For this week's edition of Around the Horn we'll take a look at several key weekend matchups in Major League Baseball. We're about a month into the season and many of the usual suspects have emerged as front-runners while a few surprise division leaders are in the mix as well. Here's a look at four matchups worthy of your attention this coming weekend.
Seattle Mariners vs. Toronto Blue Jays
With a strong following on the west coast, the Blue Jays always bring a raucous band of supporters with them on road trips to Seattle. That's turned the two teams into quasi-rivals over the years. The first instalment between the two clubs this year will take place in Toronto this weekend. I suppose the Mariners can be considered an early-season disappointment, sitting in fourth place in the American League West sporting an 11-13 record. While they've only managed to play .500 baseball on the road, they have proven to be a better offensive team compared to at home, averaging 5.0 runs per game. They'll need all the offense they can muster against a Blue Jays team that ranks tied for 11th in runs per game and fifth in hits per contest. The good news for the M's is that they'll start the series with their ace Luis Castillo taking the ball on Friday. Note that Seattle ranks third in the majors in home runs allowed this season, giving up just 19 to date. That's in stark contrast to the Jays pitching staff, which has been tagged for 30 long balls.
Atlanta Braves vs. New York Mets
As expected, the Braves and Mets hold down the top two spots in the National League East as we approach the end of April. They'll match up for the first time this season in Queens this weekend. Atlanta figures to have the starting pitching advantage, in the front half of the four-game set at least, as they send Max Fried and Spencer Strider to the mound on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The Braves have been red hot and check in ranked top-five in the league in runs per game and tied for second in runs allowed. Only three teams have posted a collective ERA lower than Atlanta's so far this season. New York's pitching staff has been decimated by injuries in the early going and unfortunately the bats haven't been able to pick up the slack, ranking tied for 15th in runs per game and tied for 19th in hits per contest.
New York Yankees vs. Texas Rangers
While the Yankees are off to a respectable start to the season they still find themselves looking up at three teams in the American League East, entering this series sporting a 14-11 record. The Rangers are just a half-game better than the Yanks at 14-10, yet currently hold down the American League West division lead. The highlight of this series could come on Friday night as the Rangers send Jacob deGrom to the hill against Clarke Schmidt. deGrom has lived up to billing as Texas' big offseason acquisition, recording a 3.04 ERA and 0.79 WHIP in 26 2/3 innings of work. Of course he's been overshadowed by the Rangers offense, which enters Thursday's action ranking tops in baseball in runs per game (6.4). New York has dealt with a number of key injuries to its lineup but that's no excuse for averaging only 4.3 runs per game, good for a tie for 20th in the majors.
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Cardinals have taken their lumps this week in San Francisco. In fact, it's been a rotten west coast road trip from the start for the Cards as they were also thrashed in Seattle last weekend. Sitting at 9-16 entering Thursday's action, St. Louis has its work cut out for it as it heads to Los Angeles for a three-game series against the Dodgers beginning on Friday. The Cards pitching staff ranks 20th in the majors in ERA and worse still, tied for 26th in WHIP. That's just not going to cut it when your offense is averaging only 4.4 runs per contest. Interestingly, despite the low scoring average, St. Louis actually ranks fourth in baseball in hits per game. It will face a difficult challenge against the Dodgers with L.A. sending Dustin May and Clayton Kershaw to the hill in the first two games of the series. The Dodgers have had a number of key hitters in and out of the lineup over the last week but should be near full-strength to open this weekend set. L.A. ranks top-five in the majors in runs per game this season, averaging 5.2.