Indians also look to close gap as part of 12-game day
By Matt Kelly
As we pass the quarter pole of the 2016 season, the division races across the Major Leagues are beginning to take shape.
A pair of contenders have a chance to overtake their division leaders this week, and hope Monday's games help them take the first step. Meanwhile a handful of National League aces will be in action as part of a 12-game slate -- all of which will be available on MLB.TV.
MLB.TV Premium returns with the same features as last year, but at $109.99, it is a full 20 bucks cheaper than the 2015 cost. This package has the best value and provides access to more than 400 devices and a free subscription to the MLB.com At Bat Premium app (a $19.99 value). It offers the best picture quality ever -- a new 60 frames per second -- for supported devices. Monthly signups for MLB.TV Premium are now underway as well for $24.99.
The new MLB.TV Single Team package is also now available as an $84.99 yearly subscription. You can watch a single team's live out-of-market games in full HD.
Here is a look at what to watch for Monday in the Majors (all times ET):
Kershaw tries to extend his own record: CIN@LAD, 10:10 p.m.
All-world pitcher Clayton Kershaw will try to extend his record streak of six straight starts with at least 10 strikeouts and one or zero walks against a Reds club that has walked just 104 times this season -- the lowest total in the National League. As the ace of the staff, it will be up to Kershaw to stop a recent spell in which L.A. has lost seven of their last eight. Not surprisingly, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts has full confidence in his team's leader.
"Adjectives, superlatives -- there are none," Roberts said of Kershaw after his last start, in which the southpaw allowed just one run over eight innings to pick up a Freeway Series win against the Angels on Tuesday. "He's consistent, and he's consistently great."
Cincinnati's recent struggles have been just as tough, as the Reds have dropped 10 of their last 11 contests coming into their first matchup against the Dodgers. Joey Votto, batting .205 for the season, has just four hits in his last 35 at-bats.
Stat that matters: Kershaw's average workload over the past three seasons is 222 1/3 innings per year. If Kershaw were to accumulate that average number of innings this season, he would be on pace to record 280 strikeouts and just 13 walks. Of the starting pitchers who have accumulated at least 275 strikeouts in a season since 1900, the lowest single-season walk total among them was Pedro Martinez's 32 walks in 2000 -- a full 19 more than Kershaw's projected total at this point.
NL East rivals lock horns again: NYM@WSH, 7:05 p.m.
It was a topsy-turvy homestand for the Amazin's. It began with concerns over Matt Harvey and Bartolo Colon, as New York dropped two-of-three to division-leading Washington. It ended with a sweep of the Brewers that included a walk-off by David Wright and a dominant start from Noah Syndergaard. Now the Mets are just 1 1/2 games back in the National League East standings and get second crack at their rivals.
Monday's opener is a rematch between Colon and Washington's Gio Gonzalez from Wednesday night. Gonzalez was splendid, allowing one run over 6 1/3 innings. Colon was not, as he issued back-to-back walks for the first time in nine years as part of a 7-1 loss. Colon, set to make his final start before his 43rd birthday, is ready to put that start behind him.
"I won't really think back on this," Colon said Wednesday. "I'll be ready for [my next] start as a fresh start."
Stat that matters: Gonzalez is 10-4 with a 2.59 ERA in 18 career starts against the Mets. His .575 OPS allowed to New York is the third-lowest of any of the 29 teams he has faced in his career.
Lackey, Cubs back in St. Louis: CHC@STL, 8:15 p.m.
John Lackey posted arguably his best start of the season in his return to St. Louis on April 18, scattering four hits and a walk over seven shutout innings as part of a 5-0 Chicago win. Though the Cubs' dominance to start 2016 has diminished slightly, they have still been baseball's best road team in recent times. Chicago is 24-7 over its last 31 regular season road games, with a run differential of +96. The Cubs won two of three in St. Louis in the first series between these bitter rivals.
The Cardinals dropped two out of three at home to Arizona over the weekend, but remain within striking distance of Chicago at this early juncture of the season. Monday starter Adam Wainwright has won his last four decisions -- including a scoreless 6 2/3 inning performance against Colorado on Wednesday -- after losing his first three of 2016.
Stat that matters: After leading the Majors with a 2.99 ERA in 2015, Cardinals starters have posted a 4.24 ERA through 44 games this season. Entering Sunday, St. Louis starters were ranked 27th in the Major Leagues in runners left on base percentage (67.4) after leading all of baseball with a 78.9 left on base percentage last season.
Rematch by the Bay: SD@SF, 10:15 p.m.
If Wednesday's matchup between these two clubs was any indication, we should be in for a pitcher's duel in Game 1 of this series in San Francisco. San Diego's Drew Pomeranz (4-4, 1.96 ERA) was terrific in San Diego, allowing only two runs on four hits and a pair of walks over six innings. But Giants starter Johnny Cueto (6-1, 2.70) was even better, scattering four Padres hits in a complete game 2-1 victory. After a shaky start, the Giants' prize offseason acquisition has been as good as advertised -- especially at AT&T Park, where he's allowed just one home run to 123 batters faced so far.
"He's a guy that's touch-and-feel early in the game, he's pitching at 87-89 [mph]," said Padres manager Andy Green said of Cueto after Wednesday's game. "Then all of a sudden he gets down to the seventh, eighth, ninth inning and he morphs. He's throwing 94-95 [mph]. He's almost a completely different pitcher."
Meanwhile, Pomeranz's last start was a microcosm of his 2016 season. He's allowed just 10 earned runs over eight starts, but received an average of just 1.5 runs of support from the Padres' offense in his four losses. Still, the southpaw is a good sleeper choice for NL Pitcher of the Month outside big names like Kershaw and Jake Arrieta. His ERA (1.13), opponents' batting average (.134) and opponents' BABIP (.179) rank among the best starters in the month of May.
Stat that matters: San Francisco has been baseball's hottest team of late, and they've been fueled by their starting pitching. The Giants are 22-6 this season when their starting pitcher recorded a quality outing (at least six innings pitched and three of fewer earned runs allowed).
MLB.TV Premium subscribers get the Mosaic View -- split screen or quad, available on PC or Mac only. That always comes in handy, especially when scoreboard-watching looms. MLB.TV Premium and MLB.TV Single Team subscribers both enjoy HD and both will get real-time highlights and player stats automatically loaded moments after they occur (only for the game you are watching with MLB.TV Single Team, and for all games with MLB.TV Premium).
Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.