MLB Week 20: A Look Ahead at Key Storylines and Matchups

Chicago White Sox right fielder Alex Rios
Jul 20, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox right fielder Alex Rios (51) rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam against the Atlanta Braves during the third inning at US Cellular Field. Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

There is less than one third of the MLB regular season left. As the standings sit today, there are eight teams in baseball within 7.5 games of their division lead. That might be a bit much to overcome for the teams on the outer edges of that range, but stranger things have happened. While the division battles are waged, there are some other things to watch this week, too. The spotlight remains on New York, a contender pulls off an impact trade, and a future star is promoted.

Yankees’ Aging Stars – It’s been a rough stretch for the most notable New York elder statesmen. Of course there’s Alex Rodriguez who continues to play while he appeals his suspension for the Biogenesis case. And the New York Daily News just reported that A-Rod secretly met with BALCO founder Victor Conte last year about finding legal ways to get an edge. Well, the focus with A-Rod, for now, is on the field. In his five games with the Yankees this year, he has five hits in 19 at bats and just picked up his first home run on Sunday. His teammate, Mariano Rivera, hasn’t enjoyed much success lately, either. He’s blown his last three save opportunities, which is nearly unheard of for the best closer in league history. And Derek Jeter is still languishing on the DL ,dealing with a strained calf. He’s eligible to come off the DL over the weekend. It’s worth keeping an eye on all of them this week to see if the three of them, who have a combined age of 120, can hold up and come through.

Rios Heads Home – The Rangers have been in need of a bat for a while and pulled off an August trade to get one, acquiring outfielder Alex Rios from the White Sox for infielder Leury Garcia. After losing Nelson Cruz to a Biogenesis suspension, adding another outfielder became a priority. In two games with Texas, he is already making his presence felt. He is 4-for-7 with a double, triple, two RBI, and three runs. The Rangers won both of those games over the Astros and have reclaimed sole possession of first place in the A.L. West. Rios is now hitting .281 with 12 home runs and 57 RBI on the year with 26 stolen bases between the two clubs. After finishing off their series with Houston, the Rangers will return home for an eight-game homestand where Rios will make his debut in front of his new home crowd.

Garcia Gets the Call – A side effect of that Rios deal is that the White Sox can snow show off their new prospect Avisail Garcia, whom they acquired in last month’s deal with the Tigers and Red Sox involving Jake Peavy and Jose Iglesias. Garcia was considered Detroit’s second-best minor league prospect by Baseball America at the time he was traded. In 47 games in Triple-A this year, he hit .379/.431/.561 with seven home runs, seven doubles, four triples, and 36 RBI. Since being called up, he has played in three games with Chicago, managing just two hits in nine at bats, while striking out nine times. With Chicago not going anywhere this season, Garcia will at least give fans a reason to watch and a glimpse into the future as he learns the game at the major league level.

Matchups of the Week – This week will be a very big one in the N.L. Central. The Pirates and Cardinals will meet for three in St. Louis beginning on Tuesday. Pittsburgh currently sits at the top of the division, leading the Cards by three. This series will feature three quality pitching matchups with Charlie Morton and Adam Wainwright in game one, Francisco Liriano and Shelby Miller following that, and A.J. Burnett and Lance Lynn closing the series out. A sweep for St. Louis would bring them back into a tie for the division lead. A sweep the other way would mean a six game lead for the Pirates. There is a lot on the line this week, though the two teams do still have six more games against each other after this series. And, if pitching is your thing, here are a few more matchups to keep an eye on this week.

Monday – Doug FisterChris Sale

Tuesday – Madison BumgarnerGio Gonzalez, Homer BaileyJeff Samardzija, Jose FernandezBruce Chen, Matt Harvey-Hyun-Jin Ryu

Wednesday – Chris TillmanPatrick Corbin

Thursday – Jake Peavy-Mark Buehrle

Friday – James ShieldsJustin Verlander, Andy PettitteFelix Doubront, Zack GreinkeCliff Lee

Saturday – Hiroki KurodaJohn Lackey, Stephen StrasburgMike Minor

Sunday – Gio Gonzalez-Julio-Teheran, Adam Wainwright-Travis Wood, Matt Harvey-Eric Stults

Series to Watch – Orioles-Diamondbacks, Royals-Tigers, Diamondbacks-Pirates, Yankees-Red Sox, Indians-Athletics

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