The Week Ahead: Run to postseason heats up

The Week Ahead: Run to postseason heats up

It starts with a doozy and ends with a doozy, and in between, there will be plenty of good stories to read between the lines.

We're talking, of course, about the week ahead in Major League Baseball, which starts Monday and takes us into mid-September and begins the countdown of the last 20 games of the regular season for each club. Pennant races are on full blast, and we'll get a lot more clarity as to where those races are headed over the course of this week.

Right away, we're getting a dramatic series from one of the most dramatic divisions.

The Royals are leading the American League Central by two games over the Tigers, both teams won Sunday, and now Ned Yost's club will venture to Comerica Park for a crucial three-game series that begins Monday. Jeremy Guthrie will get the ball for Kansas City against Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander, and the Royals, who have stalled just a bit offensively, will be looking for their bats to break out, although they weren't complaining about Sunday's 2-0 win over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Derek Jeter Day.

"When you're not swinging the bats as well as we are, sometimes you've got to make things happen and put it in play -- take the extra base, stuff like that," Royals outfielder Alex Gordon said. "You've got to create runs when you're not crushing the ball. I feel like our team can do that."

The travails of the Tigers' and Royals' early-week get-together could have a direct impact on the importance of the marquee three-game series that begins Friday.

In that weekender, the A's will face the Mariners in Seattle, and those two clubs are currently occupying the two AL Wild Card slots, with Oakland entering the week two games up on the Mariners. Seattle, meanwhile, has only a half-game lead on the Tigers, so whoever loses two or three games in Detroit will be watching those A's-Mariners scores very closely.

The Mariners get to prepare for the A's by staying home and facing the Astros in the first part of the week. Oakland has to go on the road and play the White Sox in Chicago. By the time the first pitch is delivered in the Emerald City on Friday night, there could be a power shift in the AL Wild Card standings.

That's why Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon had to like where his club stands on the heels of a 5-2 swing through Oakland and Texas, even though the Mariners lost a tough 1-0 getaway game to the Rangers in Arlington on Sunday.

"That's baseball," McClendon said. "I told my guys, 'It was a great road trip.' Tough loss today, they battled. ... We'll move on."

They're not the only ones.

The Brewers will move on despite a past few weeks that have seen them fall out of mathematical contention for the National League Wild Card since the first week of the season. Granted, they (and the Braves) are only a half-game back of the Pirates for the second slot, while the Giants remain in the NL Wild Card catbird seat.

But the Cardinals are now running away with the NL Central, joining the Orioles (AL East), Angels (AL West) and Nationals (NL East) as clubs with significant divisional leads, and Milwaukee has to start winning now. This week, the Brewers get seven home games to try to do that: four against the Marlins and three against the Reds.

"We worked so hard for the first [five] months of the season to put ourselves in a good position coming into this month," Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said. "This is when baseball is supposed to be fun, and it is not any fun when we are playing like this. We just need to find a way to create better energy."

Right now, the energy is with the Pirates, who rapped out 19 hits, including starter Gerrit Cole's first career home run, in Sunday's 10-4 win over the Cubs that sealed Pittsburgh's first series sweep at Wrigley Field since 2000. Things are looking a lot like 2013 right now for the Bucs, who'd like to see the momentum and the bats keep going.

"It's always good when your offensive players are out there playing nine innings, putting some runs on the board," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's good for their self-confidence."

The same could be said for the Dodgers, who have won three in a row and will finish up this week with a weekend trip to San Francisco for the latest installation of that great rivalry. Los Angeles enters the week ahead with a three-game lead over the Giants in the NL West, and both teams are on course to play in October, but the division race could get a lot more interesting if the home club steps up -- and if San Francisco catcher Buster Posey keeps hitting like he has been lately.

"It was a matter of time," Giants skipper Bruce Bochy said. "He hasn't changed anything. The talent has just surfaced again."

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.