Five Big Things is Big League Stew's look at the week ahead in MLB action, examining storylines and matchups you should keep an eye on.
1. JOSE ABREU IS BACK
Chicago White Sox slugger Jose Abreu is back from a two-week stint on the disabled list, and the timing is perfect for a showdown of the most exciting Cuban imports of the past two seasons.
Abreu and the White Sox travel to Los Angeles for a series against the Dodgers that begins Monday, pitting Abreu against second-year star Yasiel Puig. Both Cuban expats have been juggernauts at the plate this year.
Abreu was mashing homers at a resounding rate before a left ankle injury sidelined him on May 18. Even without two weeks' worth of games, he's still among the AL leaders in homers (15) and RBIs (42). He's also No. 2 in All-Star voting among AL first baseman. Puig, meanwhile, is hitting .347/.437/618 this season with 11 homers and 40 RBIs. He was scorching hot in May and looks to carry that over into June.
"He plays hard, he goes 100 percent every time," Abreu said of Puig, to the Associated Press. "That's part of the spectacle, that's what people come to see."
In another a must-see part of this matchup: Abreu will face Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw on Monday night in his first game back. That's not exactly a welcome-back present.
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The Rays (23-34) currently have the worst record in the AL, even worse than the Houston Astros. When you consider many experts picked them as a World Series contender, last place seems like crazy talk, but it's actually happening. To make matters worse, the Rays come into Monday's game with a six-game losing streak.
Meanwhile, the Marlins are holding steady despite losing ace Jose Fernandez for the season. They've moved from early-season surprise to a team that's .500 in June. They're 28-28, in second place in the NL East and only three games out of first. Not bad for a club that lost 100 games last season.
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3. MUST-SEE PITCHING MATCHUP: WACHA VS. VENTURA
Two of baseball's brightest young pitchers go head-to-head Thursday when Michael Wacha of the St. Louis Cardinals faces Yordano Ventura of the Kansas City Royals.
If two electric 22-year-old arms weren't enough to sell this matchup, it comes with a couple of extra storylines: First, it's an interleague clash between two nearby teams. Second, and timelier, is the return of Ventura.
Royals fans were ready to weep when it looked like the young fireballer might need Tommy John surgery after experiencing elbow problems in his last start. He just needed rest, and now Ventura’s returning to the mound to face Wacha, a late-season phenom for the Cards in 2013. He's back at it again, with a 2.45 ERA in 12 starts.
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4. CAN THE BLUE JAYS STAY HOT?
The Toronto Blue Jays have been a lot of fun to watch lately — with Edwin Encarnacion swatting homers and Jose Bautista throwing out runners at first base from right field. The Jays have won 11 or their last 13, ascending into first place in the AL East two weeks ago.
As the AL East has already shown us this year, a winning streak or losing streak can send a team up or down the standings pretty easily. The Blue Jays have a 3 1/2 game lead over the New York Yankees coming into Monday's games, their biggest lead since taking over first. But the Jays are also looking at a tough week of competition ahead.
Starting Tuesday, the Blue Jays play a three-game series on the road against the first-place Detroit Tigers, followed three at home versus the second-place St. Louis Cardinals. To stop the Blue Jays, you have to stop their bats. They've outscored opponents 76-53 since May 20, while slashing .310/.371/.518 as a team.
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5. WELCOME TO THE BIG LEAGUES, JON SINGLETON
The Houston Astros continue to be interesting in 2014, which is something you couldn't really say about their 2011-2013 installments. With rookie George Springer already captivating the baseball world, the Astros are turning to another rookie whom their fans have been eagerly anticipating.
The team is bringing up Jon Singleton, who has slugged 14 homers and driven in 43 runs in Triple-A this season, for Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Angels. Bringing up Singleton is news enough, but as Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan reports, the Astros also did something that had never been done before — they signed Singleton to a long-term deal that could be worth up to $35 million before he even played an MLB game. From Passan's story:
The Houston Astros and minor leaguer Jon Singleton agreed on a historic contract Monday, guaranteeing the first baseman $10 million before he has played a single game in the major leagues, a source with knowledge of the deal told Yahoo Sports.
The 22-year-old Singleton, who during spring training called himself a marijuana addict, can make up to $30 million over eight seasons, the first five of which are guaranteed and the final three of which the Astros control with club options.
The improved Astros, who last week won six straight games, will call up Singleton from Triple-A Oklahoma City and install him as their everyday first baseman after more than a month of negotiations ended in a deal sure to arouse discussion around the sport.
The Astros (24-34) are still in last place in the AL West, though not by as wide a margin as usual. But with their young pitchers, Springer and now Singleton, they're at least looking like a team worth watching for the first time in a while.
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