Weekend Watch: Ready-made rivalries
The season's final weekend of interleague play is finally upon us, and the good news is that many of the so-called "rivalry series" are of particular relevance to both teams.
This one gets top billing, because it marks the first year since the Expos arrived in Washington that both teams have come in with winning records, let alone contended for playoff spots. The Orioles, who took two out of three against the Nats in Washington back in May, are clinging to second place in the AL East by half a game after being swept by the Mets in Queens. Their offense is in the midst of a severe drought that saw the O's go 28 innings — including R.A. Dickey's one-hitter — without plating a single run, and managing just 12 runs over the past six games.
Baltimore has produced across-the-board lows of .240/.294/.361 in June while playing 15 of its 18 games against teams .500 or better. Still, the Orioles have gone 10-8. Their struggling offense meets a Nationals team whose pitching staff is on a roll; amid their 11-6 June, Washington has held opponents to just 3.29 runs per game while allowing more than four runs just four times. Take away Chien-Ming Wang, who's been bumped to the bullpen in favor of Sunday's starter, Ross Detwiler, and the staff ERA during that time is 2.68, with an eye-popping 8.8 strikeouts per nine.
The Subway Series, a/k/a No Escape From New York: Yankees (41-27) at Mets (38-32)
More East Coast bias? It's another first place team against a second-place one, and while it was just two years ago that the Mets last had a record above .500 when squaring off against their crosstown rivals, it feels as though it's been much longer. Despite a month highlighted by Johan Santana's no-hitter and Dickey's amazing run, the Mets are just 10-9 in June. They've outscored opponents 90-63 in that span, after being outscored 244-210 through the first two month, so call it a correction; ol' Pythagoras eventually collects his vig.
The odder thing is that the Mets are in "sweep or be swept" mode, with each of their last four series finishing at 3-0, including a sweep by the Yankees in the Bronx — yet for no clear reason, closer Frank Francisco is comparing the pinstripes to poultry. The
Chickens Yankees have hit their stride lately, with a 14-4 June record that included a 10-game winning streak. In the bigger picture, the team is on a 21-6 roll fueled not only by outstanding work from the rotation (3.06 ERA, 6.9 innings per turn, 8.0 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine) but also by season-turning stretches from Robinson Cano (.293/.375/.667, 10 HR) and Mark Teixeira (.304/.416/.620, 7 HR). Marquee matchup: Sunday night's pairing of Dickey and CC Sabathia.
In an impromptu, underreported move, the Dodgers chose this week's series in Oakland to pay tribute to their 1988 club, which hit just .248/.305/.352 during the season yet managed to defeat the A's in the World Series. They didn't win anything this time around, and by scratching out just eight hits and two runs while being swept in three straight, they did conjure up a memorable level of offensive futility. Indeed, in the 20 games they've played since Matt Kemp went back to the disabled list, the Dodgers have managed a 10-10 split despite hitting just .227/.307/.306 with five home runs, none since June 12, when Juan Rivera's three-run eighth-inning homer off Jerome Williams keyed their lone win in the first installment of this series.
At least the meager lineup won't have to face either C.J. Wilson or Jered Weaver. As hot as the Halos have been, their starters on Friday and Saturday, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, have been raked for a combined 6.25 ERA this month while yielding 2.0 homers per nine and striking out just 5.0 per nine.
Such is the nature of manufactured controversy that the latest "crisis" to surround the Red Sox arrives as they're playing their best baseball of the season. They've won seven out of eight against the Marlins and Cubs to climb three games above .500 for the first time all year. However unhappy he may be amid the media maelstrom, David Ortiz is putting up his best numbers since 2007, picking up the slack for the slumping Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. The 36-year-old slugger is third in the league in slugging percentage (.607), fifth in on-base percentage (.395) and sixth in homers (18). One can't discount the more recent contributions of Daniel Nava (.340/.455/.519 in 133 PA) and Will Middlebrooks (.316/.352/.551 in 145 PA) in picking up the slack and helping the team score 5.19 runs per game, second in the league.
The Braves, who used to call Boston home, are fresh off taking two out of three against the Yankees, thwarting both New York's 10-game winning streak and their own 1-7 slide in the process. Their offense has been nearly as meager as that of the Dodgers lately; the 10 runs Atlanta scored on Wednesday were more than it plated in its previous give games combined, and the first time it had scored more than four runs since June 9. On the pitching side, tonight the Braves get their first big league look at Jair Jurrjens in almost two months; the 26-year-old righty is back from the minors to replace the injured Brandon Beachy.
Also of some interest:
The Show-Me Series, a/k/a the Don Denkinger Institute for the Blind Fundraiser: Cardinals (35-35) at Royals (31-36) The 2008 World Series Rematch, a/k/a the Pat Burrell Invitational: Rays (38-31) at Phillies (33-38)