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. THE OAKLAND A'S ARE RUNNING THINGS
The Oakland Athletics are scoring a lot of runs. More runs, realistically, than a team with no big-name stars and the league's sixth-smallest payroll should be scoring. The A's (28-16) are tops in the AL West, have the second best record in all of baseball, lead the AL in runs scored and have the highest run differential in baseball at a whopping +95.
Run differential doesn't necessarily mean the A's are unequivocally the best — a win is a win, you know, whether it's by one run or 10 — but consider that the next closest teams, the Detroit Tigers (+55) and the Colorado Rockies (+51), aren't particularly close. These A's, led by the likes of Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, are more than just a collection of good pitchers with some plugged-in batters hoping to eek out a few runs, as past Oakland teams have been.
This week, the A's, winners of nine of their last 10 games, go on the road to play against two AL East teams — the disappointing Tampa Bay Rays (starting Tuesday) and the Toronto Blue Jays, who are fourth in MLB in runs scored. So course, they and the A's will probably play a few 2-1 and 3-2 games.
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2. MUST-SEE MATCHUP — GIANTS VS. ROCKIES
With the Los Angeles Dodgers atop the disappointment list, the two teams leading the NL West are the San Francisco Giants (28-17) and Colorado Rockies (25-20). They meet for three games starting Tuesday, both teams playing well since they last met in April. They're 3-3 this season after two series, each team taking two out of three at home.
The Rockies have the top offense in baseball and the top offensive player in Troy Tulowitzki, while the Giants' pitching is good as usual and their offense is surprisingly sound too (third in homers, 11th in runs). This series is in Colorado, which seems like it will give the Rockies an edge.
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3. THE DETROIT TIGERS AND THE POWER OF THE ZUBAZ
The Detroit Tigers have baseball's best record (27-12) and a league-long six-game winning streak heading into a week where they play three games against the last-place Cleveland Indians (starting Monday) and then four against the fourth-place, injury-depleted Texas Rangers. The Tigers have adopted a Lil Jon song as their team motto and Zubaz as their colorful wardrobe of choice. If they keep winning, we might be stuck with both for the better part of the summer.
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4. TANAKA VISITS CHICAGO
Masahiro Tanaka visits Wrigley Field this week, as his New York Yankees take on the Chicago Cubs. Tanaka (6-0, 2.17 ERA) pitches Tuesday, giving Cubs fans a glimpse of what could have been. The Cubs were among Tanaka's suitors when he was sold to MLB from Japan, but the Yankees paid $175 million for his services and he hasn't disappointed one bit. Of course, were he pitching in Chicago, Tanaka's season would probably be a bit more like that of Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who is 0-4 with a 1.62 ERA.
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5. PUIG TAKES QUEENS
The Los Angeles Dodgers (23-22) hit the East Coast this week, playing three against the New York Mets beginning Tuesday, then another three against the Philadelphia Phillies starting Friday. Yasiel Puig has been on fire lately, hitting .348 last week and driving in 10 runs to earn co-NL Player of the Week honors. He's going to be bat-flipping all over New York with MLB Fan Cave on "Off the Bat" (that's the pic above), but if he keeps up his hot streak, there will be bat flips at Citi Field and Citizens Bank Park too. Let's hope nobody tosses a bat back at him.
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