The Week Ahead: Amid trade talk, intrigue is on field

Division races remain wide open as second half gets into full swing this week

The Week Ahead: Amid trade talk, intrigue is on field

Monday brings us the first full seven-day slate of Major League Baseball following the All-Star break. Or, if you're looking for a simple explanation, a Week Ahead that promises the very best of pennant races and perhaps a few players in new uniforms.

Yes, there are only 10 days until the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, so if you're Tampa Bay, you're probably wondering if the (David) Price is right, and if you're the Phillies, you're wondering how resolute-(Cliff)-Lee you want to reshape your roster, and whether you can turn Cole (Hamels) into diamonds.

But enough with the word play. There's plenty of action on the diamond to look forward to this week.

Take your pick of the division races in the National League, because they're all way too close to call right now.

In the NL East, the Braves and Nationals are in a virtual tie for the division lead. This week, Atlanta gets to stay home for all seven days, hosting a four-game series against Miami and a three-game weekend set against the Padres.

The Braves are riding high on a wave of offense that has allowed them to provide more than a cushion for their pitchers.

"We all equally take the pressure off each other," Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward said. "That's been the big part of our stretch right before we went into the All-Star break and right now. Just putting up good ABs, being tough outs regardless, putting the ball in play and wearing that pitcher down."

The Nationals, meanwhile, would seem to have a tougher schedule with six games on the road. The first three games will be against the Rockies in Colorado, and after a travel day, the Nats will play the Reds in Cincinnati over the weekend.

Either way, the Nationals are trying not to get too sucked into the standings with a large portion of the season still in front of them.

"We know [the standings] in the back of our minds," Washington pitcher Tanner Roark said. "But we don't try to just focus on it all the time. We've got to play a game each and every day, day-in and day-out."

That's the story for every team, including the clubs of the NL Central and West, both of which are set up for huge drama come September. The Dodgers' 4-3 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday night threw a bit of a wrench into both divisions. With the victory, Los Angeles vaulted into a virtual tie with the Giants for the NL West lead, while St. Louis' defeat put them back into a tie with the Milwaukee Brewers atop the NL Central, with the Pittsburgh Pirates only 1 1/2 games back in third.

So there you have it: Three NL divisions, all pretty much tied up entering the new week.

In the AL, there's a bit more separation, with Baltimore three games ahead of the Yankees and Blue Jays in the East and the Tigers back to a comfortable 5 1/2-game lead over the Indians, but the West is as wild as ever. The Angels' 6-5 walk-off win over the Mariners on Sunday pulled them to within 1 1/2 games of the team with the best record in baseball, the A's.

If the season ended now, the A's, Angels and Mariners would all qualify for the postseason, with Seattle and Mike Scioscia's team meeting in the one-game Wild Card showdown.

Then again, the season is far from over, and the dealing is far from over, especially in what, statistically, is the best division in the game. The A's stirred things up on July 4 by landing starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, and the Angels answered over the weekend by acquiring closer Huston Street from the Padres in a multi-player deal.

Samardzija is already beyond impressed with his new club, which bounced back from a Saturday loss to beat Baltimore.

"The first thing I said when I came here was, 'I love how these guys play the game, from the first out to the last out,'"Samardzija said. "They don't quit."

And trade talk won't quit, either. It's that time of year.

Will the Mariners be the next team to make headlines with a blockbuster? There has been talk for weeks now that Seattle has been engaging Tampa Bay in talks about several players, including ace Price and infielder-outfielder Ben Zobrist, and a deal for Price would almost certainly force the Mariners to give up top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker and a bit more. The Mariners are also rumored to be looking for an impact bat, and names such as Marlon Byrd, Dayan Viciedo and Josh Willingham have been tossed around.

But so far it's all been talk.

And on the field, Seattle, like Oakland and the Angels, has an intriguing schedule coming up this week. The Mariners will head back home to face the Mets and Orioles while the A's stay in the division with a home series against Houston and a road trip to Texas. The Angels get to stay home, but they also get to face two division leaders in Baltimore and Detroit.

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.