Red Sox face Orioles with first place in AL East on the line
By Matt Kelly
As spring turns to summer, the contenders will begin to separate from the pretenders -- and it all starts with a slew of series openers today. The biggest holiday fireworks might come from Baltimore, where the Red Sox and Orioles -- and their prolific offenses -- are set to collide with the American League East lead hanging in the balance.
Beginning with the first 162-game season of the Wild Card era in 1996, 72 of 120 division winners were in first place when play ended on Memorial Day. However, just 29 of those eventual winners have held on in the last 10 years, meaning few springtime leads have been safe in recent times.
The scoreboard operators will likely be busy at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Monday, but there is plenty of action available for fans of both pitching and scoring. In Queens, the Dark Knight hopes to gain back Gotham's adoration. Over in Cleveland, the Indians will try to rebound with their stopper on the mound. In Milwaukee, an extremely late bloomer looks to add another chapter to one of baseball's best developing stories.
It's all part of a Memorial Day filled with baseball -- including nine day games -- all available on MLB.TV.
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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 today in the Majors (all times ET):
Beasts of the East meet in Baltimore: BOS@BAL, 1:35 p.m.
The AL East's two top dogs have been winning with a similar mix of ingredients: young stars, powerful sluggers and rock-solid bullpens. Boston holds a slim one-game lead on the Orioles, and the difference in the second series of the season between these two could be whose starters handle the other side's potent lineups the best.
According to FanGraphs, the Orioles were mashing fastballs this season to the tune of 0.98 standardized runs created (second only to the Red Sox among AL teams) before Sunday's games. So it will be interesting to see how they handle Boston knuckle-baller Steven Wright (4-4, 2.52 ERA) and his array of fluttering pitches. Though Wright may never know exactly where his pitches will go, Red Sox manager John Farrell has still developed a sense of comfort with the right-hander.
"In a word, he's been extremely dependable," Farrell said. "You have a pretty good sense of what he's going to give you each time he walks to the mound."
Stat that matters: The Red Sox' OPS through 26 games in May sits at .889, which would rank as the franchise's second-highest OPS in the month of May -- just behind the 1996 squad that recorded a .904 OPS in 26 games. It would also rank as the highest May OPS recorded by any AL team since the 2001 Cleveland Indians (.902).
Harvey tries to get off the Matt: CHW@NYM, 1:10 p.m.
Game 1 of this big Interleague matchup features one of the Major League's biggest mysteries on the mound against one of its most consistent starters. Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters Friday that the team has identified mechanical issues in Matt Harvey's delivery, so perhaps a few simple adjustments can get Harvey back on track. It seems opposing hitters are adjusting to Harvey way too quickly, as they have recorded an .844 OPS in their second time through the order and a staggering 1.326 OPS when they get an opportunity to see Harvey a third time.
Chicago's recent slide, in which it has lost six games in a row and 14 of its last 18, has also come as a surprise -- but it hasn't necessarily been starter Jose Quintana's fault. He has lost his last three starts, but received only three runs of support while he was on the mound in those games. According to Baseball Reference, Quintana is 1-30 in his career when he receives two or fewer runs of support, despite recording a 3.26 ERA in those games.
Stat that matters: The White Sox bullpen may be the most obvious link to the team's struggles this month. Chicago relievers posted an MLB-best 1.69 ERA in March and April, but have seen that mark balloon to 5.06 in May. In their weekend series against Kansas City, the White Sox bullpen posted a 19.89 ERA and gave up 15 hits in only 6 1/3 innings as they blew leads in all three games against the defending champs.
The Tomlin turnaround: TEX@CLE, 6:10 p.m.
Though Cleveland is coming off a loss and sits a half-game back of the streaking Royals, it can take solace by considering that starter Josh Tomlin (7-0, 3.35) has simply refused to let his team go on prolonged losing streaks. Tomlin's first six of starts of 2016 came immediately following an Indians loss, and he responded by leading the Tribe to a win each time while allowing 15 earned runs in 35 1/3 innings of work. Though his last start came after a Cleveland win, Tomlin still bested the previously undefeated Chris Sale and became the first player in franchise history since Dennis Martinez in 1995 (9-0) to win his first seven decisions of the season.
"He'll do anything to try to help you win," manager Terry Francona said of Tomlin. "We're pretty fortunate because early on, he's giving us a big lift coming out of the gate."
Stat that matters: Entering Sunday, Indians designated hitter Carlos Santana was sporting just a .167/.241/.188 slash line against left-handers this season. He owns a career .389 batting average (7-for-18) against Rangers starter Derek Holland, however, with two home runs and seven runs batted in.
Junior Wins: STL@MIL, 2:10 p.m.
The story of Junior Guerra (3-0, 3.30 ERA) keeps getting better and better. The Venezuela native was a catching prospect for the Braves a decade ago, but at age 31 he's making the most of his first full season as a starter. Guerra's last three starts, which included a 5-3 win against Chicago on May 19, have been his best as he's held hitters to a .175 average and allowed only three earned runs over his last 18 innings. Entering Sunday, Guerra's 0.7 WAR in May ranks above several more celebrated NL starters including Zack Greinke, Jon Lester, Gerrit Cole and Adam Wainwright.
The Cardinals feasted on their matchups with the bottom of the NL Central last season, going 25-13 against Milwaukee and Cincinnati en route to 100 total wins. The Redbirds won two out of three and outscored the Brewers 21-7 during the teams' first series April 11-14.
Stat that matters: Entering Sunday, St. Louis hitters had tallied a .524 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position, and their 22 home runs in those situations were just four shy of the team's total in all of 2015. The highest team slugging percentage with RISP since 1974 is the 1999 Cleveland Indians, who posted a .520 mark.
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).
Matt 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.