The MLB Weekend Top 10: Lee-Harvey, But No Oswald

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images Francisco Liriano

10. The 2013 “Oh Wait, They’re Good?” Team (ARI-SFG)

Every year, it feels like there’s one division-leading team that slips under the radar. This is often because the division itself is terrible, the team hasn’t had much playoff success in the past decade or so, and they may or may not be out west in a city not named Los Angeles. In the case of the Arizona Diamondbacks, we’ve got a solid “all of the above” case. I’m not saying the D-backs have been very impressive — with a paltry plus-nine run differential, they have a huge target on their backs as we start the second half — but come on, shouldn’t we give them at least a little credit? I mean, like, Patrick Corbin is really good. And hey, they have a 15-8 record against the NL Central, a.k.a. the best division in baseball. All I’m saying is that the D-backs are exactly the kind of team that could win a crappy division and then storm to a World Series win in the crapshoot that is the MLB playoffs, negating every piece of wisdom anyone has dispensed all season and making us all angry in the process. We should start learning their name.

9. This Week’s Reason to Watch the Royals: Grantland’s Rany Jazayerli (DET-KCR)

Not only is our resident Royals fan a great read, but his Twitter account has been a treasure trove of righteous anger directed at GM Dayton Moore. I present a few of the highlights from the last week without comment:

8. Hot Bat of the Week: Alejandro De Aza (ATL-CWS)

No big deal, just a .414/.469/.793 line in his last seven games, and the best WAR in baseball during that span. Also, the masculine noun “azar” in Spanish means chance, or fate, so De Aza’s name is just one letter away from being “Alexander of Fate.” Which is weirdly similar to “Alexander the Great,” and you know what? I think I need some sleep. I’ll be back in three hours.

7. Near Pitching Matchup of the Week: Liriano vs. Leake (Friday, PIT-CIN)

Hey, I’m back! You won’t find Francisco Liriano on many pitching leaderboards, since he missed all of April after breaking his arm while trying to scare his children (in a fun way, I think?) and isn’t “qualified” yet. But he’s been tearing it up since his return, and has been particularly effective in his last five starts, striking out 31 batters in 34⅔ innings and running up a 1.56 ERA. His ERA on the season is down to 2.00, and while we don’t see him in the master list quite yet, it’s worth noting that only Clayton Kershaw can boast a better number among starters. As for Mike Leake, he’s one of those crafty types who pitches to contact and can go deep in games when it’s all clicking. He has been terrific lately, pitching at least seven full innings in five of his last six starts. Bottom line, this game gives you a great chance to watch two of this year’s most underrated pitchers.

6. The Rays Express Churns On (TBR-TOR)

Tampa Bay has won 14 of its last 16, but the huge caveat is that most of those wins came against the Astros, White Sox, Twins, and Astros again, with the last 10 games at home. Life is about to get a bit less accommodating, with a 10-game road trip that includes three against Toronto, four at Boston, and three in New York. If the plucky, penny-poor underdogs of the East Coast can keep winning against those teams? Then we should all doff our caps in recognition, because the collection of old people and bitter transplants who actually live in Tampa certainly won’t.

5. The Launchpad Series (LAD-WAS)

Two teams hovering near .500, trying to vault their way up the standings and land in the playoffs. Will Yasiel Puig go on a crazy revenge tour to punish the world for keeping him out of the All-Star Game? Are we at the point where our perception of Bryce Harper has gone from “exciting youngster” to “probably a pretty weird dude”? Will Sunday’s Kershaw-Zimmermann duel be as awesome as it looks on paper? Will I commit random acts of violence because the motherf---ing Time Warner/MASN baseball blackout keeps me from watching it here in North Carolina? So many great story lines!

4. Pirates-Reds (PIT-CIN)

The great irony here is that so many actual pirates have the word “Red” in their name, and so many communist leaders in world history (“reds”) have been glorified pirates. In any case, Reds fan and Grantland super-commenter Scott Smart pointed out last week that despite a strong record, the Reds have only won a single series against a team with a winning record all year. There are two ways to look at that. One, they’ve been super efficient against teams that suck. Two, they can’t hang with the big shots. Whatever the explanation, it’s probably fair to say that unless they reverse that trend in the second half, it will be very, very difficult for them to sustain a playoff-worthy record. On the flip side of the series coin, the dreaded second half is about to begin for Pirates fans, and even though all the evidence indicates that their team has its best chance to avoid the annual collapse, they’ll believe it when they see it. A series win against a divisional rival out of the gates would be Step 1 to winning back some Yinzer hearts and minds.

3. Orioles-Rangers (BAL-TEX)

Here’s a debate I had with an Orioles fan last week: What was the bigger All-Star gift? Was it the grooved Chan Ho Park pitch that Cal Ripken Jr. launched over the fence in his last All-Star appearance in 2001, or Mariano Rivera’s MVP award this year? Both great moments, but both a little artificial. My argument is that the grooved pitch was a little worse, because at least Rivera had to pitch a legitimate scoreless inning. Unless … oh my god, did Segura, Craig, and Gomez make outs on purpose?! Was it a reverse groove? CONSPIRACY!

As for this series, we unfortunately won’t get to see a Yu Darvish–Chris Davis showdown, but if you love dingers, maybe that’s a good thing.

2. I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This (NYY-BOS)

I’ve never put this series at anything but no. 1 before, but the Yankees are reeling, and other than a chance to see Hiroki Kuroda take on a rejuvenated John Lackey on Saturday, this could be a kind of depressing series. It culminates in the Sunday night ESPN game, where CC Sabathia meets Jon Lester in a matchup that would have been awesome three seasons ago, and now seems like a sad parade of has-beens. Also, I get a bad feeling that the Sox are going to sweep my favorite team, so by putting this series at no. 2, I’m trying to protect myself. Nothing matters! Nobody cares! You all can go to hell!

1. Pitching Matchup of the Week: Lee vs. Harvey (Sunday, PHI-NYM)

This is just … pitching porn.*

*Not literally, I hope.**

**Although if you had to watch pitching porn, let’s be honest, you could do a lot worse than Matt Harvey.***

***What?! WHAT?!

Seriously, this is a stupidly good matchup between a crafty vet who still has a lot of gas in the tank and the fireballing one-man juggernaut who currently reigns as the National League strikeout king at age 24. I’d rather watch Randy Johnson pitching porn than miss this game.


Filed Under: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, MLB, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals