– Cruz Serrano
Teams with something to prove:
With the renewal of spring comes a new baseball season, and for seam heads like myself, that brings about the happiest time of the year. As happy as I am to see green grass begin to peek through the months of accumulated snow, it pales in comparison to the overwhelming exuberance brought about by the first sight of the shining emerald grass that can be seen on a major league baseball diamond. With the excitement that comes with the new season, it can sometimes be hard to remember that every single game of the 162 game schedule has the same meaning. A stunning walk-off win, or a disappointing loss, count just as much in May as they do in August and September. With the excitement of pennant chases, sometimes it’s hard to think back to the four game sweep at the hands of a last place team that had no business even splitting the series. Early season games and series can often help to define a team, as well as show whether they’re contenders, or they just enjoyed a lucky April as they listlessly regress. With that being said, here are some teams with something to prove with the series they play this weekend.
New York Yankees (21-15)
Opponent: Kansas City Royals (22-13)
The Yankees have gotten off to a fast start this season surprising many, which in it of itself seems surprising. The pitching staff has been their early season backbone, and the resurgence of the oft injured right-hander Michael Pineda has been huge to their early success. In fact, the Yankees pitching staff currently leads the majors in cumulative Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with a mark of 6.3. Aside from Pineda, the biggest contributors have been the back end of the Yankees’ bullpen, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, neither of whom have allowed an earned run to this point in the season. On offense, the consummate heel figure Alex Rodriguez has stolen the headlines, belting 9 long balls after not playing for the better part of the last two seasons. The Yankees’ offense has been league average, if not worse, which has been plenty to keep up with the success of the pitching staff. Going in to Kansas City, I personally feel like the Yankees have to prove they’re in it for the long haul. Aside from the Tigers and the Mets, if you’re a believer, this team has yet to play a championship caliber team. Coming off a series in which they lost 3 of 4 to a mediocre-at-best Tampa Bay team, it’s going to be important for this team to come out and at least take 2 out of 3 from an upper echelon team like KC.
New York Mets (20-15)
Opponent: Milwaukee Brewers (12-23)
After the first week of the season, I was all in on the Mets. Even after losing 2 of 3 games to the lowly Braves, I loved their chances based on their pitching staff alone. The return of Matt Harvey and his explosive arsenal was enough to grab the attention of most baseball fans. And say what you will about Dillon Gee, but you can do a lot worse for a fifth starter. The Mets took off after leaving Atlanta, winning 11 straight games and rocketing to first place in the NL East. Coming into this weekend, the team has fell flat, especially after being swept in a four game series against the Cubbies. The Mets’ pitching staff has performed well, and the addition of top prospect Noah Syndergaard after Gee was sidelined only makes the staff more exciting. The issue to this point, for the most part, has been with the Mets’ offense. At best, the lineup has been inconsistent, and at its’ worst, it’s looked anemic. Lucas Duda, who hit 30 homeruns last year, hasn’t produced the same power. David Wright has been sidelined, and the team’s biggest offseason signing Michael Cuddyer hasn’t done much to help bolster the offense. And the rest of the offense hasn’t picked up the slack, as they currently rate 15% below league average in weighted runs created plus (wRC+). The Mets have a huge opportunity this weekend as they face off against one the worst teams in the NL. With the Nationals creeping up behind them, it’s time for the Mets to prove whether or not they’re going be contenders in the National League.
Washington Nationals (19-17)
Opponent: San Diego Padres (19-17)
Coming into the season, once again, the Nationals looked primed and ready to pounce atop the NL East and compete for a World Series. Even with the Mets and Marlins improving in the offseason, the Nationals were easy favorites in the NL East with what is probably the most talented roster in baseball. The Nationals were sluggish out of the gate, as they have been in years past. However, the team is beginning to surge along with phenom Bryce Harper, and they are currently one game behind the Mets for first place in the NL East. The team as a whole has performed well this season, aside from ace Stephen Strasburgh and aging star Jayson Werth. Having already lost the first game of the four game set against the Padres, it’s going to be important for Washington to play well this weekend and begin to take their place atop their division. This is an important series for both teams and will be one of my favorites to watch this upcoming weekend.
By Cruz Serrano, @cruzin_USA