After historic back-to-back starts, Nats' ace expected to pitch again Friday in Philly
By Doug Miller
What will he do for another encore?
As the week ahead dawns in Major League Baseball, the eyes of the sport will be on Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer. All the guy has done, after all, is throw a one-hitter two starts ago and come right back with an almost-perfect-game/no-hitter in his next start on Saturday. This historic run of back-to-back brilliance could continue or come to a halt, but one thing's for certain: We'll all be watching.
"My last two starts, this is some of the best baseball I've thrown, best pitching I've done," Scherzer said after the no-no against Pittsburgh. "I just feel like I'm executing all of my pitches. I just continue to keep getting better."
What's next for Scherzer is most likely a Friday road start against the Phillies and right-hander Aaron Harang at Citizens Bank Park. What's next for the rest of baseball is a crucial late-June week that should have plenty of impact on the standings as October inches ever closer.
Right now, the American League East is one of the most tightly bunched divisions in the game, and this week kicks off with a doozy of a series between the Blue Jays and Rays at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay is doing it with pitching and defense, as always. Even though first-year manager Kevin Cash's club lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to the Indians on Sunday, the Rays have won eight of their last 10 and are a game ahead of the Yankees in the East.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have been crushing the ball and are only three games back, so this three-game set could really swing the balance of power in the division -- at least for now.
Speaking of the East, the National League has its own version, and the Nationals, who enter the week with the biggest current winning streak in the game (three games), are on top, with a 1 1/2-game cushion over the pesky Mets. New York will play the Brewers in Milwaukee, while the Nats entertain the Braves at home before venturing off to Philadelphia.
One of the more intriguing matchups for the week should be between the Dodgers and Cubs at Wrigley Field from Monday to Thursday. Los Angeles is holding onto a 1 1/2-game lead over its archrival, the defending World Series champion Giants, in the NL West, and the Cubs are hanging in the NL Wild Card chase, trailing St. Louis by seven games in the NL Central but holding a 37-30 record.
Chicago's young and talented core could make a statement by holding court in this series, and getting to double digits over .500 by the end of the week could go a long way toward building momentum for a possible pennant race on the North Side.
The first-place Astros avoided a Seattle sweep at the hands of the Mariners on Sunday, and should get serious support back early this week for their important AL West series against the Angels. That's because their sparkplug second baseman, Jose Altuve, is about due to return after missing the last four games because of hamstring soreness.
"It's looking more promising than the beginning of this series," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said Sunday. "I'm going to be overly cautious to make sure we feel good about putting him back in the game. He had his helmet on last night and was going to pinch-hit at one point. I'm going to hold off starting him until tomorrow."
Altuve, last year's AL batting champion, is hitting .287 with five homers, 28 RBIs and an AL-leading 17 stolen bases.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.