The Week Ahead: Cain tries to follow perfection

The Week Ahead: Cain tries to follow perfection

Matt Cain was perfect last week, and so were the Yankees. But as the season steams along, we all know last week's news doesn't mean much in the course of a 162-game grind.

So, what's on tap for this week?

Cain might not be much for checking out box scores of other National League teams, but he might have heard about Johan Santana's struggles in his starts after his 134-pitch no-hitter on June 1.

Cain needed 125 pitches to complete his 14-strikeout, 27-up, 27-down piece of history last Wednesday night, so it will be intriguing to see how his arm and mental approach hold up when he toes the slab for his encore performance on Monday against the Angels.

"It's in your mind, obviously," Cain said Sunday. "But I'm not going to think about that. It's a hard thing to duplicate. ... Same as normal. We don't get in the 120s that often, but we do it once in a while."

It seems like making a big surge in the American League East is something the stacked Yankees do more than once in a while, and with nine consecutive victories as we enter late June, it's happening right now. The Bronx Bombers got a fifth straight win from starter Ivan Nova to complement the resurgent Phil Hughes and the stellar work of 40-year-old Andy Pettitte, and all of a sudden they look like a dominant team once again.

They capped off an impressive sweep of the Nationals in Washington over the weekend and will try to stretch their streak to double digits on Monday when they begin a three-game home series against Atlanta. A Thursday off-day will be followed by a weekend Subway Series against the Mets at Citi Field.

"I've said it dozens of times -- no one in here panics, no one in here gets too down," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "And you're not going to see us dancing on the tables now. We've got a lot of season to go, a lot more wins that we need, and we're going to keep trying to play good baseball."

So will the Reds, who are the hottest team in baseball aside from the one in pinstripes. Sunday's 3-1 win over the Mets at Citi Field was Cincinnati's sixth straight, which kept its National League Central lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates at a comfy four games. This week sends manager Dusty Baker's gang to Cleveland for a three-game Interleague set against their Ohio-rival Indians -- which begins with Derek Lowe, embroiled in a feud with Baker, starting Monday's opener -- before a weekend three-gamer at home against Minnesota.

The Reds have numbers -- they're a season-high 11 games over .500 at 38-27 and slugger Joey Votto has an unheard-of on-base percentage of .489 -- and confidence on their side. It's a dangerous combination.

"We're having fun," second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "It's fun winning. That's the fun thing about playing baseball -- getting as many wins as possible."

Other players and teams will be in good position to do the same this week as some key injured players are set to return.

The Tigers have been disappointing in the AL Central so far, but one of their starters, right-hander Doug Fister, came back from the disabled list on Saturday and is scheduled to start Friday. He might be joined by catcher Alex Avila, who's soon due to return from a right hamstring strain, and venerable reliever Octavio Dotel, who's been on the shelf with right elbow inflammation.

The Texas Rangers should get slugger Josh Hamilton back from his intestinal-virus woes, and left-hander Derek Holland, a huge cog in their rotation when right, could be back this week after being on the DL with shoulder fatigue.

The Dodgers won't get Matt Kemp back on the field this week, but the stellar center fielder will travel with the team as his hamstring heals.

The Angels are playing better and could certainly use the services of a man who's already thrown a no-hitter for them this year, Jered Weaver. It might happen this week after the pitcher "felt great" in a Sunday bullpen session, according to manager Mike Scioscia.

And the Tampa Bay Rays have hung around long enough without their All-Star third baseman, Evan Longoria, who hasn't played in a big league game since going on the disabled list on May 1 with a partially torn left hamstring. Longoria, however, is getting closer, playing Saturday for Triple-A Durham.

"I felt good out there," Longoria said. "I was very satisfied with the way I felt. I felt like all my swings were as hard as I could, and I didn't feel any pain or soreness or grabbing. The running was fine. All positive things.

"It's going to take a few just to get back to where I'd like to be before I get back to Tampa."

That might not happen this week, but there will be plenty more to keep an eye on.

For example, pitchers R.A. Dickey of the Mets, Jason Hammel of the Orioles and Ervin Santana of the Angels will hit the mound again after hurling one-hitters.

It ain't Cain, but hey, it ain't chopped liver, either. And it'll be fun to see what happens.

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