- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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The Washington Nationals, fresh off a 98-win season and expecting a similar result in 2013, enter their weekend series with fewer wins than their surprising opponents, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Which team is better? That's an easy one. It's the team with Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. Of course, those three guys are all in the news for various reasons and, as we've seen in the past, to various degrees. Will Strasburg and his secretive forearm "problem" pitch? Will Harper avoid turning his bruised lat into a bigger issue? And Zimmerman's hamstring is healed, and he's slated to come off the DL Friday, but how long before his balky shoulder forces him out of action again? Here is what else to watch this weekend.
Rivalry rekindled: We don't exactly throw the records out when the Nats and Bucs meet, but things tend to get interesting when the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants get together, for better and occasionally, worse. The team's aces, however, are in far different places these days. Lefty Clayton Kershaw is dominating, again. He's scheduled to face the still-effective Barry Zito Friday. On Sunday night on ESPN the Giants will send Matt Cain to the mound. Cain has already permitted nine home runs, matching his season total from 2011. Last year he allowed 21. Dodgers Adrian Gonzalez (4 homers off Cain) and Andre Ethier (.450 batting average) are licking their chops.
Red Alert: Hyun-Jin Ryu and Shelby Miller enter the weekend leading rookie pitchers in strikeouts, but then it's electric Cincinnati Reds lefty Tony Cingrani, boasting 28 whiffs in a mere three starts. Cingrani is scheduled to flummox Chicago Cubs hitters at Wrigley Field on Saturday, and one has to think when ace right-hander Johnny Cueto comes off the DL in a week or two that the rookie has done enough to secure his starting role. Or has he? Manager Dusty Baker does love his veterans. Regardless, enjoy Cingrani while he's dominating.
David vs. Goliath: Sunday's matchup in Houston sure doesn’t seem like a fair fight between hurlers with no-hitters to their credit. The Detroit Tigers send Justin Verlander to the mound. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. He's really good, wins awards, gets the commercials and the ladies. The Houston Astros send Philip Humber out there. He threw a perfect game in Seattle barely a calendar year ago, but things have not gone so well since then. Humber boasts a 7.44 ERA since, and this season he's 0-6 with a 7.58 ERA. You know you're curious how this one ends up, admit it.
Price's punishment: David Price and umpire Tom Hallion didn’t quite get along this past weekend, resulting in tweets and fines and probably much ado about nothing. What's worse for pending future gadzillionaire Price, the $1,000 fine levied on him by Major League Baseball, or having to pitch Saturday at Coors Field? Lotsa runs get scored in that place. Price pitched there once, allowing five runs in seven innings and losing the game in 2009. Could we make the case the paltry fine is offset by the potential damage to Price's ERA and his next contract? OK, perhaps not. But watch two pretty good teams go at it. The Rays are sputtering in fourth place, the Rockies start the weekend in first place, hoping shortstop Troy Tulowitzki will play and avoid injury. Cross your fingers.
Worst to first: Alas, the lone matchup of first-place teams this weekend pits the surprising Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers. The Cinco de Mayo game on Sunday features Jon Lester and Yu Darvish, which should be interesting. Lester seems rejuvenated, though his outing earlier this week in Toronto was a rough one. Darvish, off to a blistering start and leading the majors in strikeouts, faced the Red Sox once in his rookie season, but it was at Fenway Park. This one is in Texas. Expect another terrific outing for the eventual AL Cy Young winner.
Enjoy your weekend!