Each Monday morning for the rest of the season, we'll take a look at the most interesting storylines heading into the week. This edition involves the possible fate of a certain ace, who once looked a sure bet to be traded.
The Rays are doing all kinds of winning right now, and it looks like they'll have a shot to play themselves into contention. Since falling to 24-42, the Rays are 17-8. Even better, they've won 10 of 12 -- all against teams with winning records, including taking three of four from each the AL East-leading Orioles and AL Central-leading Tigers.
Now, the Rays still sit nine games under .500 and 8½ back in the AL East. They have two teams between themselves and the Orioles, too. They are 8½ games back of the second wild-card spot, with five teams between themselves and the Mariners. Knowing all this, it would be a big leap to say the Rays are right now in contention.
The Rays have six home games against the Royals (three) and Blue Jays (three), two of the teams in front of them. Let's say the Rays sweep the entire week and head into the All-Star break within, say, 5½ games of either the East, the wild card or both. Can we really be sure they would deal David Price this season?
I say if that happens, they might be inclined to hold onto him -- especially with their track record of late playoff runs. They could then trade him this coming offseason (he's not a free agent until after 2015).
On the other hand, what if they hit the skids and start losing again? Heading into late July more than 10 games out of both races might mean they do trade Price, if the offer is right. Considering the team trading for Price would get him for two potential playoff runs instead of one, the offer should be right.
With Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel off the market, whether or not Price is on it has significance throughout baseball here in the second week of July. This week is rather huge, so watch how the Rays fare.
2. Battle of the Beltway
If the playoffs started right now, both the Orioles (AL East) and Nationals (second NL wild card) would make it. And we get a four-game home-and-home series between the two to start the week. Most of the pitching matchups favor the Nationals, but the Orioles have the better offense. We should get a fun four games.
3. Jose Abreu's homers
The only rookie in MLB history with more home runs before the All-Star break than Abreu's 27 right now was Mark McGwire in 1987, with 33. Can Abreu get real hot this week and take down Big Mac's record? It's doubtful, but at least possible and definitely worth following early in the week to see where he stands heading into the weekend. The White Sox do have seven games, but all are on the road (four at Boston, three at Cleveland).
4. Wild West
The AL West might be the strongest division in baseball while the NL West has a neck-and-neck race at the top. The Giants and Athletics have a four-game home-and-home series to kick off the week, marking a huge test for the previously struggling Giants, who might have awakened from their slumber, having won two straight. Madison Bumgarner vs. Sonny Gray on Tuesday looks awesome while the 1-7 Matt Cain against newly acquired A's starter Jason Hammel on Wednesday is very interesting.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers facing off against the Tigers for two games should be a great short series as well. Possible World Series preview?
These aren't the only good battles involving West teams, either, as the Angels have a three-game series against the Blue Jays to start the week. Mike Trout's bunch enters the week only 3½ games behind the mighty A's in the division race, too, as they've won six of their past seven.
And how about the Mariners? After a four-game series against the Twins, the M's get a shot at the A's in a three-game series, in which they are set to pitch Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma. That would be a great time for some momentum.
5. Central Showdowns
If the AL West isn't the strongest division in baseball, the NL Central is. The Brewers sport the top record in the NL while the Pirates (1½ back), Cardinals (2) and Reds (3) are all within three games of a playoff spot right now. And wouldn't you know it, this division should provide some great fun heading into the All-Star break.
The Pirates visit St. Louis for a four-game series to start the week. The two played a five-game NLDS last season and this year the Pirates lead the season series five games to four. So there's familiarity here.
In the second half of the week, the Cardinals visit the Brewers for three games while the Reds host the Pirates for three. The Reds -- thanks to a makeup game -- will host the Cubs for a five-game series from Monday through Thursday. The Cubs were previously red-hot, but have lost two straight since trading Samardzija and Hammel. A lot of signs point to Cubs pitching prospect Kyle Hendricks making his debut during this series, too.
6. Easy week?
The Braves have won 11 of their past 13 and sit atop the NL East. They'll head into the All-Star break after getting seven games aganist the Mets (four) and Cubs (three). Should they take care of business and win something like five or six of the seven, that's a ridiculous hot streak to head into a brief vacation.