MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Games galore: MLB honors Memorial Day

Price set for Red Sox season debut; division leaders Astros, Twins face off

Games galore: MLB honors Memorial Day

Welcome to one of the best baseball days of the year. Sure, Memorial Day is about something larger. We set it aside each year to honor those who've kept our country free and safe.

Baseball is woven into the fabric of Memorial Day. It's the unofficial first day of summer, and a time to take an extra close check of the standings and begin to decide who is in and who is out, who'll be buying, who'll be selling.

Best of all, it's a day to gather at ballparks to relax and watch the greatest players on earth. This Memorial Day begins with Orioles righty Dylan Bundy throwing the first pitch at 1:05 p.m. ET in Baltimore.

The O's and Yankees will play the first of 15 scheduled games -- including 10 day games -- stretched across Memorial Day, ending with the Braves and Angels starting eight hours later at Angel Stadium.

Memorial Day's meaning and symbolism will be woven into the contests. Major League Baseball will participate in a National Moment of Remembrance with a moment of silence in every ballpark. There will be pregame ceremonies to honor soldiers past and present.

Players will have a special look for Memorial Day, including camo-green caps by New Era, matching uniforms by Majestic and socks with a ripstop woodland camouflage design by Stance. MLBshop.com has the entire Memorial Day collection on sale, with MLB donating its royalties to charitable initiatives.

On the first symbolic checkpoint of a new season, the Astros have the best record in the game and largest division lead.

Springer's two-run dinger

No surprise there.

They've been smartly constructed and expertly managed with a roster that has been a perfect mix of youth and experience.

So we can say we saw Houston coming. However, we cannot say we predicted that the Twins, Brewers and Rockies would be atop their divisions on Memorial Day.

We could not have predicted that the D-backs would be one of the best teams in the Majors at 31-21, or that the five National League Central teams would be 4 1/2 games apart.

Since 1995, 76 of the 126 teams (60.3 percent) in first place on Memorial Day finished there.

However, here's a telling stat that further demonstrates today's competitive balance: Of those 76 instances, only 33 occurred in the past 11 seasons. As for the other 43 times from 1996-2005, you can chalk up most of that to the dominance of the Braves and Yankees in particular, and the Indians to a lesser degree, during that time.

Meanwhile, Mike Trout (.337 average, 16 homers, 36 RBIs) has solidified his standing as the best baseball player on the planet in the season's first two months, though he did exit Sunday's game with a sprained left thumb. Bryce Harper (.337 average, 15 homers, 41 RBIs) is back in that conversation as well, positioned for a run at his second NL Most Valuable Player Award in three seasons.

Harper smashes a two-run jack

And there's the best rookie in the game: Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (.321 average, 16 home runs, 34 RBIs). Judge is one of the biggest -- literally, at 6-foot-7, 282 pounds -- reasons the Yanks are 29-18 and in first place in the American League East.

Judge's first grand slam

Possibly the best matchup of this Memorial Day will be in Minneapolis, where two first-place teams -- the Astros and Twins -- will square off.

The Twins are off to a surprising start, thanks in part to the play of two young stars -- third baseman Miguel Sano and right fielder Max Kepler -- and veteran right-hander Ervin Santana. The club is playing the best defense in the game as its confidence grows day by day.

This Memorial Day is especially important to the Red Sox, who will hand the ball to David Price for the first time this season. When they acquired left-hander Chris Sale last offseason, the Sox believed putting him into a rotation that already had Price and 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello would create a formidable group.

Price's sore left elbow derailed those plans. Now he says he's ready to get started and give a boost to a team three games behind the Yankees.

Speaking of starting pitching, the Cardinals have had baseball's best rotation with a 3.17 ERA. Right-hander Mike Leake, the NL ERA leader at 1.91, will make his 10th start of the season at Busch Stadium on Monday afternoon.

Leake's stellar start

The Rockies (33-19) will put the NL's best record on the line against the Mariners in front of what is expected to be a huge crowd at Coors Field.

Baseball's day will end in Anaheim, where the Angels will host the Braves. There's some history about to be made.

The Angels return home with Albert Pujols sitting at 597 career home runs and on the threshold of becoming the ninth player to join the 600-Homer Club.

That's a celebration for another day. On Monday, it's a celebration of a different kind, one of country and a sport that is uniquely its own. Here's to a great day of baseball.

Happy Memorial Day 2017.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.