Tagged: Rays

2014 MLB Bobblehead Battle: AL East

Time to finish up the American League with the American League East where the Red Sox finally bring back bobblehead giveaways in 2014.  While you’re here check out the AL Central and AL West bobblehead battles.  As a reminder, each bobblehead will be rated 1-5 stars based on quality of subject, originality, number available, and overall awesomeness.  Teams will be ranked by total stars, so the more giveaways (especially quality ones) the better.

Boston Red Sox (all fans in attendance)

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Monday, April 7th, David Ortiz: You couldn’t ask for a better Red Sox player to start the bobblehead giveaways with.  This would’ve been a perfect ***** if it had been of Ortiz raising his fist telling Boston to stay strong.  Red Sox are going to rate highly giving these away to every fan. ****

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Wednesday, April 30th, Dustin Pedroia: And if you were going to pick a 2nd player on the current Red Sox to immortalize on a bobblehead, it would be former AL MVP Dustin Pedroia.  Better have real dirt stains! ***1/2

Tuesday, September 9th, Pedro Martinez: Come on Red Sox!  No bobbling goodness in May, June, July, or August?  For shame!  You get some redemption with the best pitcher in Red Sox history and the man who asks “Who is Karim Garcia?” ***1/2

Total: 11 stars

New York Yankees (18,000 fans)

Thursday, June 19th, Mark Teixeira: Yankees bobbleheads in 2013 were a murderer’s row (unfortunately not the actual Murderer’s Row) with Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Yogi Berra, and Mariano Rivera.  This years crop?  Not so much, starting off with the oft-injured Yankees first baseman. **

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Wednesday, July 2nd, Lou Gehrig: I love this bobblehead and is by far the best one in the Yankees crop.  It celebrates the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man” speech, it’s a must have, especially if you can get the Twins one to pair with it.  ****1/2

Sunday, July 27th, Paul O’Neill: A solid Yankees player that has found a home in the YES broadcasts with the team, so he’ll be in attendance for this one.  Don’t think there will be as much excitement for this one than Matsui last year. ** 1/2

Wednesday, August 20th, Joe Girardi: Has Yankees World Series rings as a player and as a manager and is worthy of a bobblehead, but I can’t get too excited for it.  **

Total: 11 stars

Tampa Bay Rays (20,000 fans)

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Saturday, April 5th, Wil Myers Rookie of the Year: I just like the way that this bobblehead looks.  Props to the AL East for having larger giveaway numbers.  ***

Friday, May 23rd, Alex Cobb Military Themed: I’m interested to see how this one ends up looking, but it sounds pretty solid.  For now, though. ** 1/2

Saturday, September 6th, Evan Longoria 80’s Hair Band: Another Rays bobblehead that I need to see to believe.  I want to have faith that this is going to be spectacular though.  *** 1/2

Total: 9 stars

Toronto Blue Jays (20,000 fans)

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Sunday, April 27th, R.A. Dickey: This Dickey bobblehead would’ve meant more if he had repeated his 2012 performance north of the border, but it’s a good effort and he deserves it.  ** 1/2

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Sunday, June 8th, Jose Reyes: I can basically say the same thing for Reyes that I said for Dickey, right? ** 1/2

Sunday, August 24th, Mark Buerhle: Let the 2013 Blue Jays disappointment bobblehead train continue! **

Total: 8 stars

Baltimore Orioles (Promotion schedule not posted as of 3/7)

What do you think is the best bobblehead collection in the AL East?  Let us know in the comments!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

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Rays/Rangers Ends in Controversial Strike Call

The Rays/Rangers game on Monday night ended in controversial fashion.  Ben Zobrist had a full count, with two outs in the top of the 9th, and a runner on first base.  A walk would put a runner in scoring position with Evan Longoria coming up in a one-run game.  Instead, this was called strike three to end the game, click to watch.

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UPDATED: Here’s the video of the call.

Needless to say, Rays manager Joe Maddon was not pleased about the call.  He tweeted this after the game.

Evan Longoria was slightly more understanding.

While Jeremy Hellickson has already moved on to his birthday plans in Texas tonight it seems.

I know you don’t argue balls and strikes, but Marty Foster, you’ve got some explaining to do. UPDATED: Foster explains himself.

Before I forget, congrats to Joe Nathan on his 300th career save! As he said after the pitch, WOW!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

3U3D Break it Down: The A.L. East

A ton happened in the American League East this offseason, the Blue Jays traded for and signed everybody under the sun, the Yankees can’t stay healthy, the Red Sox have a new manager, the Rays said goodbye to James Shields and hello to Wil Myers, and well the Orioles, they didn’t do much.  Who will win possibly the most unpredictable division in the Majors?  Let’s take a look!

Projected Order of Finish: Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles

Why the Rays could win the A.L. East: Let’s start off with defending Cy Young winner David Price anchoring a young and talented starting rotation.  James Shields may be gone, but there is still plenty of firepower with maturing Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, and Jeff Niemann.  Not to mention Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi waiting in the wings.  The bullpen is the best in the division with Fernando Rodney coming off the lowest ERA in the history of the league, plus excellent setup men in Joel Peralta and Jake McGee.  We’re still waiting on the superstar break out season from Evan Longoria.  If it happens in 2013, the Rays are in great shape.  I’ve also now gone this entire paragraph without mentioning Joe Maddon, who is the best manager in the game today.

Why the Rays wouldn’t win the the A.L. East:  The young rotation guys aren’t quite ready.  Evan Longoria spends more than half the season on the disabled list like in 2012.  Fernando Rodney reverts back to the Fernando Rodney before 2012 and doesn’t carry over the “magic plantain” powers from the World Baseball Classic.  Desmond Jennings still isn’t ready to take the next step.  Yunel Escobar gets himself in trouble.  The Blue Jays really are that good.

Why the Blue Jays could win the A.L. East: The talent the Jays assembled is the best that they’ve had since their 1993 World Series championship team.  The starting rotation is talented and experienced with Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, the spectacular, but oft-injured Josh Johnson, the bulldog Mark Buerhle, and “awesome when his stuff is on” Brandon Morrow.  It’s not just the rotation that’s revamped though.  Jose Reyes now sits atop an explosive lineup with two-time home run champion Jose Bautista and WBC teammate Edwin Encarnacion, who hit 42 home runs last season.  The Jays also added Melky Cabrera, who was leading the National League in batting average, before he was suspended for fifty games.

Why the Blue Jays wouldn’t win the A.L. East:  It’s not very often the team built to succeed immediately actually succeeds.  Just ask the Angels and the Marlins last year.  The bullpen still has a ton of question marks.  Is Casey Janssen ready to be a big-time closer on a winning team?  Is Sergio Santos completely healthy?  Can Darren Oliver keep it up at 42 years-old?  The Blue Jays better hope the answer is yes to two of three of those.  Edwin Encarnacion could have had a fluke season instead of a breakout one.  Plus, can Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind keep their heads on straight and hit the way they were supposed to as highly touted prospects?

Why the Red Sox could win the A.L. East:  First off, maybe they really just disliked Bobby Valentine so much that they went into tanking mode to ensure he was gone.  John Farrell will provide an upgrade in the dugout and in the clubhouse.  Jon Lester looks ready to return to form after a terrible 2012.  The lineup is solid enough, especially when David Ortiz is healthy.  Shane Victorino provides enough of a clubhouse presence and more importantly, enough of a bat, to keep Boston in contention.  Jackie Bradley is everything Red Sox fans think he really is.

Why the Red Sox wouldn’t win the A.L. East:  The heels of David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury get the Sox off on the “wrong foot”.  Jonny Gomes is primarily involved defensively.  The starters after Jon Lester (and even Jon Lester if he’s in 2012 form) aren’t top-notch.  Ryan Dempster needs to be the first half of 2012, not the second half.  Clay Buchholz has fallen apart after showing so much promise in 2010.  John Lackey is John Lackey.  The bullpen is revamped with closer-quality pitchers in Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, and Koji Uehara, but they all need to stay healthy.

Why the Yankees could win the A.L. East:  They’re the Yankees and you can never count them out.  They rally around Mariano Rivera, who’s retiring at the end of the season, to get him one more chance in the playoffs.  The injuries that they’ve experienced in Spring Training aren’t as bad as originally thought for Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Phil Hughes, and Alex Rodriguez and they can provide enough, especially in the 2nd half.  The pitching keeps it together (minus Hughes) with experience at the top (CC Sabathia, Huroki Kuroda, and Andy Pettitte) and youth at the bottom (Ivan Nova and David Phelps).  The bullpen with a returning Rivera, David Robertson, and a fully-healthy Joba Chamberlain could be the best in the division.  Robinson Cano plays completely out of his mind for a contract and is the clear-cut AL MVP.

Why the Yankees wouldn’t win the A.L. East:  The injury bug is just too much.  The names “Vernon Wells”, “Juan Rivera”, “Lyle Overbay” and “Travis Hafner” are predominantly involved in the lineup after the All-Star break.  They stick to their payroll to stay under the luxury tax and it prevents them from going after what they need at the trade deadline.

Why the Orioles could win the A.L. East: Winning one-run games (MLB best 29-9 in 2012) was actually skill and not luck.  The bullpen of Darren O’ Day, Pedro Strop, and Jim Johnson doesn’t wear down in a bullpen than threw the 4th most innings in MLB last season.  Buck Showalter continues to work his magic in Charm City and wins A.L. Manager of the Year.  Baltimore calls up Dylan Bundy and he immediately becomes a lights-out staff ace.  Manny Machado excels in his first full year in the Majors, while Adam Jones continues his path to super-stardom evolving into a near 30-30 player.

Why the Orioles wouldn’t win the A.L. East:  The statistics guys are right and the Orioles regress to the mean in one-run games.  The starting pitching doesn’t hold up like it did last year.  Seriously though, this is the worst rotation on paper in the division.  With the lineups in the A.L. East it might be tough for them to keep afloat.

Awards Watch

AL MVP

Robinson Cano-Yankees

Evan Longoria and David Price-Rays

Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista-Blue Jays

Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia-Red Sox

Adam Jones-Orioles

Cy Young

David Price and Fernando Rodney-Rays

CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera-Yankees

Jon Lester-Red Sox

R.A. Dickey and Brandon Morrow-Blue Jays

Rookie of the Year

Wil Myers and Chris Archer-Rays

Dylan Bundy-Orioles

Jackie Bradley and Jose Iglesias-Red Sox

Who do you think takes the crown in the A.L. East?  Let us know in the comments!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

#MapesFantasySpecial For September 19th

The choices for the #MapesFantasySpecial are pretty slim on Wednesday, but I think there are a couple options that could help your fantasy team.

We featured his Brewers teammate Wily Peralta on this week’s podcast, but Marco Estrada has been just as great as Milwaukee has made a push for the playoffs. Estrada has given up just 1ER or less in four of his last five starts, with three of them giving up no earned runs at all. Estrada takes on a Pirates squad that he gave up just one earned run in seven innings with 10 strikeouts just three starts ago. If he puts up even slightly worse numbers, it’s a worthy pick-up that’s available in 73% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues.

If You’re Desperate: Rays rookie Chris Archer has great strikeout potential (28K in 22.1IP) if you need a boost there. If you’re worried about the match-up against Boston, in Archer’s last start he shut down Texas over 7 innings with 11 strikeouts. Archer is owned in just 5% of leagues. Reds Mike Leake (10% owned) has good numbers in his career against the Cubs, but gave up 3ER in six innings last time he pitched at Wrigley. Orioles Joe Saunders (12% owned) has a juicy match-up at the Mariners and has settled down since getting roughed up in his first start with Baltimore. Unfortunately, he’s going up against King Felix, so don’t go in expecting a win. John Lannan (4% owned) was great in his 1st start back in place of Stephen Strasburg tossing 5.2 shutout innings. The Dodgers lineup still hasn’t been great and Lannan is 4-1 in his career against Los Angeles. Don’t expect to get many strikeouts though.

If You’re Desperate Rankings: Archer, Saunders, Leake, Lannan

Good luck in your fantasy leagues!

9/18 4 PM Update: Mets pitcher Matt Harvey was scratched from his start Tuesday night and will start Wednesday 9/19 instead. I like him more than any of these.

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

Weekend Watch! Interleague Style Part Two!

It’s time for another round of interleague play!  These match-ups aren’t as exotic as the last “Weekend Watch” with interleague play involved, but it doesn’t mean that cross-divisional series aren’t as fun.  Here’s what I’m looking forward to watching this weekend as I sneak the MLB At-Bat app on while tailgating at the Belmont Stakes.

6) Indians at Cardinals

Battle of the two 2nd place teams in the Central where both are trying to get back to the 1st place perch they had just recently.  The injury bug continues to hit St. Louis as Jaime Garcia finds himself joining teammates Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker, and Lance Berkman on the disabled list.  The Indians, on the other hand, seem to be the least talked about “good” team in the Majors.  They keep plugging away without doing anything too special, they sit 8th in the AL in batting average and a dismal 2nd to last in ERA, but there they are at 30-26, just a game out of 1st place.  Jason Kipnis has been great for Cleveland in his sophomore season leading the team in home runs (9) and stolen bases (14).

2D) Blue Jays and Braves

This is a series as a Braves fan that I wish I could go down to Turner Field and attend in person.  Friday night, the Braves are retiring the great John Smoltz’s number (more on that in a blog tomorrow) and on Saturday is the greatest promotion the team has ever done, Sid Bream Slide Bobblehead Day!  Seriously, this thing is awesome and are already being offered on eBay from $55-75.  Both the Jays and Braves are playing in tightly contested races in their East divisions.  As I type this the AL East is separated by just four games.  The NL East is only a game and a half difference between 1st place and 4th place.  Every team in those two divsions is .500 or better except for the Phillies, who saw that coming?   No wonder why FOUR East interleague series make the “Weekend Watch” this week.

2C) Nationals at Red Sox

1st place vs. last place gets 3rd place here, that’s the average.  Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez have been wunderkinds in the National League, but how will they do on the road against a quality offense in Boston.  Gonzalez’s track record against the Sox while he was in Oakland was not very good as he has a 5.79 ERA over 28 innings in his career.  Red Sox Kevin Youkilis also feasts on Gonzalez pitching going 6 for 11 in his career.  I’m also intrigued to see Daisuke Matsuzaka’s return on Saturday to the Red Sox after recovering from Tommy John surgery.  If he can give Boston anything after they had to send down Daniel Bard to AAA it’d be a great plus.

2B) Mets at Yankees

The Subway Series means something!  The Yankees have been on fire winning 10 of their last 13 games going into Thursday night’s game with the Rays.  The Mets are still reveling in the teams first no-hitter by Johan Santana last Friday night and he’ll start the opener against Huroki Kuroda.  The no-hitter has been an extra spring in the step of Mets fans.  I live in Connecticut, where you get a mixture of Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox fans.  I’ve seen more Mets hats and jerseys in the past week than I had the entire season before Santana’s no-no.  Wonder if some will actually try to infiltrate the Bronx this weekend.  Derek Jeter thrives against his cross-town rivals hitting .385, the best batting average he has against any team he has 40 at-bats against.

2A) Rays at Marlins

The Battle for Florida means something!  I don’t expect a lot of runs this weekend between these two as the pitching matchups are pretty solid and Marlins Park has played towards the pitcher so far.  I really want to see if Matt Moore can continue his recent success as he has a 2.55 ERA over his last three starts compared to a 7.20 ERA his three starts before that.  Maybe he can still salvage my AL Rookie of the Year pick.  Mike Trout you say?  Yeah, I’m doomed.  James Shields vs. Anibal Sanchez on Sunday is an underrated pitchers special.

1) Rangers at Giants

Can’t be yelled at for East Coast bias if I put the Rangers and Giants in the top spot!  Despite Tim Lincecum’s worst efforts the Giants are the hottest team in the National League winning 8 of their last 10 games.  The Rangers have only won one game in each series against the Mariners, Angels, and Athletics coming into this series.  Roy Oswalt can’t get up to the Majors fast enough it seems as Derek Holland now joins Neftali Feliz on the DL from the rotation.  Alexi Ogando will come out of the bullpen to make the start in place of Holland.  Even better is that this could be a potential World Series match-up down the road.

Mapes Fantasy Special

Another great week for the Mapes Fantasy Special.  I’m now 10-2 since moving the Mapes Fantasy Special over to the Weekend Watch.  I’ll slow clap for myself.  Here are this weeks picks, remember these pitchers must be available in 50% or more of Yahoo! fantasy baseball leagues.

6/8 Gavin Floyd (32% owned) vs. Astros, Floyd has been absolutely terrible lately, but if he can’t do it at home against the Astros I have no hope for him.  I wish I could just quit you Gavin.

6/9 Scott Diamond (22% owned) vs. Cubs, Diamond has been a find in the rough for the Twins, sorry I couldn’t resist, he’s been stellar going 4-1 with a 1.89 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.  Even better are his 4 walks in 38.2 innings this season.  Diamond faces the Cubs who have drawn the 4th least walks in the Majors this season, bodes well for him if they put in in play at Target Field.

6/10 Andy Pettitte (49% owned) vs. Mets, I have no explanation for what Pettitte is doing right now, so I’m just gonna enjoy the ride before he gets over 50% owned.

What are you looking forward to this weekend?  Who do you like in fantasy?  Tweet me using #MapesFantasySpecial

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

Weekend Watch!

Earlier edition of Weekend Watch this week.  Only three games on a Thursday night?  Something seems off with that, I’m currently filling my time with the Women’s College World Series and Scripps National Spelling Bee.  Would it kill them to make sure there is a day game every day?  Here’s what I’m excited for this weekend.

5) Braves at Nationals

I’ve decided to stop putting the Braves near the top spot in these rankings every week, but this match-up is still too juicy to not include at all.  Nationals befuddled the Braves at Turner Field this weekend while Atlanta was in the midst of a 8-game losing streak.  Taking two of three from the Cardinals put some spring in their step heading on the road.  Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman’s returns were sorely needed for the Braves offense.  Almost the same pitching duels as last weekend as we’ll see Mike Minor/Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Beachy/Gio Gonzalez part deux, along with Tommy Hanson/Jordan Zimmermann on Sunday.  Gonzalez was the most impressive last Sunday shutting down the Braves to one hit over seven innings with 10 strikeouts.  He now leads the NL in strikeouts and K/9.  Was that start enough to take my NL Cy Young in the “Too Early MLB Awards”?  Answer coming this weekend.  Weird but true stat: Michael Bourn already has five home runs this season, he had four in 2010 and 2011 combined.

4) Yankees at Tigers

The Tigers have been the biggest team disappointment in the Majors this season sitting at just 23-27 so far in a weak AL Central.  Doug Fister is heading back to the DL to join teammate Austin Jackson.  Tigers might be in some trouble with the Yankees coming to town.  CC Sabathia is heading to the hill for the opener against Casey Crosby, who has a 4.26 ERA in AAA this season.  What does bode well for Tigers fans is the Yankee lineup typically has trouble with pitchers they have never seen before.  I’m excited to watch Justin Verlander on Sunday take on the Yankee lineup in a rematch from the 2011 ALDS.  Not weird but true stat: CC Sabathia has more losses against the Tigers (12) than any other team.

3) Marlins at Phillies

There is no team hotter in the Majors than the Miami Marlins.  Their 21 wins in May set the franchise record for wins in a month.  The Phillies were dealt a tough blow with the loss of ace Roy Halladay for 6-8 weeks, but still have enough rotation goodness to survive.  Kyle Kendrick has filled in admirably thus far and Vance Worley should be due back shortly.  Cole Hamels with his 8-1 record and 2.43 ERA is also in the running for the “Too Early MLB Awards” NL Cy Young.  Two plugs for a future blog in this blog?  Oops.  Weird but true stat: Giancarlo Stanton is 3 for 4 this season with two outs and the bases loaded with two grand slams.  He loves the pressure.  Please vote for him to go to Kansas City for the All-Star Game.

2) Orioles at Rays

Typically, I would put the battle of teams tied for the division lead in the AL East in the top spot, but A) I don’t want to hear about any East Coast bias and B) there’s a match-up that intrigues me slightly more.  Orioles are hitting a rough patch right now, just 2-8 in their last 10 games, but did take two of three from the Rays, three weeks ago.  Wei-Yin Chen has been a find for Baltimore and will take on David Price in the Friday opener.  I’m also intrigued to see if shutting down a then-hot White Sox offense on Memorial Day is enough for Matt Moore to turn the corner.  Would make me feel a lot better about picking him to win AL Rookie of the Year and AL Cy Young in the preseason.  Signing a new extension hasn’t slowed down Adam Jones as he’s hitting .385 with two home runs since the press conference before last Sunday’s game.  Not weird but true stat: Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson has beaten the Orioles more times (4) than any other team in his young career.

1) Rangers at Angels

So why this series over Orioles/Rays?  I want to watch how the Rangers respond to getting 20+ runs put up on them by the Mariners.  I want to see if Albert Pujols hot streak continues.  I want to watch Mark Trumbo demolish pitches.  I want to see Mike Trout do everything.  (Told you I’d rather have him than Bryce Harper this season.)  I want to see Yu Darvish pitch against C.J. Wilson.  I want to see if Mike Trout can chase down Yu Darvish for AL Rookie of the Year.  I want to see if Dan Haren has really turned things around.  I want to see if the Angels can get over the .500 hump and make the AL West interesting.  Last but definitely not least, I want to watch Josh Hamilton.  Weird but true stat: Yu Darvish has given up 9 ER in 9.2 IP against the Mariners and 13 ER in 50.1 IP against every other team he’s faced.  I asked for votes for Giancarlo Stanton before for the All-Star game, now it’s Mark Trumbo’s turn.  He’s hitting .348 this season with 10 home runs this season while bouncing around from 3B to 1B to RF, to LF, to DH.  If that doesn’t convince you, let my friends at the MLB Fan Cave try and do it.

Mapes Fantasy Special

A great 3-0 week last week as Ivan Nova, Mark Buehrle, and especially R.A. Dickey came through with starts that helped your fantasy team.  These are now 15-5 on positive starts on the season.  Sadly, Dickey and Buehrle have moved over the 50% owned threshold for Mapes Fantasy Special, so let’s see what I can find for this weekend.

6/1 Wade Miley at Padres (45% owned), Might as well go with our Three Up player on the podcast this week.  Miley has been great and you have to like facing the Padres at Petco even with the return of Carlos Quentin.

6/2 Brandon McCarthy at Royals (45% owned), I’m not feeling too strong about this one with McCarthy just coming off the DL.  It is a nice spot though against a KC team that is just 5-17 at home this year.  McCarthy gave up 2 ER in 6 IP earlier this year against the Royals.

6/3 Barry Zito vs. Cubs (22% owned)  I really like Zito here at home coming off a good start against the Diamondbacks.  Cubs are 27th in the league in runs scored and are pitching Travis Wood, who hasn’t been great.

Coming soon is my “Too Early MLB Awards” now that June is upon us.  Who do you think should be taking the hardware at this point in the season?

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

Weekend Watch!

Thank God it’s Friday!  Time for a new set of matchups this weekend.  Here are the series I’m looking forward to watching this weekend in descending order.

5) Athletics at Orioles

I didn’t have both of these teams at .500 or better on April 26th before the season and neither did you.  These have been two pleasant surprises and deserve some love.  I really wish that Yoenis Cespedes was left-handed to see if he could make a run at hitting the warehouse beyond the right field wall.  The pitching matchups are pretty decent, especially the opener with Brandon McCarthy and Jake Arrieta, Arrieta is my #MapesFantasySpecial for 4/27.  *cough follow me on Twitter @Mapes4FanCave cough* While Bartolo Colon was very good against Baltimore in 2011 with the Yankees having a paltry 1.52 ERA and sub 1.00 WHIP in 23.2 innings.

4) Brewers at Cardinals

Brewers are still looking to get back to .500 and are tossing their two aces, Gallardo and Greinke, on Saturday and Sunday.  The Cardinals have had the best offense in the National League so far.  They lead the NL in batting average, OPS, and OBP, while being 2nd in runs scored behind Atlanta.  St. Louis has also had the best signing in the senior circuit in 2012 so far in Carlos Beltran who’s filled the Albert Pujols void admirably with 5 home runs and pitching in 5 stolen bases on top of it.

Those two matchups are just the appetizers this weekend.  Here’s what MLB is serving up in the main course.  I can’t even rank these matchup 3-2-1, we’re going with 1 A, B, and C.

1C) Nationals at Dodgers

Two teams that were picked by many to most people to finish 4th in their respective divisions.  Instead, both are sitting pretty in 1st place as we speak.  I said in the offseason that the Nats had put together the most underrated rotation in the Majors.  The results so far?  The Nationals pitching staff has the best ERA in the league.  Ross Detwiler has been a great addition in place of John Lannan.  Stephen Strasburg is being Stephen Strasburg.  Gio Gonzalez is proving that he wasn’t just a product of Oakland’s ballpark as he has 20 straight scoreless innings.  The Dodgers?  Well they have Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Clayton Kershaw, that’s generally been enough so far.  Dee Gordon is among the league leader in stolen bases, but needs to start getting on base more for the Dodgers lineup to truly start clicking.  I just don’t think it will happen this weekend.

1B) Rays at Rangers

Both teams are riding momentum waves.  Rays picked up a walk-off win Thursday courtesy of Brandon Allen, while the Rangers took two of three from the Yankees.  In a rematch of last years 2011 Division Series the Rays seemingly have the pitching matchup advantage in sending James Shields (Friday) and David Price (Sunday) to the hill, while missing out on Yu Darvish.  Darvish was sparkling in his last start against New York and seems to have put his control issues behind him.  The pitching advantage might be nullified however by Texas’ fantastic offense.  Led by Josh Hamilton’s .390 AVG and 8 homers, the Rangers currently lead the Majors batting average, OPS, runs scored, and home runs.  This is a classic case of great pitching vs. great hitting.

1A) Tigers at Yankees

It’s a rematch of the other 2011 ALDS!  Both teams are reeling after the Yankees lost the series in Texas, while the Tigers got swept at home by the Seattle Mariners.  You read the 2nd half of that right.  Further proof that you can’t predict baseball, so I’m going to try anyway!  Can Justin Verlander and the Tigers end Ivan Nova’s run of franchise record of 15 straight winning decisions on Friday? (I think so.)  Will there be 20 runs in the Saturday matchup of Drew Smyly and Freddy Garcia? (Maybe.  Yankees do have problems facing a pitcher for the 1st time, see Yu Darvish.)  Can Derek Jeter keep his batting average over .400?  (Currently .420, I’ll say yes.)  Will Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder enjoy the confines of Yankee Stadium vs. spacious Comerica Park?  (Yes, I think they both homer, maybe even multiple times this weekend.)  Should be a great series in the Bronx.

What matchup are you excited to see this weekend?  Do you think Matt Kemp, Josh Hamilton, and Derek Jeter keep up their torrid pace to start?

-Bryan Mapes