It's hard to ignore what the Kansas City Royals are doing these days, and as we move into the mid-August version of The Week Ahead, we can list the groups of people who are watching them with the most interest.
No. 1 on that list would have to be the Detroit Tigers. Manager Brad Ausmus' team's comfortable lead in the American League Central and inspired acquisition of David Price mere minutes before the non-waiver Trade Deadline only 12 days ago proved to be seriously fleeting because of what the Royals have been able to do of late.
After Sunday's victory over the Giants, Kansas City has won seven games in a row and is a half-game behind Detroit in the division.
"I like the way we're playing," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "I've got a lot of confidence in those guys; I've had a lot of confidence in them even when they weren't producing like they're doing now because I knew it would come somewhere down the road.
"I knew they were going to do it. I've told you all along. I told you at the end of the first half: This is a good second-half team. I just knew it. I don't know how I knew; I just knew it. There was no wavering there. ... I just knew they were going to get right back in the middle of this thing."
Detroit is still in the middle of it, too, but the fact that starter Anibal Sanchez (right pectroal strain) and reliever Joakim Soria (left oblique strain) are both going on the disabled list as the Royals' crescendo keeps building isn't what Ausmus wants right now. At all.
So now Kansas City is in the thick of the division and gets an immediate test this week when it hosts the A's, the team with the best record in baseball, for a three-game series at Kauffman Stadium. And the crazy AL Wild Card race that the Royals have been a part of for the last few months? Well, it's not really any less crazy.
After Sunday's action, the Angels are still enjoying the view from the driver's seat, 4 1/2 games ahead of Kansas City in the top Wild Card slot, but the Royals (63-53) are only 1 1/2 games ahead of Seattle (62-55) and Toronto (63-56) and 2 1/2 games in front of the Yankees (61-56).
This week, there figures to be quite a bit of movement in these standings when the Mariners host the Blue Jays for three games to begin the seven days while the Royals play Oakland and the Yankees head to Baltimore for a three-game set against the AL East-leading Orioles.
Elsewhere, most of the division leaders have at least a bit of a cushion.
Baltimore has built a five-game lead in the AL East, the A's still have four games on the Angels in the AL West, Washington has a 3 1/2-game advantage on Atlanta in the National League East, and the Dodgers have 4 1/2 games on the Giants in the NL West.
Then again, Los Angeles will have to play without shortstop Hanley Ramirez for a while, after Ramirez went on the disabled list with a strained right oblique muscle, although the club seems to think Ramirez will be recovered before the 15 days are even up.
"There wasn't really a fight," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of his discussion with Ramirez about the situation. "That led us down the same road. He knows he's not able to swing the bat. That's an injury you can't disguise and can't hide or play through it. He knows one way to swing -- on the attack and aggressive. You could tell he knew this is the right thing."
The Dodgers have a tough week ahead, with four games against the Braves in Atlanta followed by a weekend set back at home against the NL Central-leading Brewers. Milwaukee has a two-game lead on St. Louis and a 2 1/2-game cushion over Pittsburgh, but Cincinnati is lurking, only five games behind in what once again is the NL's most difficult-to-predict division and the major cause of another Wild Card bottleneck, with the Cardinals and Pirates separated by a half-game and the Giants another half-game behind them.
Otherwise, there will be some individual things to look out for this week. The Mets, for example, are waiting on finding out what might be wrong with rookie pitching sensation Jacob deGrom, and the Rockies are wondering if they'll see Carlos Gonzalez on a baseball field again this season after another DL spell is about to begin.
Meanwhile, Felix Hernandez of the Mariners will be on the hill on Monday night trying to extend his record string of 15 starts with at least seven innings pitched and two or fewer earned runs allowed. It will not be a surprise, however, to see Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon remove Hernandez from the game at around the 100-pitch mark, as was the case in his last outing, when Hernandez was lifted after 97.
"My objective is to try to get this team as far as I can and hopefully that's the playoffs," McClendon said. "We have our eyes set on it, I don't know if we can get there or not, but I want Felix healthy, strong and moving forward in September."