Week Ahead: Dodgers' starting pitching taking off
After gems from Beckett, Ryu, club's rotation could fuel run similar to 2013
Memorial Day is behind us and the rest of the Major League Baseball season is to come. The end of the week brings the beginning of June. The weather will soon be heating up. The 162-game grind continues.
And as we surge into a short Week Ahead, we're long on intrigue across the American and National Leagues, as usual.
Let's look at the Dodgers, for example. Heading into the eighth inning of their Monday evening game against the Reds, it looked like they might be turning history into absolute hysteria. Hyun-Jin Ryu took a perfect game into the eighth the day after his teammate, Josh Beckett, no-hit the Phillies.
Alas, Todd Frazier ended the perfecto bid with a crisp double and Cincinnati ended up scoring three runs, but the Dodgers held on for a 4-3 victory, and with it, they pulled to within 4 ½ games of the NL West-leading Giants, who have the best record in the Majors despite losing at home to the Cubs on Monday.
Remember the stirring run the Dodgers went on last year? Something like it could happen again, especially with the way Don Mattingly's club's starting pitching seems to be falling into place. Beckett and Ryu plus Dan Haren only complement an already strong and deep rotation led by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and Chad Billingsley might be ready to pitch soon after missing over a year because of Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers play two more against the Reds this week before taking on the Pirates for four over the weekend.
While the Giants will be challenged by the Cubs and Cardinals for the rest of their week, one of the more exciting matchups with October implications is the series currently going on in Oakland between the A's and Detroit Tigers, clubs who have met in the AL Division Series in each of the last two postseasons.
On Monday, the A's knocked Tigers starter Drew Smyly all over the yard, belting home run after home run, and Oakland was able to extend its lead in the AL West over the Angels to 2 ½ games when the latter team lost in Seattle.
The Tigers have now lost three games in a row and have seen their lead in the AL Central shrink to five games over the White Sox, who won on Monday.
"The offense is not the problem," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "Starting pitching is the issue. It's pretty clear cut. We're in a really long rut right now. It's still just seven games out of 162. I'm still fully confident this pitching staff is extremely good."
They'll throw Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello at the A's for the rest of the series, so Oakland will certainly have a challenge.
The same can be said for the Red Sox, who are in last place in the AL East after a 10-game losing streak that finally ended Monday with a nail-biter of a victory over the Braves in Atlanta. On Tuesday, Boston will hand the ball to ace Jon Lester and hope to keep the good vibes going.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays continue to fly high atop the AL East. They've won seven in a row and have built a two-game advantage over the Yankees. On Tuesday, they'll be back at it against the Tampa Bay Rays, with Mark Buehrle trying to become the first pitcher in 2014 to earn his ninth win. It won't be easy; he'll be up against Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, who looked terrific in his return from the disabled list on May 22, tossing 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the A's.
"Hitting is contagious," Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro said. "We're playing really good right now. We have a great approach."
The Brewers and Braves have had good approaches in the early parts of the season and have built leads in their divisions, but things are getting a bit tighter as June looms.
Milwaukee enters Tuesday's game against the Orioles with a cushion of only 1 ½ games in the NL Central over the Cardinals, and Atlanta's lead in the NL East is only two games over the surprising Marlins. The Brewers will play Baltimore and the Cubs this week, all at home, and the Braves will continue their home series against Boston before heading to Boston for two more against the Red Sox and then heading to Miami for a pivotal showdown between the two rivals.
Otherwise, there are individual storylines brewing around the 30 stadiums of the big leagues in the week ahead.
The Nationals have Adam LaRoche back, and it already helped. The first baseman homered for Washington on Monday, although it lost to fall one game below .500 at 25-26. On Wednesday, the Indians should get back their second baseman, Jason Kipnis, who has been on the disabled list since May 2 with a strained right oblique. The Angels are still waiting for Josh Hamilton's return, which could be imminent as soon as he recovers from a bone bruise in his thumb.
The Royals won't have flame-throwing righty Yordano Ventura this week, and they'll hope that the discomfort he felt in his elbow after Monday's loss doesn't turn into something worse.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, will have to play the rest of the week -- and the week after that, at least -- without catcher A.J. Ellis, who suffered a sprained ankle while celebrating Beckett's no-hitter on the field in Philadelphia on Sunday, and they're still without Hanley Ramirez, whose lower right leg injury might lead to an MRI this week.
Good thing they have all that pitching.