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The Week Ahead: Red Sox Nation helps the healing

Last week, the people of Boston experienced terror and heroism and loss and discovery and some of the darkest realities of society and the magical powers of togetherness.

This week, they'll try to keep putting their lives back together in front of all of us, and baseball will be part of it, in the epicenter of Red Sox Nation.

Fittingly, two days after the team's emotional Saturday return to Fenway Park, where the defiant love in David Ortiz's words, home whites that read "Boston," a sea of "Boston Strong" signs and the soothing strains of Neil Diamond belting out "Sweet Caroline" helped galvanize a city that is grieving and trying to heal, the Red Sox will be on their own turf, in their own city.

All week long.

It seems almost silly to talk about pitching probables and balls and strikes and batting averages and OPS, but that's how they roll in Boston. When it comes down to what takes place between the lines on that old Back Bay field, that's what should be talked about.

And right away, there are good games to discuss. The surging Sox might have been swept by Kansas City in Sunday's doubleheader, but they're still leading the American League East and they're getting a good challenge in a three-game series against the Oakland A's that begins Monday. After that, the Red Sox will meet the newest member of the AL West, the Houston Astros, for the first time in a four-game set.

"There has been so much that's happened in the last week that will make it different," said A's pitcher A.J. Griffin, scheduled to start the series opener.

There will be different kinds of emotion elsewhere this week, too.

Beginning Monday, the Washington Nationals will play host to the team that ended their dream season a year ago in such shocking, disappointing fashion. The St. Louis Cardinals are in town for three games, and Washington will be reminded of its Game 5 meltdown last October in the National League Division Series.

This time, though, the Nationals will have the services of their ace. Right-hander Stephen Strasburg -- who wasn't on the active roster when a 6-0 lead early in Game 5 turned into a 7-5 lead in the ninth, before an outrageous Cardinals four-run rally to take the series -- is on no innings limit in 2013, although he is looking to rebound from a couple of losses. He'll pitch in the series finale on Wednesday.

The Nats will get the defending NL Central champion Reds later in the week for another matchup of 2012 playoff teams, and in other cities, division battles will be the overriding theme.

We'll see AL East matchups between the Blue Jays and Orioles, the Blue Jays and Yankees, and the Yankees and Rays. The NL Central will get together for Cubs-Reds, while the AL Central features Royals-Tigers and Indians-White Sox. AL West action will be highlighted by Rangers-Angels, with a big NL West rivalry on the line in D-backs-Giants.

Looking for milestones? The Braves' Tim Hudson will take his second crack at career victory No. 200 on Wednesday, although it will be at Coors Field, the home of the red-hot Rockies and a place that hasn't treated Hudson very kindly over the years. The right-hander is 0-2 with a 8.04 ERA in five career starts at the downtown Denver yard.

"I obviously think about it because it's there," Hudson said. "But I don't change anything I do because of that. At some point this year, I'll get it."

Meanwhile, Mariners ace Felix Hernandez has another chance to pick up the 100th victory of his career when he takes the hill Monday against the Astros in Houston.

Two of last year's darlings, the unheralded Orioles and A's, will face off on the West Coast this week, and they're doing pretty well this year, too. Entering Monday's play, Baltimore was 10-8 and two games back in the AL East, and Oakland was 12-7, a half-game out in the West.

Another good series to watch is Mets-Dodgers at Citi Field. The three-game series begins Tuesday and will be highlighted on Wednesday night, when New York rookie sensation Matt Harvey tries to get to 5-0 and continue what has been a Cy Young-worthy start in his first full season in the big leagues.

Harvey beat Strasburg last week. He's certainly not intimidated.

"He functions on such a high octane already," Mets catcher John Buck said. "To be honest, I really don't think he cares who he's facing."

Elsewhere, there's a Keystone series, with the Pennsylvania-rival Pittsburgh Pirates heading east to Philadelphia for four games at Citizens Bank Park, and a late-week matchup between the Rockies and D-backs, both of whom could be surprise NL West contenders.

In other words, there's plenty to keep an eye on, although the first place we should continue to look is Boston.

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.

Matt Harvey, Felix Hernandez, Tim Hudson, Stephen Strasburg