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What's Next: 2013 contenders look to get on track

Kershaw, Chapman, Fister slated to return from disabled list; Arenado on hot streak

What's Next: 2013 contenders look to get on track

Neither team from last year's World Series has a winning record. The same can be said for both teams from the 2013 American League Wild Card Game and both teams from last year's National League Wild Card Game.

Sure, parity in Major League Baseball is growing, injuries pop up all the time and the emergence of young talent from flourishing farm systems can make the divisional rankings awfully different from year to year, but the fact that it's early May means there's still time for last year's powerhouses to reassert themselves in the standings.

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In other words, the defending World Series champion Red Sox, NL champion Cardinals, Rays, Indians, Pirates and Reds are nowhere near out of it in 2014, but they need to get it going soon. Maybe the new week of big league play, beginning Monday, is What's Next in their journey back to October.

For the Red Sox, it's about consistency, which they might have found to a greater degree while winning two out of three in each of their last three series as they trying to get back to .500.

"It'll happen," third baseman Will Middlebrooks said after his team lost to the A's in 10 innings on Sunday. "Just not today. That was a good ballclub. We should be pretty happy about taking two out of three from them."

The Cards have to feel good about beating the Cubs on Sunday night, because they at least clawed back to the .500 mark at 16-16. And the Rays were walking around with some pride after beating the Yankees in New York on Sunday to wrap up a road trip with series wins in Boston and the Bronx.

"I think we've kind of come together as a group, and I think there's a lot of belief in the clubhouse," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "Now we get to go home, a well-deserved day off -- do that, do nothing but enjoy yourself -- come back and let's be ready to play Tuesday night."

The Rays get three home games against the Orioles and then three against the Indians, who lost to the White Sox on Sunday to fall five games under .500 at 13-18.

In the NL Central, the Brewers' strong start and the Cardinals' scuffles are one part of the narrative. The fact that last year's playoff undercard teams, the Reds (15-16) and Pirates (12-19), still are under .500, is another.

Pittsburgh's early-season stumbles might be the most surprising, but this week, the Bucs will get six games at home, with a three-game set against the Giants beginning Monday and a weekend series against the Cards.

Meanwhile, there will be quite a few happy returns throughout the big leagues this week, although a couple involving incredibly gifted left-handed pitchers will not be so happy for opposing hitters.

Dodgers ace and last year's NL Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw, is slated to return Tuesday from the disabled list for a start against the Nationals in Washington. Kershaw, who strained a muscle in his upper back while beating Arizona on Opening Night in Australia, has been on the shelf for six weeks.

"I think he has peace of mind that he's healthy," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said after catching a Kershaw bullpen session. "He seems ready to me."

The Reds seem to feel the same way about closer Aroldis Chapman, who is attempting to come back from facial fractures suffered from being struck in the head by a Salvador Perez line drive during a Spring Training game on March 19. Chapman is slated for a Friday return.

And the Nats should finally get their rotation intact, with plans in place to activate right-hander Doug Fister this week. Fister has been on the DL because of a right lat strain and could be back on the mound for Washington on Wednesday or Friday.

"I felt strong. I felt where I need to be," Fister said after his latest rehab outing. "I feel like I'll be ready."

We'll see if Nolan Arenado continues to be ready at the plate, now that he has a serious streak on the line.

The Rockies' young third baseman extended his hitting streak to 24 games -- the second-longest streak in club history -- with a fourth-inning double off the Mets' Dillon Gee on Sunday and is now three games behind Michael Cuddyer's 27-gamer last season for Colorado's all-time lead.

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.

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