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. CAN THE YANKEES EMERGE IN AL WILD-CARD FIGHT?
It's not quite September yet, though it might feel like it because there are so many teams still in the postseason hunt. Each week from now until the season's end will bring more clarity to MLB's pennant races, with plenty of teams having a chance to strike. This week, that team might be the New York Yankees.
The Yankees have won four in a row, putting them just 3 1/2 games back in the AL Wild Card standings. It's not impossible to see them much closer to a postseason spot after this week. They're playing a Monday makeup game against the Kansas City Royals, then three against the Detroit Tigers and another three against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Yankees have beat the Tigers in three of four games this season and the Blue Jays in seven of 12. The Tigers are 2 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees in the Wild Card standings, so a good showing there could even things out some. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are 3-7 in their past 10 games, so a few Yankees wins could both help their chances and put Toronto's postseason hopes (they're 5 1/2 games out of a Wild Card spot) almost out of reach.
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2. CARDS AND PIRATES CLASH AGAIN
The St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates meet for a three-game series to start the week. Don't count on that series alone bringing too much clarity to the tight NL Wild Card situation, in which the Cards have a two-game cushion and the Pirates are facing a 1 1/2 game deficit. The Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants are in that mix too, so much of what happens depends on them.
Still, the Cards and Pirates have played each other very close this season, with St. Louis holding a 7-6 edge, so expect a good series. Elsewhere in NL Wild Cardness: The Giants play the Rockies and Brewers, while the Braves seem to have the easiest schedule, playing the Mets and Marlins.
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3. CARDS MIGHT GET MOLINA BACK THIS WEEK
The Cardinals play the Pirates next week too, and by then, they might have a familiar face back. Yadier Molina is pushing to return to the Cardinals' lineup ASAP, and he's starting a minor-league rehab assignment Wednesday in Double-A. St. Louis' star backstop might be ready to join his teammates this week after rehabbing his injured thumb. Meanwhile, the Cards are sending Michael Wacha to Double-A to test out his injured shoulder. He won't be back as quickly as Molina, but he's expected to be ready by mid September.
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4. SO, WE MEET AGAIN
The Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels just finished a three-game series in Oakland. They get a quick break from each other — the A's travel to Houston while the Angels go home to host the Miami Marlins — then they're back to snipping at each other for control of the AL West again. They start a four-gamer Wednesday in Anaheim. The Angels have a one-game lead heading into Monday's action.
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5. THE TRADE DEADLINE IS HERE, THE OTHER ONE
MLB teams have just a few more days in which they can complete trades. For real this time. The non-waiver trade deadline passed on July 31, of course, but waiver trades are allowed through Aug. 31. So there's still a week for teams to tinker with their rosters. Keep an eye out for contenders striking a late-minute deal for that missing piece. Any player who joins a team after Aug. 31 — by whatever means — isn't eligible for the postseason roster.
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