The final weekend of April is upon us and while it's still too early for most teams struggling in the standings to panic, that doesn't mean there won't be some panicking anyway. For example, big things were expected from the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels, but barring a big winning streak to close April those teams will start May with more losses than wins. This weekend the Blue Jays visit Yankee Stadium, while the Angels will be sleeping in Seattle, and the pressure is on. Here is what else you need to know for this weekend:
Revenge! Earlier this month defending division champs Cincinnati and Washington met in Ohio, and the Reds had the edge, taking the first game 15-0 and the third game 6-3, beating Stephen Strasburg. This series began on Thursday with a blowout Nationals win, and continues through the weekend. This could certainly be a playoff preview, but will the Nationals still be relying on Saturday starter Dan Haren by October? And what about the Reds with rookie lefty Tony Cingrani, scheduled to start Sunday? Haren hasn't retired a hitter in the sixth inning of any of his four starts, and while he searches for answers, don't be shocked when the Nationals upgrade as the year goes on. Cingrani has been terrific, and Sunday will be a test, but regardless of statistics he could be headed back to the minors soon when Johnny Cueto is healthy.
Surprises no more: A year ago today the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics seemed more likely to be last-place teams rather than playoff entrants, but the rest was history. Each team is off to a strong start and they'll continue their series, which also began Thursday (with an Orioles victory), in the Bay Area. Right-hander Bartolo Colon comes off a rain-shortened shutout (seven innings at Fenway Park) and is Sunday's scheduled starter. Colon, soon to be 40, is 3-0 already with a 2.42 ERA and he's issued one walk while striking out 17. How does he do it? Nine out of every 10 of his pitches are fastballs, and he's still hitting 90 mph on the radar gun, so give him credit for location, location and more location.
Bullpen follies: In one bullpen you've got the best closer in the business in Craig Kimbrel. In the other it's Jose Valverde, unemployed all winter, in Single-A ball when this week began and now closing again. It's quite the difference! The Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers are likely playoff teams no matter how their bullpens evolve (each bullpen will be fine) and face off in Detroit in the lone interleague series. The Braves have the pitching edge, as they avoid Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, and their trio of Paul Maholm, Kris Medlen and Mike Minor bring a composite 1.65 ERA with them. The Tigers will send right-hander Rick Porcello to the mound Saturday, coming off an outing in which he was charged with nine runs in the first inning at Anaheim. Still only 24 but with a career ERA of 4.67 in more than 700 innings, those expecting Porcello to suddenly emerge as a star might be waiting a really long time. Minor and the worthy Doug Fister are scheduled to meet on Sunday night on ESPN.
Worst of the worst: Meanwhile, the battles aren't solely between contending teams. The Chicago Cubs and Miami Marlins certainly aren't good teams, but that doesn't mean there isn't much to watch. For the dysfunctional Marlins, it's all about outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, off to miserable start. For those blaming the lack of offense around him I ask, who exactly protected Stanton in the lineup last year, Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio? For the Cubs, it's worth tuning in if they have a ninth-inning lead. Pick the over on potential Carlos Marmol bases on balls. Tune in to this series and get a few laughs.
From Cy to Sigh: Every R.A. Dickey outing is worth a look, just to see how the knuckleball will be floating, and so far it seems last season's NL Cy Young award winner is even less sure than normal where it's going. Dickey's numbers are a bit inflated (4.66 ERA, 1.45 WHIP), likely in some part due to neck and back stiffness that he says has affected the knuckleball's velocity. Dickey has never started a game at Yankee Stadium, and it's not exactly a great offensive squad he'll face (Jayson Nix! Lyle Overbay! Brennan Boesch!), but if the Blue Jays are going to contend in the AL East, they'll need better pitching than they’ve received.
Enjoy your weekend!