Division leaders face off; Yankees, Mets meet in annual Subway Series
By Chad Thornburg
After weeks of speculation and rumors, Monday will finally bring clarity on the 2016 non-waiver Trade Deadline (4 p.m. ET). By the end of the day, the dust will have settled and the conversation will shift to pennant races and Wild Card positioning.
The remaining two months of the regular season promise to bring plenty of drama as teams make a final push in the standings, vying to be one of the clubs still playing well into October.
Among the storylines to keep tabs on in the week ahead is Miami's Ichiro Suzuki's pursuit of 3,000 hits. The 42-year-old veteran's quest for the career milestone continues on the road in a three-game series against the Cubs, beginning Monday at Wrigley Field. Ichiro -- who's sitting on 2,998, in addition to his 1,278 hits from his nine seasons in Japan -- would be the 30th player in Major League history to reach the milestone.
"This is not a regular player," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said last week. "Ich is an incredible guy. I feel very fortunate to have him this year on this club."
While Ichiro chases history, his Marlins will take on the National League Central's top club. Miami got the better of Chicago earlier this season, taking three of four at Marlins Park in June. The Cubs will send Kyle Hendricks, Jason Hammel and John Lackey to the mound in this series, the final regular-season meetings between these clubs, while the Marlins hand the ball to Adam Conley, Jose Fernandez and Tom Koehler.
In the American League, another pair of contenders -- division leaders Texas and Baltimore -- will clash at Camden Yards. The three-game set starts Tuesday with O's rookie Dylan Bundy taking on Rangers righty Yu Darvish. Texas leads the season series, 3-1.
The Rangers are coming off a sweep of the Royals and have won seven of their past eight games. Texas enters the week with the largest lead among the AL's first-place clubs, six games in front of Houston in the West.
Baltimore, meanwhile, is on far shakier ground in the tightly contested AL East. The Orioles snapped a five-game losing skid and reclaimed their first-place standing with an extra-innings win over the Blue Jays on Sunday, but they can't afford to falter this week in series against the Rangers and White Sox. Both the Red Sox and Blue Jays are looming if they do.
In Detroit, the Tigers continue to climb in the AL Central, gaining on the first-place Indians. Detroit has won a season-high-tying six straight games -- the longest active winning streak in the Majors -- and it has cut Cleveland's lead in the division to 4 1/2 games. The Tigers are nine games over .500 for the first time since May 22, 2015.
"We come every day, whether we win or lose, ready to play with energy," Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera said. "Every day is a different day. Maybe the results are good or bad, but we always feel confident we can win the game."
The Tigers have a four-game series with the rival White Sox on tap, including a opening matchup with a red-hot James Shields, who, after a rocky start with Chicago, has made six straight quality starts and is 3-3 with a 1.71 ERA in that span. It remains to be seen whether the Tigers will face White Sox ace Chris Sale on Wednesday, as the left-hander has been a popular subject of trade rumors of late.
Amid Detroit's recent surge, Cleveland will try to maintain its hold on the division. The Tribe bolstered its bullpen Sunday with the acquisition of Yankees reliever Andrew Miller, who is scheduled to join the team prior to Monday's series opener vs. the Twins.
Miller, who owns a 2.21 ERA over his past five seasons, could take the mound opposite his former club as soon as this weekend, when the Indians head to New York for a three-game series at Yankee Stadium.
"These trades, they make us that much tougher to beat," Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "He's going to be a very tough guy to come in and close games for us. We love having him already."
The Yanks now head into this week's Subway Series vs. the Mets with a revamped bullpen starring Dellin Betances, who inherits the closer role vacated by Miller and Aroldis Chapman, who was dealt to the Cubs. The series begins at Citi Field on Monday and Tuesday before shifting to Yankee Stadium on Wednesday and Thursday.
These New York clubs find themselves in somewhat of a role reversal from tradition. The Yankees enter the annual series near the bottom of their division and as Trade Deadline sellers, while the Mets are vying for a playoff spot and among the major players expected to make a move on Monday.
"I don't ever wave a white flag," Yanks manager Joe Girardi said. "This organization never waves a white flag. Obviously, we've made some trades that people can view it as that. I don't view it as that. And [the players] better not view it in that room as that."
Fans will be treated to another meeting of first-place clubs later in the week as the Giants head to Washington for three games at Nationals Park beginning Friday. It's a quick turnaround from this past weekend's four-game set in San Francisco, which the Nats and Giants split.
This week should also see Mark Melancon make his Nationals debut. The right-hander was acquired from the Pirates on Saturday and will assume closing duties for Washington. Melancon provides a notable boost to the Nats' bullpen; he recorded 30 saves and posted a 1.51 ERA through 45 games with the Bucs this season.
"We put a lot of work into a lot of different ideas and deals -- this one made the most sense for us," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "He's a known commodity and he's a successful late-inning reliever and a guy we had followed for years. A good makeup guy -- battle tested and one of the elite relievers in the game."
But even with a top reliever joining the roster, much of the focus will remain on slumping star Bryce Harper. The reigning NL Most Valuable Player Award winner endured arguably the worst month of his career, as he hit just .176/.303/.319 (16-for-91) with just five extra-base hits. Harper will look to put the tough July behind him and seek a return to form as the calendar flips to August.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.