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The Week Ahead: Bucs aim to build off momentum

It isn't every day that you get to see a landmark event that hasn't happened in 21 years, even in baseball, where it seems you bear witness to something new every time you enter one of the 30 Major League stadiums.

The Week Ahead, therefore, begins with a dedication to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who, if they keep playing the way they've been playing, should seal a winning record for the 2013 season -- a feat they haven't accomplished since the 1992 halcyon days of Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, a younger Jim Leyland, and, just for the heck of it, Jerry Don Gleaton.

This year's Buccos have been packing PNC Park and playing like they want to hang around until the end of October. Then again, so have the other teams in a crowded National League Central that figures to get even more interesting by the end of the week.

The Pirates took care of their business on Monday, winning at Milwaukee to notch their 80th victory of the season, which means they can get to the magical No. 82, which guarantees a winning season, by Wednesday.

Not that they'll be satisfied with that and only that, of course.

"Our vision is to win the division," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said Monday, when his team took a one-game lead on St. Louis in the Central, with the Reds, who beat the Cardinals on Monday on the strength of Mat Latos' complete-game win, only 3 1/2 back.

"I watched two teams crushed with a one-game Wild Card game [last season]. You put in 162 days of hard work, get to play one game, and if you don't play a good game that day, you go to the house.

"That's a hard pill to swallow. A division win gives you more opportunity to show what you've done throughout the season. We are committed to doing some big things, and we feel we are capable of doing them."

They're not the only ones who feel that way.

Take the Oakland A's, for example. They rode a stunning September to an unlikely American League West title over the Rangers last year, and after looking at Texas' heels in the division for much of August this season, the A's beat the Rangers on Monday to pull into a first-place tie and once again show how tight this rivalry is.

The two clubs, who share 79-58 records, will play two more in this three-game series and will meet again in Texas later in the month for three more. The A's have won eight of their last 10 after dropping 13 of their previous 21. The Rangers have lost three of four.

"We knew coming into this month that we had six games against the Rangers," A's pitcher Dan Straily said. "We've got to take care of business here and take care of business the rest of the month, too."

The Dodgers (who are cruising in the NL West), the Braves (who are boat-racing the NL East), the Tigers (who have a comfy lead in the AL Central) and the Red Sox (who have pulled away to a five-game lead in the AL East) might be able to rest a bit easier than most this week.

The teams jockeying for the remaining Wild Card slots cannot.

The Orioles and Indians are still technically alive, and they're playing two more games against each other this week. On Monday, Baltimore beat Cleveland and moved to within two games of the Rays, who lost 11-2 to the Angels, for the second AL Wild Card spot and increased its lead over the Tribe in the same category to 1 1/2 games. Cleveland also saw starter Justin Masterson exit the game with soreness in his left rib cage.

"We want to be more than relevant," O's manager Buck Showalter said. "People are saying, 'Well, you're playing [in meaningful games].' It's more than that. It's about doing the things it takes to stay in it."

Later in the week, Baltimore will get four games at home against the White Sox, while the Indians will get three at home against the Mets.

Meanwhile, the Nationals, Royals and D-backs will try to keep their Wild Card hopes alive, and the Rays will try to bounce back from a drubbing at the hands of the Angels on Monday.

Tampa Bay still looks good for the Wild Card but hasn't been sharp of late. The Rays are hoping that will change Tuesday in Anaheim when they welcome back ace Matt Moore, who has been out since July 28 with left elbow soreness.

Then again, pitching hasn't been Tampa Bay's problem of late.

"We have to just start playing a more consistent offense game, because we've been pitching well, we've been playing great defense, everything is good, we're just having a hard time at the plate," Rays skipper Joe Maddon said. "But it can be a cyclical kind of thing. We just have to get our vibe back on the offensive side of the ball."

Elsewhere this week, we'll see a few more games of what could be an AL Championship Series preview when the Red Sox and Tigers continue their three-game series, and Tuesday's installment could bring about some history, because Detroit starter Max Scherzer will try to become the second pitcher in Major League history to open a season with a 20-1 record, joining Roger Clemens in 2001.

The next night could see the return of Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers' lineup from abdominal discomfort as his search for a second consecutive AL Triple Crown continues.

"He was hitting real good, but he always does that," Leyland said after the Tigers' 3-0 win over the Red Sox on Monday. "He was in good spirits today and I think he's feeling much, much better, to be honest with you. I'm just waiting for the clearance from Miguel and the medical team. And when I get that, I'll put him back in there."

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