The Week Ahead: Pennant drives kick into high gear

The Week Ahead: Pennant drives kick into high gear

The Week Ahead: Pennant drives kick into high gear
We're moving into the second week of August. The dog days are upon us. September isn't that far away. That means October isn't, either.

In baseball terms, this means things are getting serious, and this week, we'll start seeing how serious. This is the first full week of play after the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline and the second week of the open period in which we might see a few juicy waiver deals.

This means new faces in old places, and a whole lot of eyes on just how effective these marriages will be.

The Angels might be wondering more than anyone, having brought in the pitching prize of the trade season, starter Zack Greinke. Mike Scioscia's club gets a stern test of its mettle early this week in tough road games against the division-rival A's, and Greinke's contributions every five days won't matter much if Scioscia's bullpen can't get it together better than it has in recent days.

"We've had a rough three weeks as far as our starters, and what our starters do obviously has an impact on your bullpen roles," Scioscia said after watching his relievers struggle again Sunday in a 4-2 loss to the White Sox in Chicago.

"These guys are good. It's not going to take long to reset, but we need to get our starters getting deeper into games and we have arms down there [in the bullpen] that will get the outs. It didn't happen this afternoon, but it will."

Meanwhile, the Dodgers, who are right there with the Giants and the surging D-backs in a wide-open National League West, did more than anyone at the Deadline, landing Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Brandon League. Then they got starter Joe Blanton in a waiver deal with Philadelphia.

So of course Blanton did his job Sunday, turning in six innings of two-run, five-strikeout ball in a no-decision, and Ramirez did his, winning the game against the Cubs with a walk-off hit.

Now they head into the new week with a revamped roster, three home games against struggling Colorado, and only a half-game division deficit. Things are looking up.

"I think this time of year we're not so much worried about one game to the next," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "We're worried about getting a win and you try to get a win that day."

Mattingly's sentiments are shared among a number of clubs, including the team right there with the Dodgers, Bruce Bochy's San Francisco Giants, plus the red-hot Reds, the first-place Rangers, the first-place Nationals, the AL East-leading Yankees and other contenders in an increasingly intriguing drive toward pennants.

For Cincinnati, which lost for the first time in six games on Sunday but remains in charge in the NL Central, the week will bring a road test: three games at Milwaukee and four at Wrigley Field against the Cubs. But the Reds are hungry.

"You get greedy, and you start winning every ballgame, and two out of three all of a sudden doesn't appear to be good enough," Reds manager Dusty Baker said Sunday. "We'll take a 5-2 homestand. We want more; you always want more."

Indeed.

The Chicago White Sox want more, now that they're back in control of the AL Central. Their early big trade acquisition, Kevin Youkilis, homered again Sunday and is looking more and more like the Kevin Youkilis of 2007 and 2008. Their new reliever, Brett Myers, is fitting in.

This week, Robin Ventura's gang, which just took a series from the Angels, stays home for three against the Royals and three against the A's. Lefty Chris Sale will be back on the mound after 10 days of rest. They hope to keep things rolling on the South Side.

"We've had a lot of games in the past couple months where we've swung the bats well, scored a lot of runs," club leader Paul Konerko said. "But you like to see yourself win those close ones, especially against real good ballclubs."

Contenders such as the Braves, Cardinals, Pirates and D-backs will be thinking the same things as they enter this pivotal week. So will the Orioles and Rays, a game apart for second place behind the Yankees.

What will the new week bring? More drama. More clues to what we might see in the Division Series, Championship Series and Fall Classic.

Just take it from Pirates MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, who homered Sunday in his team's road win against the Reds, an exciting type of situation that only figures to intensify in coming weeks.

"Definitely," McCutchen said when asked if it felt like October.

"I've never been in a playoff, but I'm sure it kinda feels like that."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB and read his MLBlog, Youneverknow. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.