Ichiro goes for 3,000; playoff hopefuls in action today
By Matt Kelly
With division leads on each coast currently in hand, this weekend's series between the Giants and Nationals enables the two National League contenders to size each other up.
That includes, most importantly, a good look at the aces each team will have to potentially beat come October.
The Giants' offense got first crack by facing Washington's Stephen Strasburg on Saturday night, and ambushed the right-hander for four runs in just 4 2/3 innings in his shortest outing of the year. On Sunday, it will be the Nationals' turn to see how they fare against Madison Bumgarner. Given MadBum's track record in the postseason, Washington (and every other team) will appreciate every chance it gets to take notes on the dominant southpaw before the leaves begin to change color.
But Sunday's showdown in D.C., is just one of a number of matchups to keep an eye on as each game becomes more and more important down the stretch. For starters, Ichiro Suzuki is just one hit shy of the exclusive 3,000-hit club. Baltimore and Toronto -- who enter Sunday in a virtual tie atop the AL East -- hope to gain an edge. Meanwhile in Detroit, the Tigers and Mets continue to feverishly fight for their postseason lives as they stand on the outside of the Wild Card picture looking in.
In fact, every Major League team will be in action Sunday as part of a packed slate of 15 games, and there's only one place to see them all: MLB.TV.
MLB.TV Premium has returned with the same features as last year, and is only $79.99 for the rest of the season. 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 available as a $59.99 yearly subscription. You can watch a single team's live out-of-market games in full HD.
Here's what to watch for today in the Majors (all times ET):
Bumgarner may be extra mad: SF@WSH, 1:35 p.m.
The Nats are catching Bumgarner off one of his worst starts in recent memory, but whether that's a good thing (or whether he'll be extra motivated Sunday because of it) remains to be seen. The lefty allowed eight runs (only four earned) to the Phillies over five innings Tuesday, which marked the first time he had allowed eight runs to come across since he coughed up a career-high nine to Colorado on May 17, 2013.
Bumgarner maintained he felt physically after his forgettable outing, attributing his tough night more to Philadelphia's aggressive approach.
"I had a hard time putting guys away; that was really it," Bumgarner said. "An aggressive team like that, guys ready to swing the bat, it's going to work in their favor."
Washington handed Bumgarner his only loss during his magical 2014 postseason run in Game 3 of that year's NLDS, so they know they know they have the ability to beat the San Francisco ace in October. Still, the Nationals' current roster has only combined for two regular season home runs off MadBum -- both of them courtesy of Bryce Harper, who is 4-for-17 lifetime against Bumgarner.
Stat that matters: Washington starter Tanner Roark held the Giants to only one run over seven innings two starts ago on July 28. Roark has eight different starts this year in which he went at least seven innings and allowed one or zero earned runs -- tied for the second-most such outings in baseball behind Chicago's Jon Lester.
A new Mr. 3,000?: COL@MIA, 4:10 p.m.
Sunday's rubber match in Denver already carried plenty of significance for both clubs, as Miami is tied with St. Louis in the final NL Wild Card slot and Colorado sits just three games out. But all eyes will be on Ichiro, who, after tallying career hit No. 2,999 on Saturday night, stands just one base knock shy of becoming the 30th member of baseball's 3,000-hits club.
Greeting Ichiro in his first at-bat will be Rockies starter Jon Gray, who has given up just two runs and 18 hits over his last 26 innings pitched.
Stat that matters: Ichiro will make his 36th start of the season Sunday, and his statistics at the plate suggest he's played better when his name is in Don Mattingly's starting lineup. Ichiro hit .333 in his 35 previous starts this year, as opposed to .274 in games when he's come off the bench.
Bundy of joy for O's fans: BAL@CWS, 2:10 p.m.
It seems like every time Orioles rookie Dylan Bundy has taken the mound has been appointment viewing lately, and that's because the big right-hander has taken a no-hitter into the sixth inning in each of his last two starts. Bundy's compiled a 3.00 ERA and held opponents to a .173 batting average in his first four career starts since he was moved to the rotation in mid-July, and his ascendance couldn't come at a better time for an AL East contender starved for starting pitching.
"Nobody knew -- we're not that smart," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter when asked if he saw Bundy's success coming. "And who knows what's going to happen [in the] next one?
"I wish it was that predictive. If it was, it would be a lot easier. But you never know. It's very hard to do what he's done these last few outings."
Bundy pitched two scoreless innings in his only appearance against the White Sox this season. That came as a reliever back on April 28.
Stat that matters: Bundy's success through his first four starts has correlated with his willingness to attack the opposing team's biggest right-handed bats. Bundy has yet to walk any batter in the heart of the order since he joined the rotation, and right-handed opponents have put just three well-hit balls in play over 33 at bats.
Stroman finding primetime form: TOR@KC, 2:15 p.m.
Jays starter Marcus Stroman is once again becoming the pitcher Toronto hopes to have if it does make the postseason. He twirled a career-high 13 strikeouts Monday against the Astros, and has held opponents to a .620 OPS over his last six starts dating back to July 1.
The Blue Jays will enter Sunday afternoon tied in first place with the Orioles, placing added significance on the finale of this rematch of the 2015 ALCS. Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura will make his first start against Toronto since his dust-up with Jose Bautista just more than one year ago.
Stat that matters: Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis homered again Saturday night, giving him three home runs in the first two games of this series. Entering Saturday, Travis was sporting an incredible 1.611 OPS with two strikes in the count over his last six games.
deGrom reassuming ace status: NYM@DET, 1:10 p.m. Matt Harvey is out indefinitely and Noah Syndergaard is struggling to last deep into games, which means Sunday starter Jacob deGrom is once again becoming the go-to ace of the Mets' decimated rotation. The right-hander has recorded quality starts in 10 of his last 12 outings, holding opponents to just a .574 OPS in that span.
Better yet for the Mets faithful is the amount of whiffs deGrom has been generating. He's averaged 9.95 strikeouts per nine innings over those last 12 starts, as opposed to just a 6.53 K/9 ratio in his first seven starts of the season.
"I feel like my mechanics are where they need to be," deGrom said after his latest gem of seven shutout innings against the Yankees on Tuesday. "I think my front side is finally getting up and I'm getting on top of the baseball, getting a lot of good down movement. My changeup is a lot better because of that."
Indeed, after throwing his changeup just once in a 7-2 loss to the Marlins on July 23, deGrom threw the pitch a combined 39 times in his two most recent outings, and got opposing batters to whiff on nearly 25 percent of those off-speed offerings. A comfortable deGrom is just what the doctor ordered for the Mets, who enter play Sunday two games back of the second NL Wild Card.
Stat that matters: Following their 6-5 win Saturday night, the Tigers are now 12-4 against NL teams for a .750 win percentage that ranks the best of any team in Interleague play this season.
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.