Maeda faces test in Toronto; Zimmermann looks to maintain April success as he faces Texas
By Andrew Simon
As the weekend begins, so are several new series across the Majors.
North of the border, the Blue Jays will welcome the Dodgers and Japanese rookie sensation Kenta Maeda. Detroit will see a battle of former National League East adversaries in the Rangers' Cole Hamels and the Tigers' Jordan Zimmermann, the reigning American League Pitcher of the Month. In St. Louis, the Cardinals will look for revenge against the Pirates, who opened the season by sweeping them in three games at PNC Park. And in Anaheim, the Rays' Chris Archer will put his recent improvement on the line against Mike Trout's Angels.
Those are just four of the matchups that will be available on MLB.TV as part of a full 15-game slate.
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Here is a look at what to watch for today in the Majors (all times ET):
A big test for Maeda: LAD@TOR, 7:07 p.m.
This will be the Dodgers' 10th game at Rogers Centre and only their fourth since 2007. The Blue Jays' lineup and ballpark could challenge Maeda, who had a 1.41 ERA and 28-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio over five starts in April. The 28-year-old right-hander did already pass a big road test on April 23, when he tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings at Coors Field, but he suffered his first loss in his last outing against Miami. However, three of the four runs charged to him crossed the plate after he left the game. The Jays will counter with righty Marcus Stroman, who is coming off his best outing, in which he held the Rays to one run over eight innings, with a career-high nine strikeouts.
"I didn't know I had that many, to be honest with you," Stroman said afterward. "I felt like me and [catcher Russell Martin] had a really good mix all day. I felt like I mixed my pitches better today than I had the entire year."
Stat that matters: Maeda has held opponents to a .121 average (4-for-33) on his fastball, the lowest among qualified pitchers.
April star tries May: TEX@DET, 7:10 p.m.
After signing a five-year, $110 million deal with the Tigers this offseason, Zimmermann (5-0, 0.55 ERA) put together one of the best opening months in history, allowing two runs across five starts. He's the sixth pitcher to finish April with at least five wins, no losses and an ERA below 1.00.
"I'm pitching probably the best I've ever pitched in my career," Zimmermann said.
The Rangers enter the series having scored a total of six runs over three straight losses at Toronto. They will turn to Hamels (3.30 ERA), who allowed a season-high four runs and four walks in his last start, against the Angels.
Stat that matters: Zimmermann has allowed one home run on 36 fly balls this season, an MLB-low rate of 2.8 percent.
Division clash: PIT@STL, 8:15 p.m.
The Bucs outscored the Cardinals 15-7 during their season-opening sweep, going on to finish April at 15-9 before starting May with four straight losses. They now sit a half-game ahead of St. Louis, which won six of the teams' nine matchups at Busch Stadium last year. Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez (2.60 ERA) will face the Pirates for the first time this season, while Pittsburgh lefty Francisco Liriano (3.86) tossed six scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts on Opening Day. This series also will bring Pirates third baseman David Freese back to Busch Stadium for the first time since he was traded following the 2013 season.
Stat that matters: Right-handed batters have a .136/.150/.153 line with one extra-base hit, one walk and 16 strikeouts in 61 plate appearances against Martinez.
That's more like it: TB@LAA, 10:05 p.m.
Over his first four starts, Archer posted a 7.32 ERA and allowed a .345 average and .598 slugging percentage. But in two starts since, the 2015 All-Star has allowed two runs over 12 2/3 innings, holding the Orioles and Blue Jays to a .136 average and .250 slugging. He takes the ball to kick off a six-game road trip for the Rays, while the Angels will make do with spot starter Cory Rasmus in place of Garrett Richards (fatigue). Rasmus, who has made seven starts in his career, likely won't go more than four innings, leaving the bullpen with lots of work.
Stat that matters: Trout finished April 19 with a .673 OPS. In 14 games since then, he has batted .407/.467/.833 with six homers, 10 extra-base hits and 18 RBIs.
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Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.