The Game Planner, July 24th-30th

Six out of seven days feature UK-friendly baseball times this week, although if you’re not a fan of Chicago baseball, the early part of the week might not appeal to you quite so much. Never fear, there’s plenty more later in the week, with at least three games to choose from on the other four days, and some key matchups for contenders. If you’re new to this feature, welcome, and please read the original post if you’re looking for a full explanation of what the planner aims to do.

The quick notes for those wanting to get right to the games: every game that is likely to end before about midnight UK time is counted as a ‘Watchable Game’. 9:10 PM is usually the latest start time I will include, unless there is a slightly later game of particular note. Each day I will pick out at least one watchable game of interest (identified in bold) and note some reasons why you might want to tune in, such as a particularly exciting player, a key divisional matchup, or a team on a hot streak.

A disclaimer: the schedule, both in terms of game times and projected starters, is extremely subject to change as a result of weather conditions, injuries, and the simple fact that teams sometimes change their minds about how they want to line up their starters, so please be aware that the information below is not set in stone.

The colour coded aspects of the planner are as follows:

Top Pitching Matchup – this week’s most interesting pitching duel, featuring two pitchers of either high quality or of note in some other way, such as a recent run of good form or an unusual pitching motion.
Top Offensive Matchup – a game featuring two of the league’s most productive lineups in recent weeks.
Free Game – MLB.tv’s Free Game of the Day, accessible via the MLB.tv schedule.
BT – A game being shown live on BT Sport, as per the BT Sport TV Guide. Please be aware that BT’s schedule is also subject to change.

Watchable Games

Monday, July 24th
7:20 PM – White Sox @ Cubs (Free Game) (BT) – Part One of our interleague Chicago special sees Miguel Gonzalez and Kyle Hendricks take the mound for two teams at opposite ends of the contending spectrum. The Cubs are finally in first place after storming out of the All-Star Break with eight wins out of nine, coinciding with a Milwaukee slump. Before they face the Brewers this weekend, the Cubs have a great opportunity to assert their dominance with four games against their crosstown rivals, the AL’s worst team, while the Brewers get the soon-to-be NL East champions in Washington. Hendricks will be making his first start since early June after being sidelined with mysterious pain in the middle finger of his right hand. If he can return to the form of 2015-16, the Cubs rotation – now bolstered by one of the many pieces the White Sox are using to fill their farm system, Jose Quintana – will look very formidable indeed.

Tuesday, July 25th
7:20 PM – White Sox @ Cubs (BT) – No, I haven’t just copied and pasted this by mistake. For two nights in a row, it’s Chicago baseball or nothing, but it’s a very different pitching matchup as the tantalising but often wild Carlos Rodon takes on a player fourteen years his senior in the ever-grumpy John Lackey. The 24-year-old Rodon has made just four starts this year after missing three months with biceps bursitis, and the fact that he has walked 15 in 20 1/3 innings tells you everything you need to know about how smooth his return has been. The slider is exceptional at times, but stuff only gets you so far and isn’t much help with no command. Lackey is still doing his best to challenge for the all-time home runs allowed record, which makes it oddly impressive that his ERA is ‘only’ 5.04. The White Sox don’t have a threatening lineup, especially with Todd Frazier shipped to New York, so maybe Lackey can get through this one without a dinger, something he has done only three times in 18 attempts.

Wednesday, July 26th
5:10 PM – Orioles @ Rays (BT)
6:05 PM – Reds @ Yankees
8:40 PM – Red Sox @ Mariners (BT) – A Chris Sale sighting, which is essentially a guaranteed must-watch. Sale already has 200 strikeouts, and yes, it is still July. Seattle’s rookie starter Andrew Moore has struck out 13 in 30 big league innings; Sale has struck out 13 in a single game twice already this year. Fun facts about how much better Sale is than almost everyone else aside, both teams could do with the series win here, as Boston still hasn’t been able to shake off the Yankees and the Rays, while the Mariners are still right in the thick of the ludicrous AL wild card race.
8:40 PM – Braves @ Diamondbacks (Free Game)
8:45 PM – Pirates @ Giants

Thursday, July 27th
5:05 PM – Brewers @ Nationals (BT)
5:10 PM – Angels @ Indians
5:37 PM – Athletics @ Blue Jays (Top Pitching Matchup) (Free Game) – Two exciting young starters on two teams with identical, last-place records for this week’s pitching matchup, with Sean Manaea taking on Toronto’s Marcus Stroman. The Jays didn’t exactly enjoy seeing Manaea’s slider last time they faced him, and the 25-year-old has a changeup that also gets whiffs at a 20% rate. Stroman’s 2.98 ERA ranks seventh among qualified starters, and while his peripherals don’t point to quite that level of success, his excellent sinker helps him to produce an elite 62.4% ground ball rate, second to only Houston’s Lance McCullers. It’s also the MLB.tv Free Game, so there’s no excuse not to watch two of the game’s most promising starters.

Friday, July 28th
None

Saturday, July 29th
6:05 PM – Rays @ Yankees (BT) – These two teams are both in prime position to claim a Wild Card spot and have the very realistic possibility of a divisional title, so this series is likely to have a big impact on both playoff odds and trade possibilities. The Yankees have upgraded both their infield and their bullpen with their high-profile trade for Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox. The Rays added Adeiny Hechavarria a few weeks ago and have picked up…uh…Chaz Roe and Sergio Romo. Despite the differences in payroll and their considerably less flashy acquisitions, Tampa Bay shouldn’t be taken lightly, with a triple threat of offensive breakout stars in Logan Morrison, Corey Dickerson, and Steven Souza, and a Chris Archer-led staff that also includes projected starter Jacob Faria, who I efficiently cursed last week. Still, if four runs is your worst major league performance, you’re doing something right, and this matchup with Yankees rookie Jordan Montgomery could be the first of many if their respective career beginnings are anything to go by.
6:07 PM – Angels @ Blue Jays (Free Game)
9:05 PM – Giants @ Dodgers
9:10 PM – Mets @ Mariners

Sunday, July 30th
6:05 PM – Rays @ Yankees
6:10 PM – Astros @ Tigers (Top Offensive Matchup) – You wouldn’t know it from reading the Game Planner, but the Astros are pretty good offensively. If you want to know more about that, you can read almost any other edition, so I’ll focus on the Tigers. Admittedly Detroit is diminished significantly by the departure of J.D. Martinez to Arizona, but they are third in wRC+ over the last 30 days. Justin Upton has been on one of his patented hot streaks over that span, with a 163 wRC+, and Nick Castellanos has blasted six home runs. Sadly, Miguel Cabrera has not been part of the offensive improvement, hitting just .230 in the same period, and he is on course for what would be his worst full season by a considerable margin, which is that of just an average hitter rather than his usual Hall of Fame standard. Back issues have plagued him all year but Cabrera has been one of the game’s best hitters for over a decade and regression would suggest that a hot second half is coming.
6:10 PM – Reds @ Marlins (Free Game)
6:35 PM – Royals @ Red Sox
6:35 PM – Rockies @ Nationals
6:35 PM – Braves @ Phillies
7:10 PM – Cubs @ Brewers (BT) – Apologies for another Cubs selection, but with this series featuring B&N’s unofficial favourite team in Milwaukee, and two teams that are tied for first place, it had to be done. This weekend may signal the end of the Brew Crew’s surprising resistance to Chicago, if recent form is anything to go by, but if this season has shown anything so far, it’s that the Cubs seem to collectively fold any time they get a little too far over .500. The Mayor of Ding Dong City, Travis Shaw, continues to lead the way for the Brewers lineup, and the return of Ryan Braun represents a significant offensive upgrade over strikeout machine Keon Broxton, now demoted to the minor leagues. Rumblings about the team acquiring the likes of Ian Kinsler also suggest that David Stearns isn’t thinking of throwing in the towel just yet.
7:10 PM – Indians @ White Sox
7:15 PM – Diamondbacks @ Cardinals
8:05 PM – Orioles @ Rangers
9:05 PM – Twins @ Athletics
9:10 PM – Mets @ Mariners

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