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Five Big Things: The return Cliff Lee, the unknotting of the NL and the week ahead in MLB

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(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Five Big Things is Big League Stew's look at the week ahead in MLB action, examining storylines and matchups you should keep an eye on.

1. THE RETURN (AND DEPARTURE?) OF CLIFF LEE
Cliff Lee, welcome to back to the Philadelphia Phillies' starting rotation. Now, don't get too comfortable. 

Lee, the veteran ace of the Phillies, makes his first start since May 8 on Monday night, and many eyes around baseball will be on Lee as teams prepare for the July 31 trade deadline. A contender needing another arm could do a lot worse than Lee. Since 2008, when he won the AL Cy Young, Lee has an ERA of 2.90.

He's coming off an injury, of course, a strained tendon in his elbow, so the buyers in MLB have every right to beware. This season he's 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA, but has the potential to be a frontline starter if he's healthy and those aren't easy to come by.

The New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays are reportedly among the teams that have been scouting Lee. Acquiring him will bring with it considerable cost, however. He's due $25 million next season. 

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(AP)

(AP)

2. WHO'S GOING TO BREAK THESE TIES?
If you look at the National League division standings heading into Monday's games, you'll notice something sort of fun — a tie in every division. The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves are knotted atop the NL East, while the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals are co-leaders of the NL Central and the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are in a similar position in the NL West. 

Tiebreaking in July isn't as important as it is in September, obviously, but of all those teams the Braves seem most likely to have the best week. They're at home all week, playing against the Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres. The rival Nats, on the other hands, are on the road against the Rockies and Reds.

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(USA TODAY Sports)

(USA TODAY Sports)

3. DODGERS-GIANTS OUGHT TO BE EXTRA FUN
Of all the tied teams listed above, the Giants and the Dodgers are the only two that play each other this week. These NL West rivals meet Friday-Sunday in San Francisco. They're both in Pennsylvania first (the Giants visit the Phillies and the Dodgers visit the Pirates) and they're both a little bruised up. The Dodgers' Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez were both injured after getting hit by pitches against the Cardinals this past weekend. Meanwhile, the Giants put Brandon Belt and Matt Cain on the disabled list Monday, but also signed Dan Uggla. He'll start in Triple-A, so don't expect to see him against the Dodgers.

 

4. THE ANGELS FACE A TOUGH WEEK
The Los Angeles Angels are 14-3 in July and (quietly?) have the second-best record in MLB. They are, however, in second place in the AL West because the only better team in the league is the first-place Oakland Athletics. This week, we might see just how good the Angels are and if they can continue to keep up with the A's, who own a game and a half lead. 

The Angels are playing the first-place team in the AL East, the Baltimore Orioles, then the first-place team in the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers. The A's, meanwhile, play AL West scragglers, the Astros and the Rangers. So the flip side of this week is that it gives the A's a good chance to widen their lead in the division.

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(AP)

(AP)

5. HALL OF FAME WEEKEND IS HERE
With division races heating up and trade talks increasing, don't forget that this weekend is one of the most special of the MLB season. It's Hall of Fame induction weekend in Cooperstown. Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre will be immortalized. The ceremony happens Sunday, but it's part of a full weekend of activities. Some 56 baseball legends will be in Cooperstown for the weekend, and The Stew's Kevin Kaduk is making a roadtrip there too. He'll be sharing his experiences with us right here on the blog. Keep an eye out for that.

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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