The week ahead: Big matchups abound

The week ahead: Big matchups abound

The week ahead: Big matchups abound
It's Monday, or, as it should probably be known, the beginning of The Week After the Blockbuster.

Now that some of the smoke has cleared from the megadeal that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for James Loney, Jerry Sands, Rubby de la Rosa and two prospects, with more than $250 million of payroll shifting from the East Coast to the wacky West, we can all remember that we've got pennant races to talk about.

Not that the Dodgers' acquisitions don't mean they're very much a part of those conversations, of course. We really need to start there. With a remodeled lineup that looks nothing like it did coming out of Spring Training, expectations are high at Chavez Ravine, and rightfully so. Gonzalez is hitting in the middle of that order for the remainder of the season. This means the Dodgers are now enormous postseason contenders. And Gonzalez is no longer hitting in the middle of Boston's order. This means the Red Sox are effectively thinking more about 2013 and beyond.

"You have to be thinking about today, tomorrow, a month from now, five years from now," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "I think you have to be aggressive. You can't be reckless. You have to be relentless and you have to think creatively out of the box."

The rest of baseball still has a few days to try to match the creativity put forth by Colletti and Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, who worked this humdinger on the August waiver wire, a process that remains in play until 12 a.m. ET on Friday.

But what about the Cardinals?

While everyone was still trying to unscratch their heads from Saturday's bizarro-world trade, St. Louis was doing something unexpected ... yet maybe very expected.

This year's Cards, managed by Mike Matheny and with Carlos Beltran in the middle of the lineup instead of some guy named Albert Pujols, took two of three from the first-place Reds, and are now making a serious move in the National League Central.

Granted, they're still six games out, but they're also locked comfortably into one of the two available Wild Card spots in the NL. Adam Wainwright has been one of the best starters in the NL for two months, and up and down the lineup, like last year, the Cardinals are destroying the ball.

"For us to beat the Reds two out of three at home is good for us," outfielder Matt Holliday said. "But we've got two big series ahead of us. There's six weeks left, and if we want to get where we want to go, we've got to play well. Beating the Reds two out of three is a step in that direction."

He's got a point. Those two series to which he refers will be against the Pittsburgh Pirates (two games behind St. Louis in the division) and the strong Washington Nationals, who are in first place in the NL East. Both series are on the road.

But there are big series all around the stadiums of the Major Leagues this week, with storylines that have October or not-quite-October written all over their basepaths.

The week starts with a marquee matchup in Arlington, with the Tampa Bay Rays facing the Texas Rangers. The Rays were within striking distance of the Yankees until they lost two in a row over the weekend, but they're still only four back in the American League East. The Rangers, meanwhile, have been looking every bit like the two-time-defending AL champions that they are in recent days, although they did drop one Sunday afternoon to the Twins to miss out on a four-game sweep.

Elsewhere, the Detroit Tigers will try to build on the momentum of Sunday's win over the Angels and get closer than the 2 ½ games they trail the White Sox by in the AL Central. The White Sox have won six in a row but have to head to Baltimore to face a tough Orioles team early this week while the Tigers get what -- on paper -- seems like an easier assignment against the Royals in Kansas City.

That should set up some good drama for when the two clubs meet each other over the weekend in Motown.

Don't forget the Braves, who won Saturday and Sunday while the Nationals were busy losing their third and fourth games consecutively. Atlanta now trails Washington by only four in the NL East. This week, the Braves will head to San Diego for three against the Padres before heading home for a series against the Phillies.

And of course, let's remember the Dodgers, who are now as much "all in" on one season as anyone we can recall. Entering Monday, they're two games behind the Giants in the NL West and 1 1/2 games out of the Wild Card behind Atlanta and St. Louis.

In other words, it's go time. Big time.

"It's not really the time of year to go, 'Oh, we'll get them tomorrow' or, 'We have a long way to go,'" Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly said.

"There is some time left, but you have to play these games like every one is important."

Doug Miller is a reporter for 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.