Four of the AL East teams will be facing off head-to-head this mid-May weekend, with the Tampa Bay Rays traveling to Baltimore and the mighty Vernon Wells-led New York Yankees hosting the last-place-but-hot Toronto Blue Jays. The other team is the Boston Red Sox, hoping to gain ground playing the Minnesota Twins after an exciting win against Tampa Bay on Thursday night. This is the lone division in which four of five teams are at .500 or better, so which team is on the hot seat? It's the team that isn't .500, Toronto. The Jays have won four in a row, making Yankee Stadium a very interesting place this weekend, especially when initialed Cy Young winners R.A. Dickey and CC Sabathia face off Sunday afternoon!
Here are some other things to keep an eye on:
1. Best of the rest: With Justin Verlander and Yu Darvish having opened the Detroit Tigers-Texas Rangers series Thursday night by allowing a combined 12 runs (eight by Verlander), the pitching should improve as the Tigers will throw Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister out there, and they're thriving with a composite 2.54 ERA and two home runs allowed in more than 100 innings. The Rangers can't match that, but keep an eye on the Sunday night ESPN matchup when lefty Derek Holland faces Fister. The big two of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are hitless in eight at-bats against Holland, while Fister has been torched by David Murphy for four home runs in 18 at-bats.
2. Who's back? The Tigers might think the division is simply theirs to lose, but Terry Francona's Cleveland Indians continue to score many runs and get good enough pitching to have won 14 of 18 games. The Seattle Mariners come to the Lake and will first get to see if right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez is really back. I'm skeptical. OK, so that's not accurate: I don't believe it. Jimenez and his new, consistent mechanics have looked good the past three outings, having permitted three earned runs in 18 2/3 innings. The strikeout rate looks nice, too. I still want to see more. Felix Hernandez is scheduled to start Sunday after leaving his Yankee Stadium outing this week prematurely with back spasms. If the M's lose him, well, forget it.
3. Hello, Coors! Likewise, the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies opened their four-game set Thursday night with aces on the hill and many runs scored, and the bloated ERA of the defending champions isn't likely to look any better after a thin-air weekend in Denver. With Ryan Vogelsong struggling and perhaps soon to be replaced, many eyes will be on inconsistent Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito, scheduled to start Saturday and Sunday. Each hurler has been all or nothing this season; in 16 combined starts split evenly, 10 of them have featured two or fewer runs. The other outings have been considerably worse. The Rockies sure do hit at home, so watch out.
4. Hey, hey, hey! The first-place Atlanta Braves could get right fielder Jason Heyward back from the DL as soon as Friday for their series opener with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and they expect him to hit considerably better than his current .121 batting average. Of course, their outfielder problems don't end there. The Braves have been using either catcher Evan Gattis in left field or a Jordan Schafer/Reed Johnson platoon, but Heyward is an obvious upgrade. As for the Brothers Upton, B.J. is hitting .145. That's not a misprint. MVP candidate Justin is hitting .156 over his past nine home games. The Braves could fall out of first place with a bad weekend.
5. Tony Be Good: Cincinnati Reds lefty Tony Cingrani is scheduled to start in Philadelphia on Friday night, and no matter what the hotshot rookie does he could be headed back to the minor leagues. The team's ace right-hander Johnny Cueto is to come off the disabled list Monday, and manager Dusty Baker has already given the vote of confidence to right-hander Mike Leake, who held the powerful Miami Marlins offense scoreless this week. Sorry, Tony, your 2-0 record with a 2.89 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 28 innings is impressive, but hope you kept that apartment in Louisville. There's just no room in the rotation, so enjoy Friday night.
Have a great weekend!