MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

10 things to know for Memorial Day weekend

10 things to know for Memorial Day weekend

There will be picnics and barbecues and beach visits and pool parties aplenty to mark the unofficial start of summer this Memorial Day Weekend. And yes, of course, there will be baseball. And lots of it.

Here are 10 things to know as MLB accompanies you on your long weekend.

1. A time to pause
Don't lose sight of the meaning of Memorial Day.

MLB's annual league-wide observance of the holiday will honor those who lost their lives while serving their country. MLB again plans to participate in the National Moment of Remembrance, in which ballparks will conduct moments of silence and special pregame ceremonies.

2. The standings significance (or lack thereof)
One thing many of us will do this weekend is look at the standings and attempt to attach some deeper meaning to them.

Just know going in, that it's still hard to understand what, exactly, we're looking at.

In the Wild Card era dating back to 1996 (we won't include '95 here, because of the late start to the season after a labor stoppage), 76 of the 126 teams who led their division after Memorial Day went on to win it, according to MLB.com's research. That's 60.3 percent. But only 33 of those 76 instances occurred in the last 11 years, as the game's competitive balance has grown.

Last year, four of the six division leaders after Memorial Day (Cubs, Red Sox, Nationals and Rangers) wound up with that top spot, but the eventual National League Championship Series participant Dodgers and American League champion Indians weren't even in a Wild Card position at that point.

The last time all six division leaders after Memorial Day went on to secure division titles was 1998.

3. Decorative touches
Special Memorial Day weekend uniform elements can be seen on the field from Saturday through Monday. New Era has created a special camo-green cap for teams to wear for the ninth consecutive year, while Majestic has designed a special matching jersey for the fifth year in a row. This year's uniforms, including the specialty socks from Stance, utilize a new ripstop woodland camouflage design.

The authentic gear is now available in the Memorial Day Collection at MLBshop.com. MLB is once again donating its licensed uniform royalties that are connected to charitable initiatives for key dates throughout the season. In addition to Memorial Day Weekend and Independence Day, which benefit MLB Charities, other examples include Susan G. Komen (Mother's Day), Prostate Cancer Foundation (Father's Day) and Stand Up to Cancer (Mother's Day and Father's Day).

4. First base bashers
A four-game series between the D-backs and Brewers that began Thursday night at Miller Park features two of the NL's most surprising squads, and two of the prime candidates in what is a deep Esurance MLB All-Star Ballot group at first base in the NL, even with Freddie Freeman injured.

Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt (1.044 OPS, 2.6 WAR) and Milwaukee's Eric Thames (1.080, 1.7) both merit close attention, alongside Joey Votto and Ryan Zimmerman, so it's fun to watch them slug it out on the same field.

As for their teams, neither the D-backs nor Brewers have been back to the postseason since 2011, when they met in the Division Series (remember that Nyjer Morgan game-winning hit?). But both have shown remarkable improvement in '17, thanks in part to their possession of two of the three highest slugging percentages in the Majors.

5. Rocky Mountain high?
Feels strange to say this, but should the Rockies be worried about heading home? The team with just one winning season on the road in its history (2009) has the best road record (18-8) in the NL, but is returning to Coors Field for a weekend set against the Cardinals.

Under new skipper Bud Black, the Rox have quickly emerged as one of baseball's most fascinating teams, and this should be a fun series against a Cards club whose best-in-the-Majors rotation ERA (3.00) will be tested by the Coors conditions.

It starts Friday night, with Carlos Martinez (3-3, 3.28 ERA) opposing Antonio Senzatela (6-1, 3.67).

Senzatela K's four over six

6. A bronze beauty
Frank Robinson might qualify as underrated, by Hall of Fame standards. He was fourth all-time on the home run list, with 586, when his playing career ended. Robinson was a four-time league leader (and two-time Major League leader) in OPS. He won a Most Valuable Player Award in both leagues and he won two World Series, with a World Series MVP in 1966.

In Cleveland, they remember Robinson most for a single, meaningful swing -- his Opening Day home run on April 8, 1975 -- the day he broke the managerial color barrier as a player-manager.

The Indians will honor Robinson before Saturday's 4:10 p.m. ET game against the Royals by unveiling a Robinson statue in Heritage Park at Progressive Field.

7. Mr. 600?
Can Albert Pujols become the ninth member of this exclusive club this weekend?

It's difficult but doable, with Pujols sitting three shy of the mark. If only he weren't heading into a three-game set at Marlins Park, one of the stingiest home run venues in the league, before the Angels return home to face the Braves on Monday.

But Pujols has an outside chance at becoming the first player to reach 600 on a holiday.

Anyway, even if Pujols doesn't reach the milestone, the Angels are worth watching for Mike Trout, who, even by his own lofty standards, is hot right now, with a 13-game on-base streak in which he's homered seven times.

#ThisSeason: Pujols nearing 600

8. Aces among aces
The Dodgers-Cubs 4:10 p.m. ET matchup Sunday at Dodger Stadium is appointment viewing, with Clayton Kershaw and Jon Lester on the hill.

The arguments for Kershaw as greatest pitcher ever (yes, really) are piling up. In his last start, he lowered his career WHIP to 0.996, passing Mariano Rivera and tying Hall of Famer Ed Walsh for second place all-time, behind Addie Joss. Kershaw's career ERA+ of 160 is the best-ever among starting pitchers and trails only Rivera (205) on the all-time list, according to Baseball Reference.

And Lester has been in some kind of groove, too, even with his former personal catcher David Ross grooving on the dance floor. Lester has a 2.31 ERA and .214 opponents' average over his last 21 starts.

9. East endeavor
The Yankees and Orioles enter the weekend in first and second, respectively, in the AL East, and they are due to face each other in the first of the 15-game Memorial Day slate, at 1:05 p.m. ET at Camden Yards.

The O's will be returning home after a quick, three-game road trip to face the first-place Astros, while the Yanks will be coming off a weekend set against the A's. Both of these clubs heard all offseason about how the Red Sox were going to run away with the division, but they've both exceeded the projections so far.

10. Testing, testing
Another Memorial Day matchup that jumps off the page is the one that will take place at Target Field at 2:10 p.m. The Astros enter the weekend with the best record in baseball, living up to the all the promise and potential they seemed to possess going into the year.

But where did the Twins come from? They enter the weekend with a two-game AL Central lead over the Indians, having just swept the O's in Baltimore.

The Twins have put up the best team-wide defensive metrics in baseball, their pitching staff has been better than advertised and Miguel Sano has been a monster in the middle of their order (1.017 OPS). The Astros will be a nice test of their staying power.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.