What's Next: October revisited to open May

ALDS rematch on tap this week; Nationals vs. Royals and Cubs in October preview?

What's Next: October revisited to open May

The calendar says May, but the matchups might very well say October.

The week ahead in Major League Baseball brings us the first full week of the second month of the 162-game schedule. And while the rest of the sports world might pause for two minutes to take in Saturday's Kentucky Derby, there are horse races throughout every division in the Majors with teams going all out, nose to nose, as they negotiate the crucial early furlongs.

What's next is a seven-day slate packed with dramatic head-to-head series between clubs with the aspirations and the credentials to be around for a long time, possibly all the way to the World Series.

To start, we go north of the border to Toronto and back to the scene of "The Flip."

Last October, the Blue Jays and Rangers were embroiled in one heck of an American League Division Series. It came down to a wacky and unforgettable seventh inning of Game 5 in Rogers Centre, where Texas took the lead on a disputed play in the top of the inning only to commit three consecutive errors to allow Toronto to load the bases in the bottom of the frame.

Jose Bautista took it from there, unleashing the most famous home run in Canada since Joe Carter's World Series walk-off shot in 1993 and one of the most famous bat tosses ever.

Bautista's go-ahead homer

Six months later, the Blue Jays have been slow to get out of the gate, but they're still a good week from being right back in the thick of the AL East. The Rangers are right there at the top of the AL West. And now they meet again in Toronto with a four-game series to begin the week.

"They can still impact the baseball, and they like playing in their ballpark," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said of the Blue Jays' lineup. "We'll have to play good baseball and pitch it well."

The same can be said for most of the teams knocking heads in a very competitive week on the diamonds of the American and National Leagues.

Take the Nationals, for example. Sure, they're 17-7 and atop the NL East, but things don't get easier this week for Washington. They have three games in Kansas City against the defending World Series-champion Royals, who snapped a five-game losing streak with a Sunday victory in Seattle, and then they have four at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, who have the best record in all of Major League Baseball (17-6).

Meanwhile, the reigning unanimous winner of last year's NL Most Valuable Player Award, Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper, was hitless in his past 11 at-bats and his team still swept the Cardinals over the weekend.

"That tells me that somebody's in trouble," Washington manager Dusty Baker said. "Somebody's in trouble, because Bryce isn't going hitless for too long a period of time."

Harper's game-tying solo homer

The Cubs hope to avoid being that victim, especially with the way they've been playing lately. Before ending the week against the Nationals, they begin it against a familiar opponent in their NL Central-rival Pirates. In fact, it was Pittsburgh that Chicago swept in last year's NL Wild Card Game.

This time around, the Pirates are in second place behind the Cubs, and they had won six games in a row before losing on Sunday in 11 innings. Still, Pittsburgh led the Majors with a .293 batting average and .378 on-base percentage in April.

"I think we all enjoy going there because we know we're going to play a high-quality team," said Chicago starter Jake Arrieta, who is slated to face Pittsburgh on Tuesday. "We know that in order to beat these guys, we've got to be on top of our game, we've got to play good defense because we know their lineup is strong. They've got the ability to do a lot of things -- they can run, hit for power, they can move guys around. Being able to neutralize that team in Pittsburgh is a challenge."

Arrieta's strong start

That's what this week is all about: challenges.

In addition to the aforementioned, there are plenty of other scintillating series on tap. The upstart Mariners get a stern road test in the AL West, traveling this week to play against the A's in Oakland and the Astros in Houston.

After they play the Cubs, the Pirates will get another intradivision assignment in the form of the defending NL Central-champion Cardinals, who have been waiting for their game to click in the early going.

And out in the AL East, the Red Sox match up against the early AL Central leader in the White Sox before heading to the Bronx to take on the Yankees over the weekend.

The White Sox are one of the early surprise stories of the AL, with an 18-8 record. After they play the Red Sox, they'll host the Twins for an AL Central battle over the weekend. A huge part of their success in April has been the work of ace Chris Sale, who leads the Major League with six wins.

Sale fans six in win

"We've got one win-and-loss record that matters, and it's not mine, that's for sure," Sale said after winning Sunday.

"Just got to keep rolling. We're playing great baseball against good teams. We have some tough teams to face early on. The way we've handled it and the way we've played has been great."

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.