The Cardinals visit the Cubs for the first time this week. Fireworks are not expected.
But when the Red Sox's Clay Buchholz pitches against the Blue Jays next Saturday, that should be interesting. You know you are doing something right when rivals within your division start taking shots at you, even if it's only their broadcasters.
When Theo Epstein ran the Red Sox powerhouse, he annoyed team President Larry Lucchino and ownership by speaking of "bridge'' years — that is, seasons when you build toward the future, not do everything in your power to win 95 games and go to the playoffs. His replacement, Ben Cherington, wasn't allowed one of those for this season even after the Red Sox won only 69 games a year ago, their fewest in a full season since 1965.
Rather than rebuild, the Red Sox signed veterans Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes, traded prospects for Joel Hanrahan and finagled John Farrell out of his last year as manager with the Blue Jays.
They did so hoping to compete in the powerful American League East even though they had just sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers in a mega-deal that set the precedent for the Blue Jays' acquisition of Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio from the Marlins.
Look at them now.
The Red Sox not only got off to a 20-8 start but just won two out of three at Toronto, making the Blue Jays the second team in the majors — behind only those aforementioned Marlins — to face a 10-game deficit. The Red Sox entered the weekend averaging 5.3 runs, tied for second in the majors behind the A's, and with a starting rotation that had a 3.05 ERA, second in the majors to the Cardinals.
Farrell and new pitching coach Juan Nieves, the former White Sox bullpen coach, have turned around Jon Lester and Buchholz while getting Dempster back to the form he showed with the Cubs in the first half of last season before disappointing the Rangers down the stretch. Boston was 11-1 behind Buchholz and Lester the first six times through the rotation, with Buchholz going 6-0 with a 1.01 ERA.
How do you explain that?
Jack Morris, the Blue Jays broadcaster who started Game 1 of the World Series for three teams, says it's easy. He claims Buchholz has become the second coming of Gaylord Perry, slathering slippery substances onto himself and then transferring them to the baseball during his pre-pitch routine.
"It was all over his forearm, all over the lower part of his T-shirt, it's all in his hair," Morris told ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes. "I can't prove anything.''
Morris said the pattern was pointed out to him by members of the Blue Jays broadcast crew. But he said it should have been caught by someone in the Toronto dugout, seemingly taking a shot at under-the-gun manager John Gibbons.
"Funny thing, the way the game is played today,'' Morris said. "In our generation, every player, every coach would have seen it, the umpire would have gone out and made him change, made him stop, and that changes everything. Or else they throw him out."
Buchholz and the Red Sox strongly denied the accusations, as you would expect.
"I'm doing the same thing as in 2008, when I was sent down to Double A,'' Buchholz said. "But I guess something has to be wrong, right?"
Fenway Park should be rocking next weekend.
Dangerous numbers: The Cardinals were 15-11 in April, and they hit .245. Imagine how good they will be when they get their bats going.
"I don't think this offense is even close to (what) it can be," second baseman Matt Carpenter said. "I think everybody will admit that nobody has hit a good stride here. And for us to still win and not be clicking on all cylinders is a big deal."
Carlos Beltran has been carrying the Cardinals. He entered the weekend hitting .299 with seven home runs and an .876 OPS, which could improve over the summer.
The bullpen has been a problem for Mike Matheny. But the manager should have a lot of fun with his new toy, 21-year-old Carlos Martinez. He's a reasonable facsimile of the young Pedro Martinez and will work as a setup man in front of Edward Mujica after compiling a 2.31 ERA in three Triple-A starts.
Mujica, acquired from the Marlins at midseason last year, went 7-for-7 in save situations after replacing injured closer Jason Motte.
"He just comes out there regardless of the situation and makes pitches," Matheny told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He has done a nice job of not trying not to do too much or change his approach."
Slugging to the classics: During the Tigers' most recent homestand, Prince Fielder was walking up to the plate to the accompaniment of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He adopted Mozart's "Requiem" as his theme after learning Torii Hunter listens to classical music in the clubhouse to prepare for games.
Fielder says Hunter caught his eye in spring training because he "was so seasoned and had so much energy early in the morning." He told the 37-year-old he was going to watch him and copy everything he did so he also could have a long career.
Fielder, my preseason pick for AL MVP, entered the weekend hitting .297 and on pace for 42 home runs and 162 RBIs. The Tigers must appreciate the dedication toward having a long, productive career, as Fielder is under contract through 2020, when he will be 37.
Under the weather: The Royals weren't happy that Thursday's game against the Rays was stopped in the bottom of the fourth because of continuing sleet and snow. They had a 1-0 lead and needed to get only three more outs for an official game. But the game never restarted, getting postponed after a delay of 2 hours, 20 minutes.
"If you play four innings, why not play one more?" left fielder Alex Gordon asked. "What's the point? But that's what it is. We're just going to have to cancel another off day and play again. We're not going to have any off days at the end of the year. Should be fun."
The Royals have lost four games to a combination of rain, sleet, snow and the Boston manhunt. They already have made up two with doubleheaders but could lose scheduled days off to make up a rainout in Detroit and the one Thursday at home. That one figures to be more of an inconvenience for the Rays, who will have to make an unscheduled trip to Kansas City because the game wasn't finished — as the Rangers are visiting Wrigley Field on Monday to make up the April 17 rainout.
You have to start somewhere: The Astros and Twins aren't going to be playoff teams this season. The Astros easily could wind up with the first pick in the draft for the third straight year, and the Twins would be thrilled with a .500 season. But players on both teams believe they quietly have turned a corner because of the much-debated idea of clubhouse chemistry.
"The difference is we like each other,'' Astros starter Lucas Harrell said. "You have a group of guys who are working hard to get better. Last year I felt like we had a few veteran guys who kind of wrote us off early. … With the attitude, it's a lot different. It's a lot better."
Twins lefty Scott Diamond offered similar sentiments after beating the Tigers on Wednesday, which prevented a sweep.
"The atmosphere in the clubhouse is a lot different than it was last year, and because of that, we're going to be able to prevent losing streaks," Diamond said. "It actually feels more positive. Even when we lose a couple of games — like that Texas series (last weekend) — everybody stayed really positive, and we were really still pulling for each other. Nobody started swinging for home runs, nobody was trying to strike out every batter. We're relying on what's going to make us win — our defense and moving runners.''