With no games to recap, let's look ahead …
What to Watch This Weekend
The pre–All-Star break slate wrapped up with a battle between the Cardinals and Pirates, the top two teams in the National League Central. Save for a Royals–White Sox doubleheader, the post-break docket would begin with the opener of a three-game series between the senior circuit's other two first-place clubs, the 51–39 Dodgers and the 48–39 Nationals, whose winning percentages lag behind the second-place Bucs'.
Clayton Kershaw, who had the benefit of a shorter flight to the nation's capital after a late invitation to the NL All-Stars, was initially scheduled to get the ball for the visitors in game one. That left many dreaming of a duel with Max Scherzer, who pitched last Sunday and would have been on regular rest, in the second-half opener. Alas, it was not to be.
In fact, neither Scherzer—who was tabbed to go Sunday—nor Kershaw, who was pushed back to Saturday, perhaps because the Dodgers shied from starting him three days after a 22-pitch outing in the All-Star Game, will pitch tonight. It'll be Mike Bolsinger for L.A. and Jordan Zimmermann for Washington (7:05 p.m. ET).
Kershaw will then lock horns with Doug Fister in Saturday's middle match (4:05 p.m. ET), before the marquee pairing of Scherzer and All-Star Game starter Zack Greinke takes center stage Sunday (1:35 p.m. ET).
Fifteen months ago, Martin Perez was busy etching his name in the Rangers' history books with three straight scoreless starts of eight or more innings, the first such streak for Texas since Charlie Hough ran one off in 1982. But things quickly went south for the southpaw, who was bashed for eight runs in his next outing and hit the shelf two starts later. The diagnosis was a torn UCL in his elbow, so Tommy John surgery followed, and along with it a 14-month recovery.
Now, that recovery is complete, and the Rangers are prepared to activate Perez to face off with the Astros tonight. As Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News wrote Monday, the logic behind sending Perez to the hill in the opener is that manager Jeff Banister will have a full set of relievers ready to go after the break. The 24-year-old Perez did not exceed six innings and only once eclipsed 80 pitches during his rehab assignment, so he's likely to be on a pitch count as he duels Collin McHugh (8:10 p.m. ET).
As the weather heats up, so does Michael Pineda's velocity, it appears,
which is good news for the Yankees, who enjoyed 21 2/3 innings of 1.25 ERA ball from the right-hander heading into the break. Pineda rocked a 24-to-1 K:BB ratio during that stretch, but the Mariners—his former employer and next opponent—might find a bit of solace in his track record with extra rest. The 26-year-old has fanned more than a batter per inning when working on four or five days between games, but that drops to 7.1 K/9 with six or more, and his record falls to 1–7 with a 4.23 ERA in 14 starts.
Pineda fanned nine Mariners in six innings when the sides met in May, outdueling an uncharacteristically wild Felix Hernandez, but he'll have to contend with former trade-mate Jesus Montero in the rematch. Recalled from Triple-A Tacoma just before the break after getting into shape and tearing up the Pacific Coast League, Montero went 1-for-7 with a couple of walks, notable because he's drawn only 46 of them in 758 career plate appearances. The 25-year-old will aim to provide a spark to Seattle's offense behind Hisashi Iwakuma and help to salvage a shred of dignity from what now seems an awfully ill-fated trade (1:05 p.m. ET).
No player in baseball was more disappointed to see the All-Star break come along than the Angels' C.J. Cron, the hottest hitter in the majors during the first half of July.
Cron was sputtering with a .518 OPS when the month began, and it dipped four points lower when he struck out in a pinch-hit appearance on July 1st. Two days later, he picked up a hat trick, falling to .509 in the OPS department with a 1-for-5 night.
Then, something happened. And whatever it was, it sparked a surge that's elevated Cron's OPS by 206 points in six games.
The former University of Utah standout is 15-for-24 since Independence Day, and he's packed three doubles and three big flies into those 15 knocks. Cron isn't drawing walks—just one during the torrid stretch in which his OBP (.615) is actually lower than his .625 average—but the Angels will live with that as long as he's pounding line drives left and right:
Cron will welcome the Red Sox to Anaheim this weekend, hoping that a few days off haven't taken the steam out of his stick. All three games in the series, including the nationally televised Sunday Night Baseball as well as Saturday's middle match, will be played under the lights (9:05 p.m. ET).
Immediately after striking out 11 Padres in seven innings on June 17th, Jesse Chavez began to fade. The right-hander has been touched up for 30 hits, four of them homers, in 22 innings of work over his past four starts, resulting in a 6.55 ERA. Opponents are batting .319/.359/.532 off Chavez during that stretch, up from .236/.283/.319 in the 11 starts that preceded it.
A little over a month ago, George Bissell profiled Chavez, noting that his 2.56 DRA placed him 19th of 132 qualifying starters. In other words, through April, May, and the beginning of June, the onetime journeyman was pitching like a legitimate ace. cFIP foretold similarly dominant work from Chavez going forward, and for another week or so, it was right. Since then, though, Chavez has defied cFIP's prediction, watching his DRA soar more than a full run to 3.62.
cFIP remains optimistic about the 31-year-old, albeit more guardedly than it was a month ago. At 92, it now equates him with the likes of James Shields and A.J. Burnett, which isn't the same as being compared to Johnny Cueto and Gerrit Cole, but is far from bad company to keep. After getting 10 days to recharge his batteries, Chavez wraps up the A's home series with the Twins, going up against his former teammate, Tommy Milone (4:05 p.m. ET).
The Braves rolled to victory in each of Shelby Miller's first four starts of 2015, fell to the Reds in his fifth, and then rattled off four more wins. Miller was bound to come back to earth from his 1.50 ERA perch, which made winning behind him a breeze for Fredi Gonzalez's offense, but even a modest regression has proven too difficult for Atlanta to surmount.
Since going 8–1 in the 24-year-old's first nine outings, the Braves have done a full 180 and dropped to 1–8 in the nine that have followed. The skid includes five games in which Miller held the opposition to no more than one earned run, so while there have been hiccups—most recently an 11-hit, five-run drubbing at Coors Field heading into the break—the former Cardinal hasn't pitched poorly on the whole. Miller has compiled a 3.35 ERA and 47-to-17 K:BB ratio in 53 2/3 innings during the rut, which is nice, but not nice enough when your team only plates 21 runs, averaging 2.33 per game.
Things won't get any easier for the Braves this weekend, when they take on arguably the best National League pitcher not named to the All-Star team. Jake Arrieta fired a complete-game win over the White Sox on June 12th, so he wouldn't have pitched in Cincinnati even if he'd been selected, but his numbers certainly warranted recognition. The 29-year-old has stifled foes to the tune of a .165/.204/.243 batting line over his past four starts, good for a 1.47 ERA buttressed by a 27-to-4 K:BB ratio in 30 2/3 innings.
Active Braves are 9-for-35 lifetime versus Arrieta with a couple of homers and five walks in 40 plate appearances, which doesn't seem too bad, until you look closer and notice that virtually all the damage has come off one player's bat. A.J. Pierzynski is 6-for-8 against the Cubs righty with both of those jacks and two walks in 10 trips, a .750/.800/2.300 small-sample output. Atlanta will look to its veteran catcher to lead the way in the series finale (5:05 p.m. ET).