The Week Ahead: Intrigue on deck as Deadline looms

The Week Ahead: Intrigue on deck as Deadline looms

We just celebrated at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Next we hit the Trade Deadline. Then we have a new month and another deadline at the end of those 31 days.

The Week Ahead keeps the excitement going at Billy Hamilton speed, with the non-waiver Trade Deadline set for Thursday at 4 p.m. ET and the first day of the fifth month of a six-month season set for Friday.

And while they might not yet be at the level of Sunday Hall inductees Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox, there are enough big names rumored to be on the move to pack these four weekdays with drama, and we're not even talking about the furious pennant races already in progress.

So who will it be?

The talk of the weekend focused on Jon Lester, who said he would like to remain in Boston but would understand if the Red Sox traded him away for a huge package of big leaguers and/or prospects. Lester also said he wouldn't mind turning around and signing with the Red Sox again over the winter when he becomes a free agent.

It's unknown where Lester might end up, although the Dodgers have been mentioned as a possible suitor, but what is a virtual certainty is that it would take a lot to get him. The same would theoretically hold true for Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki or Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. Neither has been officially declared as on the block, but their teams aren't contending and those two players are among the most coveted in baseball.

So it goes, and so it also goes with Tampa Bay ace David Price, whose team has been playing well enough lately -- 18-5 since June 28 -- that not trading the left-hander has suddenly become an interesting option.

Otherwise, a lot of smaller pieces could be on the move. The names of Josh Willingham, Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd (and many of his Phillies teammates) and Dayan Viciedo have been among the most popular when bats are being discussed. Pitchers such as Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett and John Danks have been talked about, too.

We should know a lot more about all of these whereabouts Thursday. We should also know a lot more about the pennant races. Remember those?

Heading into today, a bit of separation has arrived in the National League, where last week saw all three divisions with no clear-cut leader heading out of the weekend. This week, Washington takes a 1 1/2-game lead over the Braves in the East into a division-rival set against the Marlins in Miami and finishes off the week with games at home against the Phillies.

Things are looking good for the Nationals, whose starting pitching has been formidable with the return of Gio Gonzalez from injury.

"Our starters go deep in games," manager Matt Williams said. "There has been a hiccup or two along the way, but they have pitched pretty well. They give us a chance every day. ... That's comforting for everybody."

The Braves might not have it so comfortable this week with a West Coast swing that will have them playing the Dodgers and Padres, and in the Central, the Brewers moved back on top with a two-game cushion on the Cardinals and a three-game advantage on the Pirates. This week, the Brewers enter the sizzling realm of the Rays, heading to Tropicana Field for a tough Interleague series, before kicking off August and the weekend with three games against the Cards in St. Louis.

In the NL West, the Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of the Giants in San Francisco on Sunday night and now enjoy a 1 1/2-game advantage. The Giants have lost four in a row, but they're hardly panicking.

"It's going to be important that we put this behind us," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We have a tough team [Pittsburgh] coming in here. We have to regroup. You have no choice in this game."

In the American League, the West is still the best, with the A's (.625) and Angels (.606) still the only two clubs in the Majors with winning percentages over .600, and Oakland maintains a two-game lead on Los Angeles, despite the Halos having gone 18-6 over their last 24 games.

This week, the A's stay in the division by traveling to Houston and then heading back home to play the Royals. The Angels will travel to Baltimore for three against the AL East-leading Orioles before playing the Rays on the road over the weekend.

It looks like they'll have the same team they have right now.

"We really like our team," Halos general manager Jerry Dipoto said Friday when asked about what he might do before the Trade Deadline. "The likelihood is that we'll do nothing."

The Tigers are still reigning in the AL Central, with a five-game lead over the second-place Royals. And in the East, the O's take a three-game lead over the Blue Jays and four-game advantage on the Yankees back home after baseball on the West Coast over the weekend that left manager Buck Showalter so inspired that he said he had a "man crush" on his team.

"It's a different second half," Orioles third baseman Manny Machado said. "And we are trying to put ourselves in a good position to run away with this American League East."

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.