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Week Ahead: NL West race heats up

MLB.com @DougMillerMLB

Everywhere around Major League Baseball cities the temperature seems to be spiking. As an unseasonably toasty late June rolls into July during the week ahead, the 2017 slate will start getting even hotter. Second-half hot, that is.

The seven days prior to the Independence Day holiday will highlight torrid teams, mercurial matchups and intriguing returns to action for star players whose clubs have been missing them for too many games.

Everywhere around Major League Baseball cities the temperature seems to be spiking. As an unseasonably toasty late June rolls into July during the week ahead, the 2017 slate will start getting even hotter. Second-half hot, that is.

The seven days prior to the Independence Day holiday will highlight torrid teams, mercurial matchups and intriguing returns to action for star players whose clubs have been missing them for too many games.

And right now, no team is hotter than the Dodgers.

Los Angeles came back from an early five-run deficit Sunday to beat Colorado, 12-6, and take a 10-game winning streak into the new week. And while the Dodgers might not tangle with any of the teams on their heels in the crazy National League West this week -- more on that later -- they've still got a unique challenge on their hands early in the week in the form of two sets of two-game series against their Freeway Series-rival Angels.

The Angels will be without Mike Trout as the center fielder continues to heal from thumb surgery. The first two matchups will take place in Chavez Ravine on Monday and Tuesday. Then the two clubs hit the traffic snarl down to Anaheim as the Dodgers try to keep the high-flying vibes going.

Video: LAA@BOS: Trout starts hitting off a tee

"It's incredible," Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw said. "It just seems like every night you find a different way to win, and just the confidence you have coming to the field, like there's no way you're going to lose."

Video: COL@LAD: Kershaw fans eight through six frames in win

The D-backs and Rockies are having similar feelings lately, too. Despite the Dodgers' recent run, both of their NL West pursuers are not far behind. Arizona beat Philadelphia, 2-1, in extra innings Sunday to stay 2 1/2 games behind Los Angeles. And the club might soon get back its catalyst center fielder, former All-Star A.J. Pollock, who is rehabbing from a right groin/quad injury and could rejoin the big club later in the week.

Video: Must C Clutch: Descalso delivers D-backs walk-off win

That would come in handy at the right time, too, because the D-backs and Rockies are set to tangle at Chase Field for a three-game weekend series.

"We're playing good ball," D-backs starter Zack Godley said after a recent win. "We're swinging the bats well and we're throwing the ball well, so we'll just keep trying to carry that over into the next day."

Elsewhere around the big leagues as the 162-game grind officially enters its fourth month: the defending World Series champion Cubs, who would like to assert themselves in what's currently a wide-open NL Central, get a test in Washington against the Nationals in a four-game series starting Monday.

Video: CIN@WSH: Nationals plate six runs in 2nd inning

The Twins, who lead the AL Central, will see how they stack up against another AL contender when they visit Fenway Park to play the Red Sox in an early-week four-game set.

And the AL East-leading Yankees meet the AL West-leading Astros in a weekender in Houston that could turn out to be an AL Championship Series preview.

Video: HOU@SEA: Springer launches a solo homer to center

Meanwhile, other contenders are set to welcome back key ingredients for success.

The Brewers, who are hanging onto first place in the NL Central, are hoping to get Ryan Braun and Jonathan Villar back from injury this week. Braun (calf strain) and Villar (back) are rehabbing and could soon be ready.

The Rangers, who are staying afloat in the AL West, but need to get healthy on the starting pitching side of things, figure to get good news Monday, when staff ace Cole Hamels (strained right oblique) is slated to come off the disabled list, where he's been since April 26. The veteran left-hander is slated to face the Indians in Cleveland after breezing through a Friday bullpen session with no issues.

Video: Hamels talks about his win in Double-A rehab start

"Excellent," Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail said. "Just as expected. He is ready to be inserted."

The Rockies, who have lost five consecutive games but are only 4 1/2 games behind the Dodgers and are currently rock-solid in the Wild Card standings, wouldn't mind hearing similar news about their talented young right-hander, Jon Gray. Gray pronounced himself good to go for manager Bud Black's rotation after a five-inning rehab tune-up with Triple-A Albuquerque on Saturday.

"If they're ready to bring me [up], I'm ready," said Gray, who had a stress fracture in his left foot. "Everything's feeling great. I can definitely go out there and compete to win."

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