The Week Ahead: Like it or not, Interleague play is back

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Remember the novelty of Interleague play when it first came into existence back in 1997?

Fans in Atlanta could see the New York Yankees in person. NL greats like Barry Bonds and John Smoltz would make appearances in AL cities. And places with multiple teams playing in separate leagues – like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and the Bay Area – had the rare chance to see their local rivals square off on the diamond.

Of course most of that excitement has worn off by now. You don’t even need the MLB Network or a satellite dish to watch the Yankees just about every week. A simple television setup that includes ESPN, TBS and FOX will do just fine. And if you have more exotic tastes – Pirates anyone? – you can watch almost any game on the Internet.

But even if Interleague baseball has sort of worn out its usefulness, it, like Spencer Pratt, is not going away anytime soon.

So prepare yourself for the return of Interleague play for a 13th straight season beginning with a host of three-game series this weekend. And unlike The Hills you’ll actually get some matchups worth watching, including Yankees-Mets, Red Sox-Phillies, Angels-Cardinals, Giants-A’s and Tigers-Dodgers.

Those are some pretty good showdowns, and it’s all just a teaser for a much more extensive run of Interleague games covering the bulk of June. Sure, some of the excitement has worn off. And perhaps it takes away a little bit of novelty from the All-Star game and World Series. But it will still be a treat.

The shine may be off the apple, but it still tastes pretty good.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH (non-interleague)

Red Sox at Yankees, May 17-18: Wait didn’t these guys just play? Lighten up Francis, that was more than a week ago. Besides, this is only a two-game series, and the matchup ESPN loves the most (which means YOU WILL LOVE, IT TOO!) will only happen 10 more times this season. This is barring, of course, some sort of playoff matchup.

Giants at Padres, May 17-18: The Giants enter the week on a three-game winning streak to pull within 1/2-game of the NL West-leading Padres. (Yes, you read that right). If you like pitching, defense and speed (except for Bengie Molina) this series is for you.

Rays at Yankees, May 19-20: The two best teams in baseball – at least if you go by overall record and things like this — square off in the Bronx. Too bad it’s only a two-game series.

Twins at Red Sox, May 19-20: A tasty treat between one team that used to be great and another that could be on its way to greatness. I’ll let you figure out which is which. And I pity any left-handed hitters in Thursday’s Francisco Liriano-Jon Lester matchup.

Rockies at Astros, May 19-20: OK so this isn’t a great matchup by any means, but in the same way that every team is represented in the All-Star game, I aim to mention every team in this space at least once this season. So congratulations, Astros, this is your day! At least we have a Roy Oswalt-Ubaldo Jimenez matchup to look forward to on Thursday.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Red Sox at Yankees (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Rays at Yankees (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Cubs at Rangers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Tigers at Dodgers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Yankees at Mets (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Phillies (FOX)
 Sunday, 1:35 p.m.: Red Sox at Phillies (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Yankees at Mets (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

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Jake Diekman will miss at least half of the 2017 season

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 9: Jake Diekman #41 of the Texas Rangers works against the Toronto Blue Jays in the sixth inning during game three of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 9, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Rangers reliever Jake Diekman will have surgery on January 25 to help alleviate ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. As a result, the lefty will miss at least half of the 2017 regular season, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. Diekman was diagnosed with the illness when he was 11 years old. He has brought awareness to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America with a “Gut It Out” campaign.

Diekman, who turns 30 years old on Saturday, finished the 2016 campaign with a 3.40 ERA and a 59/26 K/BB ratio in 53 innings. He came to the Rangers from the Phillies in the Cole Hamels trade on July 31, 2015.

The Rangers and Diekman avoided arbitration last Friday, agreeing to a $2.55 million salary for the 2017 season.

The Blue Jays and Bautista have reached a one year deal

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19:  Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on during batting practice prior to game five of the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians at Rogers Centre on October 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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It’s been on the verge of happening for a few days now, but now it’s official: the Toronto Blue Jays and Jose Bautista have reached a one-year deal with a mutual option. The deal is pending physical. An announcement making the deal official is expected later in week.

The exact financial figures have not been disclosed, but Jon Heyman reports that it will be in excess of the $17.2 million Bautista turned down when he turned down the Jays’ qualifying offer.

Bautista had a tough 2016, hitting .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI, and some clubs likely considered a long-term deal for the 36-year-old too risky, this leading to the relative lack of reported interest in Bautista by other clubs. But back-to-back ALCS appearances by the Jays and the success and popularity Bautista has experienced in Toronto make his re-signing there a pretty sensible move for all involved.