The heart of every Major League Baseball game are those individual battles that take place 60 feet, 6 inches apart, at least a couple hundred times every night. Here are 10 of the most intriguing matchups to pay attention to, when you definitely won't be flipping the channel.
1. Bryce Harper versus Mets rotation
Harper destroyed his NL East opponents last season on his way to the MVP Award ... except the Mets, that is. Against the hapless Braves, Marlins and Phillies he hit .344 with 21 home runs in 54 games. Against the Mets he hit .254 with four home runs in 18 games, with one of those home runs coming in the meaningless season-ending series between the clubs. The matchup to watch: Harper is 0-for-20 with seven strikeouts in his career against Matt Harvey. He's fared better against Jacob deGrom (7-for-18, .389, 1 HR) and Noah Syndergaard (3-for-9, .333). Harper didn't exactly struggle against high-octane fastballs in 2015 -- he hit .310/.479/.507 against fastballs of 95-plus mph -- but he crushed mediocre heat, hitting .395/.521/.882 against 94 or less. Expect the Mets' three to challenge him with hard stuff inside.
Trout's been in the league just four full seasons but these two have already faced each other 72 times as Hernandez has started 21 times against the Angels the past four seasons. So far it's been all Trout: .354/.389/.646 with four home runs in 65 at-bats. Take out Trout's 1-for-7 back in his initial call-up in 2011 when he struggled and the average goes up to .379. Trout homered twice off Hernandez in 2015, including a memorable eight-pitch battle in their first matchup of the season.
The NL version of Trout versus Hernandez except this one has been in favor of the pitcher. Posey has faced Kershaw 79 times but is hitting just .224/.253/.329 against him, with two home runs and 16 strikeouts. But Posey had a little more success in 2016, going 6-for-16, including this home run in April.
Or, really, Greinke versus all the Dodgers. But this is the individual battle most intriguing, as Greinke and Puig didn't exactly come off as best buddies in Molly Knight's book "The Best Team Money Can Buy." Greinke's hit 14 batters the past three seasons, so he'll back them off the plate every now and then.
Cabrera has become the master craftsman at the plate, winning his fourth batting title in five seasons with a .338 mark in 2015. His power has diminished the past two seasons due to injuries but maybe a healthy Cabrera gets back to being that 40-homer threat. Sale is coming off an incredible 274 strikeouts in just 208 innings. So far, their history has been one of Sale mostly pitching very carefully to Cabrera, who is hitting .242/.405/.424 against Sale with two home runs but nine walks in 42 plate appearances. Maybe Sale is aware of what Cabrera has done against another ace from the AL Central: Miggy is hitting .571 with five home runs in 34 at-bats against Corey Kluber.
6. Blue Jays sluggers versus Yankees relievers
There should be many intense late-game moments when the Blue Jays go up against the vaunted bullpen trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. For the record, here's how Toronto's big bashers fared against fastballs of 95-plus in 2015:
Josh Donaldson: .339/.443/.768
Jose Bautista: .328/.432/.776
Edwin Encarnacion: .232/.300/.377
Troy Tulowitzki: .189/.259/.396
Russell Martin: .222/.321/.444
Good luck trying to slip a fastball past Donaldson or Bautista if you're behind in the count. Those ranked fourth and second in the majors in wOBA against pitches of 95-plus (Kansas City's Eric Hosmer ranked first and Shin-Soo Choo of the Rangers was third).
7. Cardinals hitters versus Jake Arrieta
It's possible the four or five games that Arrieta starts against the Cardinals could be the decisive factor in the NL Central. For the Cubs, maybe Joe Maddon even ranges his rotation to get Arrieta six starts against St. Louis. In eight starts over the past two seasons, Arrieta has 1.86 ERA against the Cardinals and they've hit .208 against him. However, he's also averaged just six innings a start and didn't pitch more than seven in his four starts against them in 2015. Key matchups: Matt Carpenter is 1-for-19 against him (although with five walks) and Matt Holliday is 2-for-17.
Goldschmidt owned Tim Lincecum -- .536, seven home runs in 28 at-bats -- but he's also fared pretty well against Bumgarner, the pitcher he's faced most often in his career. He's hitting .316/.426/.579 against him with two home runs and as many walks as strikeouts, including a 7-for-13 mark with three extra-base hits in 2015. This three-run blast in April broke a 1-1 tie.
Power against power with two of the game's emerging stars. They squared off 14 times in Bryant's rookie season and battled to a draw: Bryant went 3-for-11 with three walks but six of his eight outs were strikeouts. Cole's upper 90s heat won't intimidate Bryant, who hit .317/.404/.585 against 95-plus fastballs -- and was especially effective against inside fastballs. Cole throws slider, curve and changeup along with his four-seamer and two-seamer. Expect a lot of sliders against Bryant, his biggest weakness was covering the outer part of the plate. He hit .250 with a 42 percent strikeout rate against sliders.
10. David Ortiz versus all comers
Big Papi's career winds down in 2016 so let's enjoy all of his at-bats. He faced Roy Halladay the most often in his career and hit .273 with six home runs -- the most he's hit against any pitcher. Five pitchers he's faced are already in the Hall of Fame (Randy Johnson owned him but he did homer once each off Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz). He went 4-for-8 against Seth McClung -- all four hits were home runs. Mike Mussina struck him out the most times, 27 times in 83 plate appearances (Ortiz hit .243 with four home runs off him). He's hit just .154 with one home run 52 at-bats against Bartolo Colon. The Red Sox and Mets don't play each other so it's likely those numbers hold.