By Michael Cooper
Another weekend of interleague play brings a few intriguing matchups. The two Central Division leaders will face off in Detroit, the Dodgers and Angels will meet up in a battle for Los Angeles, and the Reds and White Sox will face off in the first-ever Civil Rights game.
The Main Event
Brewers at Tigers: Two Central Division leaders will meet in Detroit this weekend, but they’ve each had different fortunes as of late.
The Brewers swept three games in Cleveland, scoring 30 runs with a .331 (40-for-121) and just 15 strikeouts in the process. They’ve struggled with average (.251), ranking 12th in the National League, but aren’t having any problems scoring runs. They rank third in home runs (77), as well as fourth in both runs (318) and RBIs (313) – and that’s without injured second baseman Rickie Weeks. Two of the Brewers struggling stars, Corey Hart (.264, 9 HR, 32 RBI) and J.J. Hardy (.219, 6 HR, 29 RBI), are finally starting to play better over the last week. Hardy has five hits in his 12 at-bats after going 0-for-26 from June 6 to June 14. If the Brewers can get Hart and Hardy going, with Fielder and Braun already hitting like crazy, they might be able to start building a lead in the NL Central.
Detroit, meanwhile, has had a rough month, going 7-9 in June, but they’re still clinging to a 1.5 game lead over the Twins in the AL Central. Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis each went on the disabled this week, leaving the Tigers scrambling to find a fifth starter. All-Star Magglio Ordonez has been benched indefinitely after struggling at the plate (.273, 2 HR, 22 RBI). They also optioned No. 3 hitter Clete Thomas to the minors on June 11, who had just three hits in his last 10 games, but still an odd move.
The Tigers saving grace has been their starting pitching. They’ve got the best three-man combination in baseball with Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson (6-4, 2.39) and Rick Porcello (8-4, 3.54), who gave up eight hits in 5.2 innings to help Detroit snap a four-game losing streak on Thursday. Porcello will likely battle with Baltimore’s Matt Wieters and Toronto’s Scott Richmond for the American League Rookie of the Year. If the Tigers can hold their lead in the Central, their pitching staff could payoff down the stretch.
Pitching matchups — Friday: Braden Looper, RHP (5-3, 4.62) vs. Armando Galarraga, RHP (3-7, 5.56); Saturday: Dave Bush, RHP (3-3, 5.31) vs. Alfredo Figaro (first start); Sunday: Yovani Gallardo, RHP (7-3, 2.93) vs. Justin Verlander, RHP (7-3, 3.39).
Dodgers at Angels: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim love interleague play, going 8-1 including six straight wins over San Diego and San Francisco. Turns out the Angels love the NL West as much as the Dodgers do. Their pitching staff is still banged up, but they should get both Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero into the lineup tonight — which should be a big boost this weekend.
The other team in Los Angeles is still playing outstanding baseball with a 9-6 record in June. They beat the Athletics 3-2 on Thursday to lift Joe Torre to his 2,195th regular-season managing victory, moving past Sparky Anderson for fifth on the all-time list. Their pitching sets up nicely this weekend with Chad Billingsley starting tonight’s game against the Angels, who’ve won 12 of the last 17 meetings, and struggling Joe Saunders (5.93 ERA over his last five starts).
Saturday’s game will feature another intriguing pitching matchup — Weaver vs. Weaver. With Eric Milton going on the DL on Eric Stults not ready to come back from injury, Jeff Weaver drew a spot start for Saturday’s game. He’ll be facing his younger brother, Jered, in the first matchup of their careers. It’s the first sibling matchup since Alan and Andy Benes faced off in 2002. It’s at Anaheim, so they won’t hit against each other, however.
Pitching matchups — Friday: Chad Billingsley, RHP (9-3, 2.72) at Joe Saunders, LHP (7-4, 3.66); Saturday: Jeff Weaver, RHP (3-1, 3.72) at Jered Weaver, RHP (7-2, 2.08); Sunday: Clayton Kershaw, LHP (3-5, 4.13) at John Lackey, RHP (2-2, 6.10).
White Sox at Reds: This series is worthy not for its two struggling baseball teams, but for the festivities around the ballpark. Cincinnati will host the third annual Civil Rights Game, which honors the struggles for racial equality, at Great American Ball Park on Saturday. Muhammad Ali, Bill Cosby and Hank Aaron will all be receiving Beacon Awards before Saturday’s game with Bill Clinton serving as the keynote speaker of the Major League Baseball Beacon Awards Luncheon, which will be televised live on CNN from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sugar Ray Leonard will also be giving motivational speeches after the game — and let’s hope the Reds and White Sox are listening.
Pitching matchups — Friday: Jose Contreras, RHP (2-5, 5.32) at Bronson Arroyo, RHP (7-5, 5.36); Saturday: Clayton Richard, LHP (2-1, 3.76) at Johnny Cueto, RHP (6-4, 2.17); Sunday: Mark Buehrle, LHP (6-2, 3.43) at Aaron Harang, RHP (5-6, 3.65).
Quick hits from the rest of the league
Indians at Cubs: Lost in the Indians struggles this season has been the performance of Shin-Soo Choo, who’s batting .297 with nine home runs, 41 RBIs and 11 stolen bases this season. … The Cubs have won just three of their last eight games, but are back to .500 at 31-31. The visiting Indians might be just what they need to get back on track.
Orioles at Phillies: Matt Wieters struggled after being called up on May 29, but the O’s phenom is finally starting to hit his stride, going 10-for-26 since June 9 to raise his average from .194 to .259. … At first, Ryan Madson looked like a great option to serve as the Phillies closer while Brad Lidge was on the DL, but he’s struggled lately, blowing a save on Tuesday and allowing a home run to pick up the loss on Thursday.
Blue Jays at Nationals: Taking two of three from the Yankees this week could be the highlight of the Nationals season. Or maybe it was drafting Stephen Strasburg? … Adam Lind is on fire this season, batting .308 with 14 homers (including four in the last 10 days) and 48 RBI.
Braves at Red Sox: Tommy Hanson had his best performance on Thursday, allowing just three hits in six innings against the Reds for his second straight victory. … On Thursday, the Red Sox lost a rain-shortened game to Florida that lasted just five innings and saw a two-hour rain delay. The team, especially the losing pitcher Jon Lester, was upset that the organization decided not to call the game, but rather take the gate and keep the game going. Don’t be surprised if they take their frustrations out on the Braves.
Yankees at Marlins: The Yanks just lost two in a row at home to Nationals against John Lannan and Craig Stammen, scoring just two runs in the last two games. … Lost in the rainstorm on Thursday was Ricky Nolasco, who allowed just one hit, a home run to Kevin Youkilis, in a five-inning victory.
Rays at Mets: Ben Zobrist needs just four plate appearances to appear among the league leaders in hitting. He’s been on fire, hitting .307 with 14 home runs, 41 RBIs and eight steals. … The Mets have eight players on the DL, including six regulars and are still just three games back of the Phillies in the NL East.
Astros at Twins: Roy Oswalt (3-3, 4.37 ERA) will take on Kevin Slowey (9-2, 4.23 ERA) tonight to open the series. … Joe Mauer has gotten lots of attention since his return from injury, but Justin Morneau has been outstanding as well, batting .324 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs.
Cardinals at Royals: Albert Pujols will never be known as a speed demon, but he’s still leading the team with nine stolen bases this season. … The Royals committed six errors in back-to-back 12-5 losses to Arizona.
Pirates at Rockies: While the Nate McLouth deal still doesn’t make sense, Andrew McCutchen is proving he can play. He’s batting .333 with five extra base hits and nine RBIs since being called up two weeks ago. … No team is hotter than Colorado, which has won 13 of its last 14 games. They’re also 7-2 in interleague play, the best record in the NL.
Athletics at Padres: The A’s started June by winning seven of eight games, but are just 2-7 in their last nine games. … Chris Young now joins Jake Peavy on the DL for the Padres.
D-backs at Mariners: Mark Reynolds set the record for most strikeouts in a season with 204 last season. He’s on pace for 229 this season, but is still batting .275 with 18 home runs, 47 RBI and 13 steals. … The Mariners are 8-7 in the June, but could help themselves with six games against the D-Backs and Padres before facing the Dodgers and Yankees at the end of the month.
Rangers at Giants: Josh Hamilton, who recently had surgery to repair tears in his abdominal wall muscle, is already doing light workouts and hoping to play in the All-Star game if elected. … After winning five straight decisions, Tim Lincecum finally lost on Wednesday, allowing three earned runs in the eighth inning. He still pitched well, striking out nine, but the Giants seemingly have to win every Lincecum start if they plan on being a factor in the wild card race.
For your viewing pleasure
Here are all the nationally televised games scheduled for this weekend:
Saturday: Brewers at Tigers or Cardinals at Royals or Rays at Mets, 4 p.m., FOX; White Sox at Reds, 7 p.m., MLB Network.
Sunday: Braves at Red Sox, 1:30, TBS; Dodgers at Angels, 8 p.m., ESPN.