All eyes will be on the two hottest teams in baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs, tangling at Wrigley Field, but there are plenty of other matchups worth watching this weekend. Here's what we're most looking forward to.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been one of baseball's best teams over the past month, running off a 14-4 spurt after a 6-9 start. Arizona hosts the Atlanta Braves this weekend. Will the D-backs be within striking distance of a playoff spot come September?
Eddie Matz: Striking distance? Sure. Beating out the Dodgers in the National League West seems like a pipe dream, but I see no reason why the D-backs can't hang with the other wild-card wannabes. Their run differential (plus-17 entering Thursday) says their early-season success is legit, and the front of the rotation (Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray and Luke Weaver) is solid. If they can get any kind of contribution down the stretch from Taijuan Walker, who's expected back from Tommy John surgery around midseason, it would go a long way toward upping their postseason odds (currently at 21 percent, per FanGraphs). All that said, I still think they will come up short in the end.
Sam Miller: Here's something wild: Carson Kelly has a higher OPS than Paul Goldschmidt, and Luke Weaver has a better ERA than Patrick Corbin, so the Diamondbacks' offseason step back (which included trading Goldie for Kelly and Weaver, and letting Corbin leave as a free agent) hasn't actually hurt them yet. Yet, I said. Yet! I don't really buy this offense -- they've scored the third-most runs in the NL, and nearly every hitter is outhitting his preseason projections -- but the NL really hasn't done enough to knock any teams out of striking distance yet. A whopping 12 teams -- including the three division leaders -- currently have wild-card odds between 5 and 30 percent, according to Baseball Prospectus.
David Schoenfield: Arizona's front office certainly did a credible job of reloading without completely tearing everything down (although, let's be honest, if they could have traded Greinke's contract, they probably would have). I think it all depends on where the playoff picture sits. It's possible that in a crowded NL field, 84 to 86 wins puts you in the running for at least a wild card. In that case, Arizona may stick around. One advantage is that if the Giants are bad, the Rockies are an under-.500 team and the Padres are merely a fluke at the moment, the NL West could be the weakest of the three divisions.
Just when it seemed the one-pitcher no-hitter might be a thing of the past, Oakland's Mike Fiers showed us it's possible after all. Which matchup this weekend is the best bet for another no-no: Luis Castillo vs. the Giants on Friday, Jacob deGrom vs. the Marlins on Sunday or Jose Berrios vs. the Tigers on Sunday?
Matz: The Giants have actually been swinging it well lately, plus they just faced Castillo on Sunday. So I say no go on the no-no there. Berrios against the Tigers is more likely, but not as likely as JdG no-hitting the Fish. The Mets' ace dominated them earlier this season (7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 14 K), and that was way back when Miami's offense was "good." Lately, the Marlins' offense has been brutal (no quotes necessary). They're prime no-hit material.
Miller: Castillo took a no-hitter into the sixth against the Giants on Sunday, and while Eddie is right that familiarity benefits the offense, Castillo is my pick. He's allowing 5.36 hits per nine, which -- if he could maintain it all season -- would be the fifth-lowest rate in history, behind a couple of Nolan Ryan joints.
Schoenfield: I'll go with deGrom vs. the Fish. He seems past that little blip where he was hittable and back to a 2018 level. Plus, the Fish ... dear lord, this is one of the worst offenses I've ever seen. Derek Jeter is unhappy with this start? DEREK, YOU BUILT THIS TEAM AND IT'S PRETTY MUCH PLAYING TO ITS LEVEL OF TALENT. Anyway, "Fish" isn't even an appropriate nickname anymore. I'd say "Minnows" works better.
The Brewers-Cubs series at Wrigley this weekend (Friday, 2:20 p.m. ET, ESPN+; Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN) got us thinking about NL MVP contenders. Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger broke out ahead of the field, but last year's runner-up, Javy Baez, has been gaining ground quickly. Rank this trio by their chances to be MVP.
Matz: MVP voters these days pay more and more attention to WAR. As good as Baez is, his low on-base numbers damage his WAR potential, which in turn hurts his MVP viability. So it's either Belly or Yelly. I'll give the edge to the guy who has the better chance of staying healthy. That'd be the guy who's four years younger and didn't just miss a week with back spasms (hint: rhymes with Schmody Schmellinger).
Miller: To make the case for Baez: He finished second in voting last year, with an OPS more than 100 points lower than he has now. As Eddie says, the MVP award has become (with some caveats) mostly a WAR award, and Baez gets a huge WAR boost for playing shortstop while the others are manning corners. And while all three do incredible things, Baez's best moments stick in your visual memory longer, simply because of the highly creative, high-torque style of play he has. Now, all that said: Bellinger is the leader in the race right now, and Yelich is probably the actual best player of the three, so he's the most likely to lead at the end. Handicapping 'em, Yelich > Bellinger > Baez.
Schoenfield: I'll admit that I didn't expect Baez to do this again, believing pitchers would do a better job of figuring out his inability to control the strike zone. Yet here he is with 44 strikeouts and nine walks and putting up even bigger numbers. He has the third-highest chase rate in the majors among regulars and one of the highest swing-and-miss rates. He's an absolute freak. Do not attempt his approach at your local Little League field, kids. Anyway, he'll play more second base with Addison Russell back, which could hurt him in MVP voting or help him (extra credit for his versatility). I'll go Bellinger > Yelich > Baez.
You guys are the real MVPs. What are you most looking forward to this weekend?
Matz: Watching Mike Trout in person. I don't get to see a whole lot of Trout up close, but this weekend he and the Angels visit Camden Yards. In related news, I live in Baltimore. So, yay.
Miller: I've got a pet interest in a very obscure sort of record -- the most strikeouts by a pitcher over nine innings -- so I'm watching Josh Hader, who has struck out 25 batters over his past nine innings.
Schoenfield: The Cubs are hot. The Brewers are hot. This feels like the series of the weekend. Plus, we can see if Baez can touch Hader.
PICK 'EM TIME
Surely you all predicted that on May 10, the Rays' Tyler Glasnow and the Yankees' Domingo German would be tied for the American League lead in wins with six. They are slated to face off Friday night at Yankee Stadium.
Total hits allowed by Glasnow and German on Friday: Over or under 9.5?
Matz: The numbers say that they should give up a combined seven hits over 13 innings. Or something like that. But both guys are due for a clunker. I'll take the over.
Miller: The Rays will have 9.5 hits when Boone comes out to get German in the fourth. Glasnow could throw a no-hitter, but I'm not banking on it. Over.
Schoenfield: I'm still kicking myself for not drafting German in my keeper fantasy league a few years ago. I liked his minor league numbers and thought he had a chance to start even if most projected him as a future reliever. Well, after struggling last year (5.57 ERA), he got another opportunity because of injuries in the rotation and he's run with it. Anyway, great matchup and I like to be positive around here, so I'll go under.
Red Sox pitching is among the league leaders in strikeouts; the Mariners whiff more than anyone.
Total K's for Boston pitchers in the three games at Fenway: Over or under 28?
Matz: The M's lead the majors in whiffs but not whiff rate (they're ninth). Still, they're facing a Red Sox staff that just tallied 22 strikeouts in a single game. Sure, it was against the Orioles, and yes, it took 12 innings. But still ... 22 punchies!!! I'll have the over, garcon.
Miller: Heck, the American League average this year is a strikeout per inning -- an all-time high -- so all I need is one game to go 10 innings for this to be a stone-cold certainty. Over.
Schoenfield: Chris Sale won't start in this series, but you know all those right-handed hitters in the Mariners lineup will be swinging from their heels when they see the Green Monster. Wait, they always swing from their heels. Is that even a saying anymore? Probably not. May have dated myself there. Over.
Who is your pick for Sunday night's Brewers-Cubs game?
Matz: Irresistible force vs. immovable object. Both teams are smokin'-hot. But if I have to pick one pitcher to win one game -- whether it's an October wild card or a May whatever -- I'm taking Jon Lester over Jhoulys Chacin. Cubs win. Cubs win. Cubs win.
Miller: Can't you ask me this after Saturday's game, when I'll know how many innings Hader has thrown in the first two games of the series? If he's fresh and fully available, I'll pick the Brewers, with Hader getting an eight-out save (and striking out eight).
Schoenfield: Yelich enters the weekend with 15 home runs at home and one on the road. There are two ways to look at this: He's due to start hitting more home runs on the road, or the Brewers are stealing signs at home. This game is at Wrigley. But if I pick against the Brewers, I'm insinuating the Brewers are stealing signs and there is no evidence that is the case. So I'll go with the Brewers ... and Yelich homers.
TWO TRUE OUTCOMES
Each week, we ask our panelists to choose one hitter they think will hit the most home runs and one pitcher they think will record the most strikeouts in the coming weekend. Panelists can pick a player only once for the season. We'll keep a running tally -- and invite you to play along at home.
Home run hitters
Matz: Trevor Story
Miller: Mike Trout
Schoenfield: Christian Yelich
Matz: Jacob deGrom
Miller: Noah Syndergaard