MLB's 10 Most Important Games to Watch This Week
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This week in baseball will be huge as teams look to gain momentum heading into the heart of spring.
Two of the best teams in baseball, the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals, face off in a crucial divisional series.
Detroit is looking to close the gap between themselves and the Kansas City Royals in the American League Central standings during its series with the Minnesota Twins.
And the Pittsburgh Pirates are trying to grab control of the National League Central.
With such important series happening this week across the league, expect a wild week of baseball as the month of May begins.
Monday: Atlanta Braves vs. Washington Nationals
Stephen Strasburg will get the start in the series opener.
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Projected Starters: Julio Teheran (Braves, 1-0), Stephen Strasburg (Nationals, 1-4)
After the Braves' red-hot start to the season, which included a three-game sweep of the Nationals, Washington has slowly closed the gap in the standings between it and Atlanta.
At 15-9, the Braves have a 2.5-game lead over the Nationals in the National League East standings.
The Nationals' ace, Stephen Strasburg, is projected to get the start. While his record of 1-4 is not attractive, he is still maintaining a 3.16 ERA and has 28 strikeouts in five starts.
A date where the Braves are putting the fifth pitcher in their rotation on the hill may be the perfect opportunity for Strasburg to add to that win column.
Nationals' batters have also had good success against Teheran. Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, Denard Span, Kurt Suzuki and Jason Werth all have averages over .300 against Teheran.
This game will also be broadcast on ESPN, so expect a lot of hype to surround the game.
Monday: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Cincinnati Reds
Both the Cardinals and the Reds are fighting for first in the NL Central.
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Projected Starters: Adam Wainwright (Cardinals, 4-1), Mat Latos (Reds, 1-0)
The Cardinals and the Reds start a big four-game divisional series in St. Louis on Monday.
Both teams are fighting for position in the highly-contested National League Central. The Cardinals are .5 games behind the PIttsburgh Pirates for first place, while the Reds are 1.5 games back.
The pitching in this game should be phenomenal. There's only one loss between Wainwright and Latos in 10 combined starts. Wainwright has a 1.93 ERA, while Latos is maintaining a 2.16 mark.
These teams are second and third in the division standings, so setting the tone early in this series as they try to chase the Pirates will be huge.
Tuesday: Kansas City Royals vs. Tampa Bay Rays
James Shields will face his old team on Tuesday.
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Projected Starters: James Shields (Royals, 1-2), Alex Cobb (Rays, 3-1)
In the opener of a four-game series between these two teams, new Royals ace James Shields will face his old team in the Rays.
Shields has been effective this year despite his record. He has a 3.09 ERA and is averaging seven innings pitched during his five starts.
Against the Toronto Blue Jays this year, he threw a complete game and only gave up two hits, but lost. His other loss came on Opening Day against the White Sox, where he pitched six solid innings but the Royals lost the game 1-0.
The Royals, who are currently atop the American League Central standings, will have to come alive offensively on Tuesday with Alex Cobb on the mound for the Rays.
Cobb has been a superstar for the Rays in the early going. He's 3-1 in four starts with a 1.82 ERA.
The Rays are 12-13 on the season and six games out of first place in the American League East. A big win on the road against Shields, one of their former players, could give this team a spark going into May.
Tuesday: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Boston Red Sox
Jon Lester will look to keep the Red Sox hot against struggling Toronto.
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Projected Starters: Brandon Morrow (Blue Jays, 0-2), Jon Lester (Red Sox, 4-0)
Both the Red Sox and the Blue Jays have tremendous opportunities at the start of this three-game series.
The Red Sox are sitting in first place in the American League East at 18-7 and have been one of baseball's biggest surprises.
On the flip side, the Blue Jays are in a tailspin after coming into the season with high hopes. They're currently 9.5 games behind the Red Sox, good for last place in the division.
If the Red Sox can take care of business against Toronto, they could take full control of the division and possibly knock the Blue Jays out of contention early in the season.
However, if the Blue Jays can get a series win over the first-place Red Sox, it may give them the confidence they need heading into May.
Wednesday: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants
Tim Lincecum gets the start in the series finale against Arizona.
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Projected Starters: Brandon McCarthy (Diamondbacks, 0-3), Tim Lincecum (Giants, 2-1)
In this three-game series finale, the Diamondbacks and Giants will look to provide some clarity in the packed National League West.
The Diamondbacks currently share the division lead with the Colorado Rockies at 15-10. But the Giants are hot on their tail at just two games back.
And in what could be a rubber game for both teams, the Giants will have a great opportunity to take the series.
With a good start in 2013, Lincecum—one of the best pitchers over the past few years—is facing McCarthy, who's 0-3 and has an alarming 7.48 ERA.
What the Rockies do in their series with the Los Angeles Dodgers is out of these teams' control. But the Giants and Diamondbacks can leave this series with a better idea of who's behind them in the division, and who they're chasing.
Wednesday: Detroit Tigers vs. Minnesota Twins
The Tigers and Twins will look to close the gap in the AL Central.
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Projected Starters: Anibal Sanchez (Tigers, 3-1), Scott Diamond (Twins, 1-2)
The Tigers and Twins conclude a three-game series in Detroit on Wednesday.
While the Kansas City Royals are leading the American League Central, both the Tigers and Twins are closely behind them—.5 and 1.5 games respectively.
And in this three-game series, both teams will look to solidify second place in the division for the time being.
The Tigers hold the advantage on the mound and at the plate in this game. Sanchez has been terrific this year with just one loss and a 1.34 ERA.
Miguel Cabrera also has had a lot of success against Diamond with seven hits in 14 at-bats against the Twins' projected starter.
Thursday: Atlanta Braves vs. Washington Nationals
Kris Medlen will get the start in the series finale against Washington.
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Projected Starters: Kris Medlen (Braves, 1-3), Dan Haren (Nationals, 2-3)
In another nationally televised game, this one on MLB Network, the Braves and Nationals will conclude their pivotal four-game series.
While pitching may define the first few games, both teams' bats are in with a chance to have a coming-out party in the series' last game.
Both starting pitchers have struggled over the course of the season. Medlen has three losses and only has 18 strikeouts in five starts.
Haren has been even worse though. He also has three losses but a 6.29 ERA to go along with it.
These teams won't face each other again until May 31, so ending this series on the right note will be huge for both.
Friday: Texas Rangers vs. Boston Red Sox
Lance Berkman leads the Rangers in batting average (.319).
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Projected Starters: Derek Holland (Rangers, 1-2), Felix Doubront (Red Sox, 3-0)
Two division leaders in the American League face off in Arlington, Texas on Friday to start a three-game weekend series.
Both the Rangers and the Red Sox have been tremendous in the early going of the season. The Rangers are atop the American League West standings, while the Red Sox are leading the American League East.
This series will certainly get a lot of attention, and it could be a good barometer of how good these two teams are against elite competition.
Hitting will likely be the theme in Friday's game. Holland has not been terrific on the mound, and despite being undefeated, Doubront's ERA is 4.24.
Expect a big crowd and a playoff type of atmosphere to surround this entire series.
Saturday: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Washington Nationals
Jeff Locke will get the start against Washington.
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Projected Starters: Jeff Locke (Pirates, 3-1), Stephen Strasburg (Nationals, 1-4)
Both starting pitchers will be getting their second start of the week as two National League division leaders square off in Pittsburgh.
This second game of the weekend series between these two teams will be an exciting day game that is set to be broadcast nationally on FOX.
Both these pitchers have been good in 2013. While Strasburg has four losses, his other stats are still impressive and his win total should catch up.
For Locke though, he's been a steady presence for the Pirates this season. He has a 2.83 ERA and is holding hitters to a .228 batting average.
Just like the series between Boston and Texas in the American League, this series will give both teams a good look at where they stand among baseball's best teams.
Saturday: New York Yankees vs. Oakland Athletics
Bartolo Colon will start on Saturday in the Bronx.
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Projected Starters: Phil Hughes (Yankees, 0-2), Bartolo Colon (Athletics, 3-0)
The Yankees and the Athletics are both in second place in their respective divisions, so this series certainly holds plenty of implications for both teams.
Coincidentally, both teams are 2.5 games back in their division. The Yankees are chasing the Red Sox, while the Athletics are looking up at the Rangers.
Colon gives the Athletics the edge in this game. He's undefeated on the season with a 3.38 ERA. Meanwhile, Phil Hughes has struggled early with no wins and a 4.67 ERA.
If the Athletics want to firmly establish themselves as a contender this year, an impressive showing at Yankee Stadium is a good way to do so.