Here are the most alluring matchups, stories, and personalities for the coming weekend.
10. Warm-Weather Sabathia, Friday (NYY-DET)
Like a bear slowly shaking off the cobwebs of hibernation, CC Sabathia usually needs a couple months to find his groove. From 2009 to 2011, his ERA was 3.30 in April and 3.69 in May before dropping to 3.03 and 2.60 in June and July. This year has essentially followed form; despite a 6-2 record, his ERA sits at 3.66. But this is the time of year when things start to change, and with the calendar flipping to June, Yankees fans can start to expect vintage CC to wake up.
9.The Weird AL East — Rays vs. Orioles, Jays vs. Red Sox
I know we're risking the East Coast bias tag right now, but any time all five teams in a division are above .500, it's newsworthy. On paper, these two matchups look like pretenders vs. powerhouses. If the Rays and Red Sox sweep or win two of three, it might be the start of a process that finds the Jays and Orioles (losers of five straight) falling back to what we all secretly believe is their rightful place. These are the legitimacy challenges they have to pass in order to earn anyone's belief.
8. Dodger Danger vs. Fowler/Cargo Hotness (LAD-COL)
Coming into this week's series with the Brewers, the Dodgers hadn't lost more than two games in a row all year, taking 10 of 14 series played this season. Then they dropped four straight at home, with Ted Lilly, Matt Kemp, Mark Ellis, and Juan Uribe going on the DL. They still own the best record in baseball and a five-game lead on the Giants, but they'll want to set things right against the Rockies. They have a very favorable matchup tonight, with Chris Capuano (7-1, 2.14 ERA, and one of the most surprising arms of the season) up against Josh Outman, boasting an ERA north of nine and making his first start of the year. On the other hand, the Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez is the hottest player in baseball; in the last five games, he's 14-22 with six home runs. Also, Dexter Fowler is 10-23 with three jacks in his last six. Yikes.
7. Felix vs. Jake, Friday (SEA-CWS)
The marquee pitching matchup of Friday night. Hernandez isn't quite himself yet this year, and you have to wonder if he's finally had his soul crushed by the anemic Seattle offense. Peavy is having his best year as a White Sox, with a 6-1 record and a 3.07 ERA.
6. Lance Lynn vs. R.A. Dickey, Saturday (STL-NYM)
They're not quite identifiable by their first names like Felix and Jake yet, but these are two of the best pitchers in the National League. Both teams are also 1.5 games back in their division, chasing teams (Cincinnati, Washington) who weren't necessarily expected to be leading anything on June 1. The Mets are a strange team, with a 28-23 record despite a -24 run differential. That usually means they've been very lucky (or CLEVER!) with run distribution, and it usually doesn't last.
4. Paul Konerko's Epic Chase for .400 (CWS-SEA)
OK, fine, it's a desperate long shot. But I want someone to hit .400 in my lifetime so badly that I'm willing to grasp at straws, like a lonely heartbroken teenager who needs a girlfriend. Why? I don't know. I've hoped for that impossible goal since I was a kid, and hell if I'm going to give it up now. (By the way, I also believe in Santa Claus.) At .381, Konerko is my last best hope. Sure, he's already well below the mark, and sure, his ludicrous .424 BABIP basically proves that even this high average can't last, but if I stopped believing, who would I become? How would I look myself in the mirror?
3. Rangers-Angels and the Texas Death Grip
Please, someone break Nolan Ryan's stranglehold on the AL West before he ruins baseball. I know it's only June, but this feels like a defining series in that division. If the Angels can't make up some ground (they currently trail by 5.5), you get the sick feeling that the Rangers will run away with the division yet again. The Yu Darvish–C.J. Wilson showdown on Saturday should be a dandy.
2. Stephen Strasburg Tries to Stop the Bleeding, Friday
Get ready for some D.C. bias, because the Nationals are about to take the top two spots. Strasburg is a pretty fascinating pitcher. He's always good for strikeouts (70 on the year, good for third in the NL despite only 58 IP), but his last few starts have been otherwise unremarkable — five innings, five innings, four innings. The problem, as with a lot of strikeout pitchers, is that he throws too many pitches. If he isn't threatening 100 by the fifth inning, it's an odd outing. But the last few have been particularly rough, and his ERA has jumped a full point since May 10. If the Nationals want to stay on top of the NL East, he's got to get his Stras-groove back. (I came up with that just now — don't steal it.)
1. Gio Gonzalez vs. Brandon Beachy, Saturday (WAS-ATL)
Is there anyone more fun to watch than Gonzalez? Fangraphs says he has the best curveball in the NL (and the curveball, let's be honest, is the best thing about the sport), and the second-best fastball, and the normal stats tell us he leads the league in strikeouts while pitching nine fewer innings than second place. Stats aside, there's something electric about him that makes for some pretty irresistible viewing. And on Saturday, he's facing the pitcher with the best ERA in the league. I'm not just excited; like a Braves batter flailing at a disappearing Gio Gonzalez curve, I am committed.