Blue Jays visit first-place O's; Hamels takes on St. Louis
By Chad Thornburg
The Pirates will have their hands full when they visit the first-place Cubs for a three-game series, beginning today.
In the opener, the Bucs must contend with Chicago ace Jake Arrieta, who has been dominant against the Pirates in recent years, going 8-1 with a 1.58 ERA in the last 11 regular season matchups. Arrieta also shut out the Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game last fall.
This NL Central clash is just one of many intriguing contests among today's slate of games, which includes a pivotal American League East matchup as well as starts by Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana, Matt Harvey and Masahiro Tanaka. Fans can catch all the action streaming live on MLB.TV.
MLB.TV Premium returns with the same features as last year, and this week it is on sale for $49.99 -- 50 percent off -- for Father's Week. 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. You can watch a single team's live out-of-market games in full HD.
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's what to watch for throughout the day (all times in ET):
Pirates try to gain ground on first-place Cubs: PIT@CHC: 2:20 p.m.
The Cubs have a commanding lead in the season series between these NL Central rivals, winning five of the six head-to-head matchups. Chicago currently leads the division by 9 1/2 games, but Pittsburgh has an opportunity to gain a few games in the standings this weekend. The Bucs send Francisco Liriano to the mound opposite the Cubs' Arrieta. While not quite as dominant as Arrieta's numbers vs. the Bucs, Liriano has faired well against Chicago, going 5-3 with a 3.13 ERA in 12 career starts. He did, however, stumble against the Cubs earlier this season, surrendering eight runs over 4 2/3 innings at Wrigley Field.
Stat that matters: The Cubs boast an impressive 22-8 record at home this season, but are hitting just .239 at Wrigley compared with a .267 mark on the road.
AL East clash: TOR@BAL, 7:05 p.m.
The Orioles will try to defend their first-place standing in the AL East as they face yet another division challenge, beginning a three-game series today against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards. Baltimore fended off the Red Sox, taking two of three games, earlier this week, but lost three of four to the Jays as recently as last weekend. Toronto now sits just two games back in the division entering this series, and these clubs won't meet head-to-head again until the end of July. Right-hander Mike Wright will take the ball for Baltimore in the opener, while righty Aaron Sanchez starts for Toronto.
"This is a big series for us," Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar said. "We know where we're at in the standings and we don't see these guys for a while. With everyone clicking on all cylinders, it's going to be fun."
Stat that matters: Baltimore slugger Chris Davis is slugging 1.407 on the first pitch of his at-bats this season, which ranks first among all qualifiers. Ten of his 16 home runs this season have come on the road.
Former World Series foes meet in St. Louis: TEX@STL, 8:15 p.m.
The Rangers and Cardinals will meet at Busch Stadium for the first time since Texas swept the Cardinals at their home ballpark in 2013. Although the rosters have endured plenty of turnover since, this Interleague matchup will surely dredge up memories of the 2011 Fall Classic, which the Cardinals won. The Rangers will send Hamels to the mound in the opener today, facing St. Louis for the first time since April 27 last season. The left-hander has struggled in Interleague Play, going 8-16 with a 4.85 ERA through 34 career starts. The Cardinals will counter with righty Michael Wacha, who will try to bring an end to his six-game losing streak.
Stat that matters: With runners in scoring position, Hamels has thrown strikes on 82.8 percent of his pitches (24-of-29) over the last two weeks. That ranks first among all qualified starting pitchers in that span.
Sox bats hope to back Quintana: CHW@CLE, 7;10 p.m.
After a stellar start to the season, Quintana is 0-6 with a 4.15 ERA in his last six outings. Quintana hasn't had much help from the White Sox bats, receiving just four total runs of support in that span. He's the first White Sox pitcher to receive one or zero runs of support in six or more consecutive starts since 1980.
"I wish we had an explanation for it, to be honest with you," outfielder Adam Eaton said. "It's frustrating. ... We're almost apologizing to the guy because it's been so difficult to score him runs, and we don't understand why."
Chicago will look to buck that trend against Cleveland's Trevor Bauer today at U.S. Cellular Field. Bauer has proved a tough assignment for the White Sox in the past, going 3-1 with a 3.54 ERA in seven career starts against them.
Stat that matters: The White Sox have won just three of their last 15 games within the AL Central, falling from first to fourth place 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).
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.