- The Astros are headed for a vicious stretch against the Yankees and Red Sox, but their best hitter is looking like his best self.
The summer has arrived in all corners of the country, and it really feels so when you look at the upcoming MLB schedule for the week ahead. Twenty-two of the league’s 30 teams play every day this week. Add an extra game because of a doubleheader between the Mets and Braves are Monday, and you get 102 games over the next seven days. Those 102 games include Clayton Kershaw’s return from the DL, Alex Reyes’s 2018 debut, and the defending World Series Champions playing a combined seven games against the teams with the two best records in the majors. In other words, the MLB is ringing in the start of the summer in style. The SI.com Table Setter is here to get you ready.
Hitters to Watch this Week
Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Brewers
Aguilar has been a machine over the last two weeks, going 15-for-48 with six homers and 16 RBI. Ryan Braun is back for the Brewers, and Eric Thames is working his way back to the field, but none of that matters with respect to Aguilar. He has to be in the lineup every day. He’s now slashing .325/.390/.595 with nine homers, seven doubles and 30 RBI in 146 plate appearances this season.
Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros
Altuve spent the first two months of this season not living up to his standard. That’s not to say he was having a bad year because he wasn’t. Still, a .306/.357/.403 slash line on May 24 isn’t what we expect of the reigning AL MVP. He may have snapped out of it over the weekend. Altuve got hits in 10 straight plate appearances over the final three games of Houston’s series with Cleveland, setting a new franchise record. In those three games, he raised his batting average 24 points, his OBP 20 points and his slugging percentage 54 points.
Ian Happ, 2B/OF, Cubs
Happ is having one of the more bizarre seasons in the league. He has a 40% strikeout rate, and could rack up 200 strikeouts despite not being an everyday player. On the other hand, he has a .366 OBP, .508 slugging percentage, eight homers and the third-highest wOBA—behind Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber—on a Cubs team that ranks third in the stat in the majors. With Jason Heyward still struggling, Happ should see more consistent playing time in both the short and long terms. He has been hot of late, going 7-for-23 with three homers over the last two weeks.
Jean Segura, SS, Mariners
Segura was enjoying one of his best stretches of the season when he got kicked in the head on Saturday in the Mariners’ 4–3 win over the Twins. He sat out of Sunday’s game, but he’s not expected to go on the DL or miss much more time. Segura has been one of the hottest hitters in the majors recently, going 20-for-50 with two homers and five steals over the last two weeks, raising his slash line to .324/.341/.465.
Austin Meadows, OF, Pirates
Meadows continues to hit everything in sight, going 15-for-33 with three homers, two doubles and six RBI in his first nine games in the majors. The better news is that even with Starling Marte and Josh Harrison back, he’s starting most days. That’s a great sign for how Clint Hurdle views his 23-year-old outfielder. Assuming Meadows is here to stay, he needs to be owned in all fantasy leagues.
Pitchers to Watch this Week
Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers
Kershaw will return from the DL on Thursday after missing the last month with biceps tendinitis. The NL West is a total mess, and that has kept the disappointing Dodgers right in the thick of things. Despite being four games under .500 and missing significant time from Kershaw, Corey Seager and Justin Turner, they enter this last week of May just 3.5 games behind the Rockies for first place in the division. The difference a healthy Kershaw can make, for both the Dodgers and his fantasy owners, speaks for itself.
Alex Reyes, SP, Cardinals
Reyes will make his long-awaited return to the majors from Tommy John surgery on Wednesday, taking the ball in the team’s series finale with the Brewers. Reyes was electric during his four-start rehab assignment, pitching 23 scoreless innings, surrendering seven hits while striking out 44 batters. In his final tuneup at Triple A Memphis, he fanned 13 and allowed two baserunners in seven innings. Reyes has the stuff to immediately become one of the most feared pitchers in the league, and his presence could completely change what’s shaping up to be an intense race for the NL Central crown.
Ross Stripling, SP, Dodgers
Stripling has been one of the most effective pitchers in the league since joining the Dodgers rotation at the beginning of May. In four starts covering 22 innings, he has a 1.23 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 31 strikeouts against two walks. He has been dominant in his last two starts, allowing two runs—one earned—in 12 2/3 innings, striking out 19 and walking none. Even with Kershaw returning this week, Stripling has to remain in the rotation. He’s scheduled to take the ball Wednesday against the Phillies.
Joe Musgrove, SP, Pirates
Musgrove made his Pirates debut last week, shutting out the Cardinals for seven innings, allowing five hits while striking out seven. The surprising Pirates are starting to fade a bit in May, but enter play on Monday at 28–24, five games behind the Brewers in the NL Central. Their rotation is clearly in need of help, and Musgrove, while maybe not quite possessing ace potential, has the look of a solid No. 2 or 3 starter. He’ll take the ball once this week, facing the Cubs on Wednesday.
Trevor Bauer, SP, Indians
Bauer has been absolutely filthy all season, pitching to a 2.61 ERA, 2.65 FIP and 1.13 WHIP with 86 strikeouts against 25 walks in 72 1/3 innings. The Astros touched him up for four runs in his last start, but he struck out 13 batters, his third outing this year with double-digit strikeouts, all of which have come in the last month. On a team with Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, Bauer has been the best pitcher, leading the Indians in FIP and fWAR. His next start is scheduled for Friday against the Twins.
Matchups to Watch this Week
The best pitcher vs. pitcher, pitcher vs. hitter, pitcher vs. offense, and series matchups over the next seven days.
Chris Sale vs. Gerrit Cole, Friday
No one would be surprised if Sale and Cole finished first and second, in either order, for the AL Cy Young. Both have been as close to unhittable as realistically possible this season, with Sale ranking fifth and Cole second in fWAR among AL starting pitchers. What does that look like in surface stats? Sale has a 2.76 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 0.96 WHIP and 104 strikeouts in 75 innings, while Cole owns a 2.05 ERA, 2.29 FIP and 0.83 WHIP with 109 strikeouts in 74 2/3 frames. That they meet in what happens to be one of the best series of the week (more on that later) makes their matchup that much better.
Aaron Nola vs. Clayton Kershaw, Thursday
Kershaw’s return to the mound would be one of the most anticipated outings of the week, regardless of his opponent. The fact that he’ll face the Phillies, who have the third-best record in the NL at 29–21, and that Aaron Nola will also take the mound, makes it one of the games of the next seven days. Nola hit a tiny speed bump two starts ago, allowing four runs on seven hits in six innings in a loss to the Cardinals. He bounced back last weekend, however, holding the Blue Jays to one run on one hit and three walks, striking out 10 in 6 2/3 innings. Nola has been one of the best pitchers in the majors in May, amassing a 1.91 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 39 strikeouts in 33 innings.
Astros at Yankees, Monday through Wednesday
The Astros are about to attempt to run a gauntlet this week. It starts with a three-game series in the Bronx against the Yankees in a rematch of last year’s ALCS. The teams played a four-game series in Houston earlier this season, with the Yankees taking three of four. They enter this series with two of the three best records in the majors, with the Yankees at 33–16 and Astros at 34-20. Justin Verlander takes on Domingo German on Monday, Charlie Morton will face CC Sabathia on Tuesday, and Dallas Keuchel will oppose Luis Severino on Wednesday. This, too, gives us some of our best pitcher-hitter matchups of the weekend, specifically Verlander and Morton against the Yankees sluggers, and Severino against the likes of Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa.
Red Sox at Astros, Thursday through Sunday
After playing three games against the Yankees, the Astros will return home to host a four-game series with the Red Sox. The pitching matchups in this one are even better. Chris Sale vs. Gerrit Cole on Friday is the headliner, but we also get Drew Pomeranz against Lance McCullers, David Price against Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello against Charlie Morton. Plus, just like the Astros-Yankees series, this one will be filled with excellent pitcher-hitter matchups. Verlander-Mookie Betts. Morton-J.D. Martinez. Sale-Altuve. And those are just three. There’s a chance that whichever team wins the series will have the best record in the majors to kick off the first week of June.
Jose Berrios vs. Jose Ramirez, Friday
Berrios has had a Jekyll-and-Hyde first two months this season. He was lights-out in his first four starts, totaling a 1.63 ERA, 0.72 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings. His next four starts weren’t quite so good, with Berrios pitching to an 8.84 ERA and 1.75 WHIP in 18 1/3 frames. He has reverted to the good version in his most recent three starts, notching a 1.99 ERA and 0.75 WHIP with 27 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings. His next start is scheduled for Friday in the second-game of a four-game series with the Indians. In that outing, he’ll face one of the best hitters in baseball who also happens to be swinging a hot bat. Ramirez has been on a tear for the better part of a month, hitting .322/.430/.711 with eight homers, 11 doubles and 21 RBI in May. Berrios and Ramirez have faced one another 13 times, with the pitcher owning the matchup to this point. Ramirez is just 3-for-13 against Berrios with no extra-base hits and just one RBI.
GIF of the Week
As much as writers still try to keep up a wall between our rooting interests and our public personae, it won’t take you too much searching to figure out that I am a Cubs fan. With that in mind, I consider the following a public service. Despite what you may have heard, Kyle Schwarber is not a bad defensive outfielder. He may not win any Gold Gloves, but after an early rough patch in his career, he has made himself into, at the very least, a league-average left fielder. And every now and again, he makes a truly special play like this one.
Don’t run on Kyle Schwarber.