Scherzer battles Cubs' bats, Shields looks for turnaround
By Matt Kelly
Zack Greinke's departure from the Dodgers -- to sign with the division rival Diamondbacks, no less -- was undoubtedly one of the biggest storylines of this past offseason.
Now, for the first time since he traded in Dodger blue for Diamondback red, Greinke will face his former club. Elsewhere, Max Scherzer takes on the Cubs' potent lineup in D.C., and the White Sox newest acquisition, James Shields, hopes to regain his "Big Game" form against the rival Tigers.
That's just a small sampling of what's on tap as a fresh round of series begin today on MLB.TV.
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Here is a look at what to watch for today in the Majors (all times ET):
Hello, old friend: LAD@ARI, 9:40 p.m.
Only teammate Clayton Kershaw and Scherzer won more games than Greinke during his three seasons with the Dodgers, and Arizona hoped its record deal with the right-hander this offseason could help shift the balance of power in the NL West. While the early returns from Greinke were subpar -- to the tune of a 6.16 ERA after his first six starts -- the 2015 NL Cy Young Award runner-up is streaking into this big reunion. Greinke has won his last five starts and put up a 1.95 ERA while pairing 29 strikeouts to just four walks. For the season, Greinke has induced opposing batters to chase an MLB-best 39.8 percent of pitches outside the zone.
"I thought I'd been pitching pretty good after the first game of the year," Greinke said after his latest gem, a three-hit shutout Tuesday against the Rays. "There was a couple times where I was making some mistakes throughout the game, but it seemed to be a lot of times when guys were on base.
"The last probably four or five starts when I've got in trouble, I'm still making good pitches."
Stat that matters: In his last six starts, Greinke has held opposing right-handed batters to an on-base percentage of just .159, the second-lowest total among MLB starters since May 12. The four right-handed batters on the Dodgers' current 25-man roster who have faced Greinke before (A.J. Ellis, Howie Kendrick, Justin Turner, Scott Van Slyke) have a combined .200 OBP against him.
Mad Max vs. Cubs' run machine: CHC@WAS, 7:08 p.m. ET
After a 13-run explosion in Atlanta on Sunday, the Cubs are averaging an incredible 6.13 runs per game on the road this season. They also jumped on Scherzer in their first encounter back on May 6, clubbing four homers and knocking out the Washington ace after a season-low five innings.
That was part of Chicago's statement-making four-game sweep of the Nationals at Wrigley Field. With both teams currently enjoying first-place leads, Washington hopes to regain a mental edge in this series -- just in case these two clubs meet again in October. Step one involves beating Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, who has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last four outings.
Stat that matters:Bryce Harper was sporting a 1.021 OPS in his first 27 games of the season before the Nationals' May 5-8 series against Chicago, in which the Cubs walked Harper a record 13 times. In his 29 games since that series, Harper's OPS is just .770.
"Big Game James" seeks big bounce back: DET@CWS, 8:10 p.m.
Shields did not give White Sox fans the first impression he was hoping for, allowing seven earned runs in just two innings to the Nationals in his first start Wednesday for Chicago. The right-hander has posted a 10.90 ERA over his last four games, losing three of them. For the record, however, Chicago's newest acquisition insists he is not dwelling on how he has pitched lately.
"They always say doing good and winning solves all the problems, right?" Shields said after his White Sox debut. "My delivery wasn't very good the last couple of outings. You're going to go through ups and downs in your career.
"I'm not happy with the way my last couple of outings were, but I have to look forward to my next start and the start after that."
Shields' recent record against lefties provides a profound insight into his overall struggles. In fact, over the past 30 days Shields has allowed the worst slash line to left-handed batters (.431/.482/.784) of any qualified big league starter. With that in mind, Shields may enjoy facing the Tigers' righty-heavy lineup. He has gone 7-6 with a 4.10 ERA in 19 career starts against Detroit.
Stat that matters:Miguel Cabrera, who on Sunday became the fifth-youngest player to reach 2,400 career hits, has owned his matchups against Shields, hitting .345 (19-for-55) with eight doubles and two homers. Shields has held Cabrera hitless in their last nine encounters, however, striking out the Tigers slugger four times in that span.
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.