6 things to know from the weekend in MLB: Astros, Cardinals are climbing back into the mix, and don’t sleep on the Guardians

Also, Shohei Ohtani showed off against his former team, and Max Scherzer delivered in his season debut

It was another busy weekend around MLB, with a lot of scintillating matchups between big-time teams. Here are the biggest storylines from the weekend that was.

Baseball’s baba yaga is lurking in the shadows, far enough to hide yet close enough to pounce. This Astros team is quite flawed, much more porous than its predecessors, but only a fool would expect them to fade quietly. A five-game winning streak, which included a decisive weekend sweep of the imposing Orioles, has propelled Houston within four games of an AL wild-card spot with more than half the season left to play.

Old stalwarts José Altuve and Alex Bregman had big weekends against the Orioles, who looked haggard, particularly on the mound, after a rousing series victory last week in The Bronx. Houston still has starting pitching questions — right-hander Jake Bloss struggled Friday in his MLB debut and then went on the IL — but sterling starts from Framber Valdez and Ronel Blanco on Saturday and Sunday were encouraging. Overall it was a monumental sweep for Houston, which welcomes Colorado to town on Tuesday for a quick two-game set.

The Cardinals, with their sweep of the Giants, continued their methodical ascent out of the National League’s muck of mediocrity. After outlasting San Francisco on Thursday on an emotional night at Rickwood Field, the birds took both weekend games at Busch Stadium. On Saturday, outfielder Alec Burleson ripped a pair of homers, giving him seven in June (only three NL players have more this month), to sour Jordan Hicks’ return to St. Louis. Then Cards ace and big free-agent addition Sonny Gray shoved on Sunday, allowing just one run across seven frames to lower his season ERA to 2.81.

On Opening Day, FanGraphs pegged the Cards’ playoff odds at 50.1%. That number, after a putrid April, dipped as low as 10.4% on May 11. St. Louis has rebounded, thanks to impressive stretches from Gray, Burleson and shortstop Masyn Winn. The Cards are now 1.5 games safe in a wild-card spot, with relatively sturdy 42.6% playoff odds. The NL is a gruesome mud-fight, but at least the Cardinals are in it, unlike the Giants, who are slowly sliding further and further away from contention.

Predictably stellar starts from Atlanta’s lefty aces, Chris Sale and Max Fried, propelled the Braves to a series win in The Bronx. Each southpaw limited the Yankees to one run, with Sale doing the deed on Friday in the opener and Fried shutting the Bombers down on Sunday. Those two have been great all year, but a new and absolutely crucial development for the Braves is the resurgence of Austin Riley. Atlanta’s two-time All-Star third baseman missed a stretch in mid-May due to a rib muscle issue and then looked abysmal upon returning. But Riley has eight extra-base hits in his past nine games, including a timely big fly in Atlanta’s win on Friday.

The Yankees, meanwhile, have yet another injury to deal with, albeit an expected one. Giancarlo Stanton strained his hamstring while running the bases Saturday, landing him on the 10-day IL. The gargantuan outfielder, who has battled lower-body ailments the past few seasons, has been running noticeably casually so far this year, presumably on orders from the club to reduce his risk of re-injury. Even so, his IL trip felt like a borderline inevitable development. Yet for all the jokes about his lumbering gait, Stanton was in the middle of his most productive season since 2021, on pace for 35 homers. The Yankees will try to replace his offense with some combination of outfielder Trent Grisham, rookie call-up first baseman Ben Rice and recently acquired third baseman J.D. Davis.

Steven Kwan is an utter delight. Cleveland’s left fielder tallied four more hits over the weekend, including two homers, to raise his season OPS to 1.023. Only Aaron Judge (1.117) and Shohei Ohtani (1.031) have a higher OPS among hitters with at least 200 plate appearances (Kwan doesn’t yet have enough plate appearances to qualify because he missed some time due to an injury). He’s catalyzing an offense that, after two straight years in the bottom two of homers league-wide, has rediscovered the long ball. Cleveland smoked six home runs against Toronto, giving Guardians 87 on the year, tied for ninth in MLB. They look more for-real by the week and now hold a sturdy, 7.5-game lead over the Twins.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have won just three non-White Sox series since the beginning of May. They are not very good. Big offseason acquisition Yariel Rodríguez returned from the IL and tossed a stinker on Friday, allowing four earned runs in just 1 1/3 innings of work. José Berrios followed that with one of his worst starts of the season (3 HRs allowed) on Saturday before Yusei Kikuchi surrendered four runs in two innings before a rain delay knocked him out on Sunday. To make matters worse, highly touted rookie Orelvis Martinez, who made his MLB debut Friday, received an 80-game suspension Sunday after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Toronto is running out of runway to turn things around before the trade deadline; this could get ugly.

Facing his former team for the first time, Shohei Ohtani homered twice, because duh. After six postseason-less years with the Angels, the two-way dynamo joined the juggernaut Dodgers for a mountain of money. But Game 1 of this series must have given Ohtani some unsavory flashbacks: The two-time MVP launched a 455-foot megatank, but the Dodgers lost anyway. Such was life for Ohtani in Angels Land, with feats of majesty dampened by mediocrity in the standings.

But these Dodgers are not those Angels, and baseball’s most fearsome roster bounced back to win Saturday in a bizarre, two-game weekend set between these SoCal rivals. Ohtani went yard again in the finale to support yet another masterful Tyler Glasnow start (10 Ks, 1 ER in 7 IP).

The 39-year-old Rangers hurler made his first start of the year after offseason surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back required a lengthy IL stint. Scherzer was outstanding in his return, retiring the first 13 hitters on his way to five scoreless frames as Texas swept the Royals at home. The defending champs have underwhelmed thus far this season and desperately need Scherzer to solidify and energize their pitching staff. So far, so good.

A winner-take-all Game 3 of the Men’s College World Series is set for Monday after Texas A&M and Tennessee split the first two games over the weekend. The Aggies pounced early on Saturday, when star freshman Gavin Grahovac launched an opposite-field blast to lead off the game. A&M led 7-2 after three and leaned on star reliever Evan Aschenbeck to win the opener 9-5 after Tennessee battled back late.

With their season on the line Sunday, the No. 1 Volunteers punched back in Game 2 despite trailing for most of the afternoon. Down 1-0 with a runner on and two outs in the seventh, junior outfielder Dylan Dreiling thumped a go-ahead, two-run shot. Catcher Cal Stark added another two-run mash in the eighth to give Tennessee some breathing room in a 4-1 victory. Monday’s game is for all the marbles, with two storied programs each looking for their first national championship.