Have you realized how deep the National League is this season? Seven teams are playing .568 ball or better. The Cubs are at the bottom of that pile, but they have the second-best run differential in the NL, behind the Braves, who have the best record in the senior circuit. One team not among the seven is the Dodgers, and we can’t exactly rule out that they’ll eventually be there, given that they’ve won the NL West five years in a row. A few of these teams may fall off—we’re looking at you, Pittsburgh—but we can already say that the race for postseason spots in the NL just might be one of the best that we’ve seen in recent memory.
As for the American League, well, I suppose you can’t have everything. Although the Yankees and Red Sox just might give us a pennant race like we haven’t seen since the advent of the second Wild Card. The AL may be soft as a whole, but a legitimate pennant chase would be a welcome development in a league that hasn’t enjoyed one for quite a while.
This week’s fantasy baseball Table Setter is live.
Hitters to Watch this Week
Odubel Herrera, OF, Phillies
Herrera is coming off a monster week: he went 10-for-19 with three homers, nine RBI, nine runs and six walks. He keyed the Phillies’ offense as the team went 5–1 last week, hitting .526/.640/1.053 in 25 plate appearances. Herrera now leads the majors with a .360 batting average, to go along with a .429 OBP and .566 slugging percentage. The Phillies are one of the teams making the NL absurdly deep, joining the ranks of playoff contenders this season. Herrera is one of the big reasons why the Phillies have taken the next step.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
No player gets less love for his dominance than Mike Trout. No player other than Trout gets less love than Bryant. All Bryant has done over the first seven weeks of the season is hit .285/.422/.577 with seven homers in 154 plate appearances. He’s tied for eighth in the majors in weighted runs created plus, and he’s 10th in wOBA. Bryant, who famously struck out 199 times as a rookie in 2015, has his strikeout rate down to 15.6%, while his walk rate sits at 13.6%. The guy has a Rookie of the Year and MVP on his mantle, he was the best player on a World Series Champion, and he’s still finding ways to get better.
Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Yankees
There’s the Stanton the Yankees knew they were getting when they swung a deal with the Marlins this offseason. After a slow April, Stanton is hitting .310/.408/.762 with five homers, 11 RBI and six walks in 45 plate appearances in May. Batting average is never a sure thing for the slugger, but it’s encouraging to see his power arriving. It was always a matter of when, not if, but it’s still nice to see the when finally arrive. Stanton and the Yankees play one of the highlight series of the week, which we’ll discuss a little later in the Table Setter.
Justin Upton, OF, Angels
Few players have ebbed and flowed to the same extent as Upton has this year. He started the season hot, hitting .297/.360/.531 with four homers in his first 16 games. Over the next 13, he hit .140/.189/.160 with zero homers and 19 strikeouts in 53 plate appearances. He has turned it back on in the 10 since then, going 15-for-42 with six jacks, two doubles and 16 RBI. Add it all up, and Upton is hitting a solid .263/.324/.494 with 10 homers and 30 RBI, right in line with his expectations. It doesn’t matter how you get there, so long as you get there, and Upton is doing that for a rejuvenated Angels team this season.
Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Reds
I’m calling it: Suarez is the most underappreciated player in the league. The 26-year-old is hitting .298/.376/.574 with six homers and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances this season. This comes after a mini-breakout campaign last year, during which he hit .260/.367/.461 with 26 homers and 82 RBI. Suarez gets little national attention because he hasn’t put up gaudy numbers and he plays for a terrible Reds team, but he might be changing the one of those that he controls. If he continues on this pace, it’s safe to say he’ll finally start getting at least a share of the attention he deserves.
Pitchers to Watch this Week
Sean Newcomb, SP, Braves
Newcomb has not surrendered an earned run in any of his last three starts, a stretch that covers 19 innings, He has allowed five hits and eight walks in that time while striking out 20 batters in wins over the Mets, Rays and Marlins. That may not be a murderer’s row of opponents, but you don’t simply luck your way into the run Newcomb is on right now. The 24-year-old owns a 2.51 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 46 2/3 innings, and he has fanned 54 on the season. He’ll make one start this week, facing the Marlins on Friday.
Freddy Peralta, SP, Brewers
Peralta’s next start could be back at Triple A Colorado Springs, but I don’t care. If you strike out 13 batters in 5 2/3 innings in your MLB debut, you’re a pitcher to watch the following week. Peralta was electric in a spot start against the Rockies, and he may have bullied his way into the Brewers rotation. After all, how can a team send down a pitcher after doing what Peralta did last week? He has pitched well at Colorado Springs this season, totaling a 3.63 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 1.36 WHIP and 46 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings. Walks have been an issue, but Pacific Coast League hitters haven’t been able to figure him out, so long as he doesn’t put them on base for free. He may head back to the minors soon, but chances are strong that we haven’t seen the last of him in a Brewers uniform this year.
Luis Castillo, SP, Reds
After a terrible start to the season, Castillo has started to turn things around in his last three trips to the mound. He has allowed two earned runs in all of those starts across a total of 17 2/3 innings. What’s more, he has 22 strikeouts in that stretch against just two walks. This is the Castillo, or at least close to the Castillo, that we thought we would see this season. There’s reason enough to believe that the pitcher we have seen in May is a lot closer to the real version than the one we saw in April. He’ll make one start this week, taking the ball at some point during the Reds’ four-game weekend series against the Cubs.
Rick Porcello, SP, Red Sox
Porcello has been excellent again this season, racking up a 2.79 ERA, 2.39 FIP, 0.95 WHIP and 49 strikeouts against eight walks in 51 2/3 innings. He has yet to take a loss, posting a 5–0 record in his eight starts, and while the Red Sox mighty offense deserves some of the credit for that, Porcello has allowed three or fewer runs in seven of his eight outings, and one or zero in four of them. He’s scheduled for two starts this week, facing the A’s on Monday and Orioles on Saturday.
Kevin Gausman, SP, Orioles
Gausman will start the first game of that four-game set between Boston and Baltimore, and he’ll do so on one of the most impressive runs of his career. Gausman has made five quality starts in his last six turns, and he allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings the one time he came up short. After tossing a two-hit shutout against the A’s two weekends ago, he held the Rays to two runs in 7 1/3 innings, striking out six while walking zero last Friday. Also included in the run is an eight-inning, two-run, four-hit, seven-strikeout performance against the Indians. The Red Sox are a different test altogether, but Gausman is one of the hottest pitchers in baseball.
Matchups to Watch this Week
The best pitcher vs. pitcher, pitcher vs. hitter, pitcher vs. offense, and series matchups over the next seven days.
Patrick Corbin vs. Jacob deGrom, Saturday
Corbin and deGrom have been two of the best pitchers in the league this year, making their matchup on Saturday the best on-paper meeting of the week. It’ll be an interesting turn through the rotation for both of them. Corbin’s velocity has been down in his last two starts, a concern for any pitcher, especially one with Tommy John surgery in his history. deGrom, meanwhile, spent 10 days on the DL because of a hyperextended elbow, and then left his first start back after one inning and 45 pitches. The team insisted it was simply precautionary, and deGrom seemed more surprised than anyone, but it trains a spotlight on his next start. As good as they’ve been, each pitcher has a little something to prove this weekend.
Zack Greinke vs. Noah Snydergaard, Sunday
The very next day in Queens, Greinke and Syndergaard will take the mound. Greinke got off to a rough start this season but has been great in his last three outings, allowing four runs on 13 hits in 18 2/3 innings, striking out 21 while walking three. He hasn’t done it against a bunch of patsies, either, holding the Dodgers, Astros and Nationals all in check. Syndergaard has yet to really get it cooking this season, amassing a 3.09 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 54 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings. That we can look at that stat line and call it a bit of a disappointment just speaks to how dominant Syndergaard can be.
Max Scherzer vs. Yankees, Wednesday
The only way this matchup could be better is if Luis Severino were taking the ball for the Yankees. Alas, we’ll have to settle for the best pitcher in baseball facing arguably its most feared lineup. Scherzer ranks fourth in ERA, second in FIP, fourth in WHIP, first in K/9, second in strikeout rate and second in pitcher fWAR this season. The Yankees are first in runs, second in homers, first in OBP, second in slugging, first in wOBA, third in wRC+, and fourth in offensive fWAR. This is a matchup you will not want to miss.
Miles Mikolas vs. Joe Mauer, Wednesday
Mikolas-Mauer is as far on the other end of the power spectrum as you can get from Scherzer-Yankees, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling. Mikolas has issued three walks in 46 2/3 innings, leading the majors with a 1.6% walk rate. Mauer, on the other hand, has an 18.4% walk rate, good for sixth in the majors. Mauer rarely strikes out, and Mikolas gets fewer than seven strikeouts per nine innings. In other words, someone at the league office should make sure to catalog every Mikolas-Mauer plate appearance so they can trot it out the next time someone points to the lack of balls in play this season. Chances are there won’t be any three true outcomes when these two meet.
Cubs at Braves, Tuesday through Thursday
The top-two teams in offensive fWAR? That would be the Cubs and Braves. The former is entirely expected, but the latter has been this season’s biggest surprise. With Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña joining Freddie Freeman, the Braves are legitimate playoff contenders at least one year ahead of schedule. In a little quirk owing to Mother Nature’s unpredictability during the first month of the season, the Cubs and Braves will make up a postponed game against one another in Chicago on Monday, before heading down to Atlanta for their scheduled three-game series from Tuesday through Thursday.
Indians at Astros, Friday through Sunday
As slowly as the Indians have started, no one would be surprised if this were the ALCS this season. The Astros have played mostly to script, starting this week at 26–16, one game ahead of the Angels in the AL West. The Indians, too, are a first-place team, but that means something quite different in the AL Central. The Indians start this week at 20–19, and they’re the only team above .500 in their division. Still, their roster is loaded with talent, and this series features arguably the two best double-play duos in the league, with Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez on one side, and Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve on the other. Their combined stats? Lindor and Ramirez are hitting .305/.387/.613 with 24 homers, while Correa and Altuve are at .299/.366/.402 with nine homers.
Yankees at Nationals, Tuesday and Wednesday
This short two-game series in Washington is as realistic a World Series possibility as any interleague matchup we will see in the regular season. The Yankees enter at 28–12, tied with the Red Sox for the best record in baseball. The Nationals are now 24–18 after going 13-2 in their last 15 games, punctuated by a four-game sweep in Arizona over the weekend. Gio Gonzalez will face Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday, with Scherzer taking the ball against C.C. Sabathia on Wednesday.
Cardinals vs. Phillies, Thursday through Sunday
The Cardinals and Phillies were both viewed as possible playoff teams heading into the season, but it would have been hard to call either a significant disappointment if that did not come to fruition. At this point, we can say that both have lived up to their end of the bargain, with the Cardinals at 22–16, and the Phillies a half-game better, with 23 up and 16 down. The Cardinals may play the entire series without Carlos Martinez, who is on the DL, and the Phillies will also avoid Mikolas, who takes the mound Wednesday against the Twins. Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola will both start in this series, which gives the Phillies a slight edge over the four games. No matter what, though, this should be an exciting series, and one that could have realistic Wild Card implications.
GIF of the Week
James Paxton threw a no-hitter against the Blue Jays last week. Hopefully, he bought Kyle Seager a steak after the game. As you’re watching, keep in mind that it’s the speedy Kevin Pillar getting down the line.