Week Ahead: Drama heats up with temps
Reyes, Kemp nearing returns; Scherzer aims to move to 12-0
Welcome to the first full week of summer and another huge week for the summer game. Welcome to warmer days, longer nights, the final countdown to the All-Star break, the Trade Deadline and, eventually, October.
And welcome to pennant-race drama as it continues to mirror the thermometer out by the patio.
As we march into late June, the seasonal solstice just a few days in the rearview, some teams are making serious statements. Actually, let's correct that. Some divisions are making serious statements.
That's the case in the American League East, always known as one of the deepest and best in the Major Leagues and now proving it day after day. A big reason for that, of course, is the team we thought would be great and then wasn't so great and now might be great, or at least has been great of late.
Got all that? Well, the Toronto Blue Jays have been all that and some more in the last few weeks. Buoyed by improved pitching and health and outstanding bounce-back seasons from Adam Lind, Brett Cecil and recent acquisition Chien-Ming Wang, Toronto is off and running, and Sunday's victory over Baltimore was its 11th in a row, tied for the club record for consecutive victories (also in 1989 and 1998), to get them to 38-36 after weeks of being stuck in the muck.
"I've been waiting for this since the season started," slugger Edwin Encarnacion said. "I believe in this team, so I knew things had to change, things had to turn around for us. This is what's happening for us, and we're going to enjoy the moment. I'm not surprised by this, I know this team is good and I know we can do it."
They'll get a real test right away this week when they travel for three games against the Rays and four against the Red Sox. By then, they'll likely have Jose Reyes back in the fold. The shortstop has been out since April 12 while recovering from a severely sprained right ankle, but he'll likely return to the Blue Jays this week.
During an interview with MLB Network Radio on Sunday, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos hinted Reyes' return might come when the club travels to Boston.
"We'll evaluate it day by day," Anthopoulos said. "That might change at any time. He feels like he's getting close."
Meanwhile, in Detroit, another streak will be on the line this week, but it will be by one player.
Tigers starter Max Scherzer has taken the spotlight away from his former MVP and Cy Young Award-winning teammate Justin Verlander, at least for the first half of the season, by getting off to a 11-0 start.
No Major League starter had gone 12-0 to begin a season since Roger Clemens did it 16 years ago while with the Blue Jays. This week, Scherzer will try to match that mark on Friday night against the Rays in St. Petersburg.
"I realize it takes so many other teammates to put me in that position," Scherzer said. "This is a credit to the Detroit Tigers for being in this position. I know I pitched well, and I know I gave my team a chance to win, but it doesn't always go that way. To be 11-0, it means that everyone else around me has done their job, and I couldn't be happier for everybody else."
Over in the desert, the Arizona Diamondbacks have to be pretty happy. Even though they were shut down by Mat Latos and the Reds on Sunday, they've been hot enough to secure a three-game lead over the defending World Series-champion San Francisco Giants and the upstart Colorado Rockies in the tight National League West, and they should get better this week.
That's because second baseman Aaron Hill, the former All-Star, is due to come back Tuesday after missing all but 10 games of the regular season because of a broken hand.
Then again, the Dodgers are getting closer and closer to welcoming back their All-Star outfielder, Matt Kemp, who is playing rehab games and could rejoin Los Angeles this week if everything goes well in his recovery from hamstring woes.
In Kemp's absence, the Dodgers, their fans and all of baseball discovered what rookie Yasiel Puig could do on a Major League stage, so when Kemp does return, it's likely that Puig will shift from right field to left, allowing Kemp to play center and Andre Ethier to play in right. There won't be a logjam in the Los Angeles outfield until Carl Crawford is scheduled to come back from hamstring problems of his own, but that is still at least a few weeks away.
In Washington, or at least near Washington, the struggling Nationals hope to see a beacon of light on the horizon this week.
Last year's top NL rookie, outfielder Bryce Harper, has been improving from the left knee bursitis that has him on the disabled list since June 1 and taking batting practice. Harper could be ready for a rehab game with Class A Potomac. Will it be Tuesday?
"Tuesday, that's kind of early," Harper said. "I'm thinking Wednesday or Thursday maybe. I'm not sure. We'll see how I feel. If I feel good, then I'll go play. If I feel something isn't right, then I'm not going to go play. It depends on how I'm feeling."
Nationals manager Davey Johnson insisted that he, and not Harper, will determine when that first game takes place, and it's likely that Harper will need six or seven Minor League tuneups before rejoining the Nationals.
"I don't want to come back one game after I play against High-A ball and come back facing [Zack] Wheeler and Matt Harvey or something," Harper said. "I'm not going to face those guys. They'd blow me away right now. That's something I don't want to do. I'm going to play as many games as I can down there, see how I feel, and try and get back."