The Week Ahead: Heating up with weather
Royals set to be tested; Miggy, Papi, Loney and Rox rookie on fire
We're getting into May, and teams are starting to feel it a little bit.
All over the country, the weather is getting warmer -- and yes, that even includes Colorado. So are some clubs and individual players, bringing a head of steam into Monday as the 2013 baseball season marches along.
Take a look at the St. Louis Cardinals. Not that it's surprising to ever see them atop the National League Central, but the Redbirds are red hot. They beat the Brewers on Sunday to complete a four-game sweep and extend their winning streak to six. The Cards also have won seven consecutive road games, a feat they haven't accomplished since July 2004.
The starting pitching has been great, the hitting is clicking, and the Cardinals are 20-11 as they prepare to get right back after it Tuesday, when they begin a light week consisting of a short two-game set against the Cubs at Wrigley and a three-game weekend set at home against the Rockies.
"Early in the year, late in the year, middle of the year, it doesn't matter: Anytime you get a series win, it's a great feeling," Cards catcher Yadier Molina said Sunday. "Right now, we're playing good, and hopefully we can keep doing it."
The Giants can say the same thing. After all, the defending World Series champions rebounded from a five-game skid to up their current season-high winning streak to six with a victory over the Dodgers on Sunday night. It might seem like every game is a one-run, to-the-wire affair, but that's the Giants.
"It literally feels like it's been three weeks of one-run ballgames, win or lose," Giants outfielder Hunter Pence said. "It builds character. It builds strength. We as a team feel like we play good as a unit. We're kind of getting numb to that close game, where you can really just focus on the task at hand."
The American League Central has three teams who have been able to make similar statements of late. The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals enter Monday's action on four-game winning streaks, and only a half-game is separating them at the top of the division.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians have been making a lot of noise, too. They had won six in a row prior to losing on Sunday. Now they get two starts from Ubaldo Jimenez in an important week, with three games at home against the Oakland A's and three on the road in Detroit.
"It's [been] something different every night," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I think when you're going through good periods, if your starting pitching gives you a chance every night, you don't necessarily have to reel off a bunch of wins to feel good about your team. But I think we've done a lot of things. We've picked each other up."
The Tribe is 14-14 and four games behind the Tigers, who keep rolling along, just like last year, although this time around they have an improved Royals group to deal with.
Kansas City took care of the White Sox on Sunday in dramatic fashion, with a two-run ninth-inning rally leading to a 10th-inning walk-off single by Alex Gordon. The Royals take their momentum and a 17-10 record into the series finale at home against Chicago on Monday. Then it's on to Baltimore and New York for three games apiece in what could be a crucial week to prove they've got what it takes against two of the beasts of the AL East.
Elsewhere this week, keep an eye on Texas and Cincinnati, each having won three in a row.
On the individual side of things, we won't get to watch Hanley Ramirez of the Dodgers and Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins, who are both out with hamstring injuries. And we'll wish the best to Cardinals closer Jason Motte and Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley, who both underwent Tommy John surgery over the past week. Yet there's still plenty of hitters and pitchers to follow closely.
The Red Sox might have lost three games in a row to the Rangers in Arlington, but David Ortiz will take his 25-game hitting streak to the plate Monday when the Sox return to Fenway to start a busy week in which they'll play host to the Twins for four and the Blue Jays for three.
That means this week figures to feature two starts from the early front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award, Boston righty Clay Buchholz, who's 6-0 with a 1.01 ERA.
Tampa Bay Rays first baseman James Loney is hitting .528 over his last 17 games. He went 3-for-4 on Sunday to raise his season batting average to .398.
Miguel Cabrera is hitting .385 with 36 RBIs. This is what we sarcastically refer to as a shocking development.
And in the NL, we welcome young Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado to his second full week of big league baseball. His first week didn't go so badly. Arenado, 22, went 2-for-5 with his second homer in as many days on Sunday. He's batting .323 with three homers (including a grand slam) and eight RBIs in seven games, and he is already hitting second in one of the better lineups in the NL while flashing excellent defensive skills.
Yep, Arenado will be playing all this week, too.
"He's a great player, but at the same time, you don't want to put too much pressure on him," teammate Carlos Gonzalez said of Arenado. "All he's got to do is just play his game, just the way he's been doing it."