Week Ahead: Surprising contenders meet

Division-leading Twins, Rockies in key matchup at Target Field

Week Ahead: Surprising contenders meet

Surprise, surprise. It's mid-May in Major League Baseball, and even though we are well into the 2017 regular season, there are still some eye-opening developments at the top of the standings.

A cursory glance at the hierarchy of the American and National Leagues as we embark on the week ahead shows us that the Minnesota Twins are still in first place in the AL Central and the Colorado Rockies are still atop the NL West.

And guess what? They're playing each other early in the week in one of the most exciting and unexpected matchups of postseason contenders in the next seven days of the MLB schedule.

The three-game Interleague series is set for Target Field beginning Tuesday night, and both teams are gaining confidence as the 162-game grind goes deeper into the spring and the weather gets warmer.

"There's just a lot of really good stuff going on," Rockies first baseman Ian Desmond said. "Like I've said all along, it's going to be a really fun summer."

For Colorado, a lineup with run producers Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, the resurgent Mark Reynolds and consistent performer DJ LeMahieu have been getting the job done despite Carlos Gonzalez's slow start and injuries to Trevor Story and David Dahl.

The starting pitching has been good enough and the bullpen, buoyed by stellar closer Greg Holland, is preserving victories for new manager Bud Black.

Meanwhile, the Twins are entering the week ahead with a one-game lead in the AL Central still intact over the defending AL champion Cleveland Indians. There have been several revelations in Minnesota for manager Paul Molitor, with Miguel Sano's continued development as an offensive force, Ervin Santana's brilliance on the mound and Brandon Kintzler's excellent work in the ninth inning among them.

But there's also been great defense. Run prevention, particularly in the outfield, anchored by Gold Glove candidate Byron Buxton in center, has been a key for the Twins in their stunning ascent to the top of their division after a rebuilding year in 2016.

Must C: Buxton's grab at wall

"They've bought into everything, from the precision of positioning to trying to be a little bit more fearless about making plays, instead of playing tentative," Molitor said of his outfield, which also features Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario. "It's been a pretty good combination so far."

Other good combinations will be evident throughout the next seven days in the big leagues.

In the AL, the Indians still haven't hit their 2016 stride, but they are a mere one game behind the Twins despite having ace Corey Kluber on the 10-day disabled list with back issues. Cleveland has a stern test in the week ahead, however. After a three-game home set vs. the Rays, the Indians will travel to Houston over the weekend to play the team that enters the week with the best record in MLB: the 26-12 Astros.

Elsewhere, the next seven days are set to bring about a happy reunion for a team and two pitchers who have been on the shelf with injuries.

As the Dodgers and Giants renew one of the best rivalries in the Majors starting Monday in a three-game series at AT&T Park, Los Angeles enters Monday night's game by the bay only 1 1/2 games behind Colorado in the division standings and gets back starters Brandon McCarthy and Rich Hill from the 10-day disabled list to start Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

McCarthy vs. Cain

San Francisco has some work to do to climb up the charts after going 15-24 heading into this set, but the Giants do carry a three-game winning streak into the week and the intensity is always ratcheted up a notch or three when these two clubs meet head-on.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts' team flies straight from Denver to San Francisco fully prepared for the urgency associated with these divisional battles.

"We're getting the starting pitching that we had hoped to get," Roberts said. "The hitting, the fielding, the timely hitting, the 'pen, kind of feeds off that. You look at the schedule for May, and to come in here for four games then you go into San Francisco after that, this is a tall order, a big ask, for a club.

"We're in a good spot."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.