Weekend preview: What to watch

This is a weekend in which quite a few contending teams can do damage against weaker opponents. No, we’re not picking on the lowly Houston Astros again, as they face the disappointing Milwaukee Brewers, but most of the good teams, especially in the National League, get to face teams with a lot more losses than wins: Reds-Cubs, Orioles-Royals, Pirates-Padres, Braves-Mets, Dodgers-Marlins, Angels-Mariners, Giants-Rockies. Of course, that doesn’t make this weekend less interesting than normal. Returning to our Friday staple blog entry, here’s what to watch.

1. The Tigers and Rangers met to decide the AL championship last season, and it wouldn’t be a shock if that happened again. The Rangers were big winners last October, buoyed by a pair of separate four-run 11th innings and the final memory of the 15-5 clincher, but the Rangers certainly have more rotation question marks now, despite the best efforts of overhyped Yu Darvish. The Rangers took three of four when these clubs met in April, with only Justin Verlander prevailing, then took two of three in June. This is a bigger series for the Tigers, as it’s pretty much assumed the Rangers are playoff-bound. Well, don’t assume anything. Detroit is scheduled to face Scott Feldman, Derek Holland and Darvish. Think Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and pals are scared?

2. The Athletics are clearly still relevant and were impressive in taking two of three from the Angels this week, and Friday they’re in Chicago to face the White Sox. Right-hander Brandon McCarthy and his 2.54 ERA are scheduled to come off the DL for Friday’s start, and after that the White Sox will send 3-10 Francisco Liriano to the mound and 13-3 Chris Sale on Sunday. Oakland is scoring enough runs and they seem to have rotation depth, with lefty Brett Anderson close to a return, but the bullpen has become a question mark, as closer Ryan Cook has permitted runs in six of his past eight appearances, spiking his ERA from 1.34 to 2.79. This could be the weekend Grant Balfour or Sean Doolittle see a change in their roles.

3. The sole matchup between teams with winning records in the NL features Washington at Arizona. Are the Diamondbacks contenders or not? The Giants and Dodgers certainly aren’t pulling away in the NL West, but an Arizona club that has struggled to score runs in August (they entered Thursday hitting .231 with a .271 OBP as a team for the month) probably won’t enjoy facing Stephen Strasburg, Edwin Jackson and the better-than-expected Ross Detwiler. The Nationals aren’t going away, but it remains to be seen if the Diamondbacks can make the NL West a three-team race.

Three more stats to watch:

10-5, 2.91 ERA: Minnesota Twins lefty Scott Diamond has posted these numbers in 17 starts. All of the Twins other starting pitchers are 19-44 with a cumulative 5.97 ERA. Diamond faces the Rays and resurgent right-hander James Shields Sunday.

3-1, 2.48 ERA: Tim Lincecum has done some fine work in his past five outings, and things should get even better Friday as he gets one of baseball’s worst road teams in the Rockies.

1.41 ERA, 1.19 WHIP: Atlanta didn’t have to trade anything to get right-hander Ben Sheets. His first 32 innings have been pretty good. He’s scheduled to face Jon Niese of the Mets on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.

Have a great weekend!