noted the Twins' penchant to take pitches.
The Jays got enough offense and pitching to overcome some serious roster flaws and start the season 11-9. They're 2-6 since then, though. And they aren't the story here.
Remember those feel-good Pirates? They're now 10-18 and in serious jeopardy of letting this thing run away from them after winning back their baseball-loving city following that ridiculous drought from winning seasons. They need to get something going and fast.
The Astros bring in the worst record in the AL, but last time these two squared off they took two of three from the Mariners.
Seattle, though, looks a lot different than last time. The Mariners come in having won five of six and have taken series from the Rangers and Yankees, respectively. A sweep here, which is entirely plausible, puts them back over .500 and can at least help to erase the memories of that woeful eight-game losing streak.
The combined records are 22-38.
The Padres have actually shown signs of life a few times this season, but still haven't been able to get above .500 even for one game. They enter this series looking to right the ship after having lost four of their last six.