The Week Ahead: Pitchers standing tall
Sanchez, Lester, Harvey among the shining as season turns to second month
If the coming week in Major League Baseball will tell us anything, it'll be one simple fact that we haven't yet been able to cite:
The phrase "it's early" just doesn't cut it anymore.
This week brings us into May, the second of the six-month season that will eventually take us into October and the crowning of a World Series champion. Having the first month in the books doesn't give us nearly enough evidence to confidently predict division winners, MVPs and Cy Young Award winners, but trends have been developing.
We'll see if some of the more notable ones continue this week or begin to reverse.
On the offensive side of things, we'll watch this week as the ageless Torii Hunter of the Detroit Tigers tries to continue his assault on pitchers. Entering Monday's action, Hunter is among the Major League leaders with a .375 batting average and only two home runs from hitting the 300 mark for his career.
This week also marks the beginning, in terms of games played, of the second year of Bryce Harper's career. The 20-year-old Nationals outfielder has been outrageously good in April (.360 average, 18 RBIs, 1.200 OPS) and can reach double digits with one more homer.
The refreshing thing is that Harper sounds a lot like a guy with Hunter's experience under his belt when he talks about what he's accomplished in one dynamic year.
"I'm the type of person that puts everything behind me and just looks ahead," Harper said. "I live for that moment right then and there. Don't look back, try to get better every day, try to be the best that I can and play the game the right way."
The week also will feature marquee mound matchups.
Right away, fans all over will be treated to a Monday full of intrigue in the pitching department, with a bona fide National League Central duel in St. Louis, with Mat Latos of the Reds (1-0. 2.16 ERA, 33 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings, 1.05 WHIP) vs. Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals (4-1, 1.93 ERA, 37 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings, 0.99 WHIP).
Everyone's early NL Cy Young candidate, Matt Harvey of the Mets, will try to make his record 5-0 when he faces off against Miami's own rookie stud, Jose Fernandez, at Marlins Park on Monday, and if that goes well, he could try for his sixth victory when the Mets play the Braves on Sunday.
"You've got two young players, and obviously Harvey's been pretty good," Miami manager Mike Redmond said. "I think it's exciting. Well see who pitches the best."
The Red Sox are off to a brilliant start, in part because of two brilliant starters. Lefty Jon Lester will try for his fifth win against no defeats on Tuesday at Toronto, and Clay Buchholz will attempt to improve to 6-0 on Wednesday against the Blue Jays.
Lester also is lined up to face Rangers ace Yu Darvish on Sunday. Darvish can improve to 5-1 if he beats the White Sox at home in Arlington on Tuesday.
"The fact is, we have three areas of the game where we're operating pretty well right now," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "We've had a very good offensive approach, even on nights when we've only scored a few runs. We've done a very good job of chasing a starting pitcher to get into the middle of the bullpen. Our starting pitching has been very consistent. I think we've played very good defensively."
Elsewhere, right-hander Anibal Sanchez will be back on the bump for the Tigers to follow up on his stunning last start, during which he fanned 17 Braves to set a Major League high for strikeouts in a single game this season. He's scheduled to pitch against Minnesota on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, lefty Matt Moore of the Rays will try to continue his amazing start to the season when he takes his 5-0 record and 1.13 ERA to Coors Field in Denver.
The Rays are one of the teams hopeful that the coming of May proves to be luckier than the realities of April. Tampa Bay had big expectations for this season and would like to improve upon the 12-13 record it brought into Monday. The Rays will get the Royals for three games this week before heading to Colorado for another three against a Rockies team that surprised in April and is in a first-place NL West tie with Arizona at 15-10 and has, as of Sunday, handed its third-base position to one of its top prospects, 22-year-old Nolan Arenado.
Other teams in similar predicaments are the Angels (9-15), who travel to Oakland for three games this week and then head home for a tough four-game series with Baltimore, and the Dodgers (12-12), who play three at home against the Rockies before heading up the coast to battle the arch-rival Giants over the weekend.
The Blue Jays (9-17), with their revamped roster and elite preseason status in the papers and on the blogs, need some things to go their way, too. They'll have a good chance to make that happen this week with six home games, three against the Red Sox and three against the Mariners.
"It has obviously been incredibly disappointing for everybody," said Jays ace R.A. Dickey. "The beauty about baseball is it's just one month and we've got five left, so there's still time.
"But at the same time, we can't just keep going out there and saying, 'Oh, it's going to turn.' Everybody in here knows we have to each take responsibility for turning it. We know what needs to be done. It's just a matter of doing it."