MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

8 things to watch for in today's slate

8 things to watch for in today's slate

For some teams, this a quick turnaround. For the Washington Nationals, it's a chance to quickly flush a tough loss from the mind. Unfortunately, the Texas Rangers aren't so lucky -- after letting a late lead slip away in Toronto, they've got to wait until tonight to start anew.

For baseball fans, this is one of the best days of the year, beginning with the Cubs and Pirates at 12:35 p.m. ET and ending with the Phillies and Cardinals at 8:15 p.m.

Here are eight things things to watch for.

1. Will Tuesday's win get the Royals going?
Kansas City had a tough few days, losing six of seven games as the bats went silent. And then on Tuesday night, the Royals rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Nationals, 7-6.

Mike Moustakas had a huge two-run single to tie it, then Lorenzo Cain finished it with a game-inning single, all against Nats closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Must C: Royals' comeback in 9th

The Royals talk constantly about their intangibles -- that is, their closeness and resolve. Games like this put every bit of that on display.

"These are the kinds of win that get you going," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Next up: Facing Stephen Strasburg, who goes for a 5-0 start in the 2:15 p.m. tilt.

2. Back to work, Papelbon
This is the life of a big league closer: They really only make news when they don't close the door. Papelbon stood up after the game and took responsibility for the Nationals' loss.

That's what the good ones do, and Papelbon has been one of the best for the past 11 years. He also wants the ball this afternoon, to turn the page and help get Washington back on track.

3. Can the Astros string something together?
They will try to win back-to-back games for the first time this season at 8:10 p.m., after an encouraging 6-4 victory over the Twins on Tuesday. Carlos Gomez doubled twice, and George Springer hit a monster two-run home run. Best of all, they made those runs hold up, with Houston's bullpen throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings.

Springer's two-run smash

4. The Cubs try to make it a 20-6 start
They're tied with the Cardinals for the Major League lead in runs. They've got the lowest ERA (2.29). Their run differential is +89 (the Cards are second, at +40). The Cubs have yet to lose back-to-back games and lead the National League Central by five games.

5. Aaron Sanchez is where he belongs
The Blue Jays right-hander goes against the Rangers at 7:07 p.m. and tries to build on a start in which he has a 2.59 ERA and a 1.149 WHIP. His fastball is sitting consistently in the 95-mph range.

The Blue Jays always knew Sanchez had a chance to be an impact starting pitcher. The problem was he had been so valuable in relief that they weren't sure this was the season to put him in the rotation.

Sanchez wanted to start, and he made it clear. He pitched so well in Spring Training that the decision was easy. Sanchez and Marcus Stroman give Toronto the kind of 1-2 combination that could be a long-term cornerstone.

6. Clay Buchholz seeks No. 1
He gets the ball at U.S. Cellular Field at 8:10 p.m., entering the game winless in five starts with a 6.51 ERA. Buchholz has allowed five earned runs in four of his five starts. The Red Sox believe there's still talent there -- maybe not the No. 1 starter talent they once projected, but certainly enough to win consistently. For a rotation that might be one quality starter away from taking control of the American League East, this is a significant game.

7. You didn't see the Phillies coming, did you?
None of us did. Check out the NL East standings and the Phillies are hanging in there at 16-11, just 2 1/2 games behind the Nats. Aaron Nola pitched seven scoreless innings in a 1-0 victory over the Cardinals on Tuesday, and 26-year-old Adam Morgan gets his second start of the season tonight in St. Louis.

Nola's dominant start

The Phils are near the bottom in most offense categories, but their starting rotation -- filled with the young talent of Nola, Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff -- has been outstanding. Nola (0.80) and Velasquez (0.89) are third and fourth among all NL starters in WHIP. Only Clayton Kershaw (0.72) and Jake Arrieta (0.74) have been better.

There's some magic in the air. The Phillies are 4-0 when they're tied in the eighth inning or later, and they have three walk-off victories in their past 15 games.

8. The Mets go for a run, or maybe even two or three
They haven't tallied one in 16 innings. Nevertheless, they roll on toward May 17, when they play the division-rivial Nationals for the first time. The Mets have won 12 of 15 and 14 of 18, and they also won five straight series. A win against the Braves in today's 1:10 p.m. game would give the Mets six straight series wins for the first time in 10 years.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.