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Around the AL East, Week 8: Orioles, Red Sox battle for lead awaits

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The Orioles lost a game on the now-leading Red Sox in the last week, but they'll have a chance to make it up over the next four games.

For almost an entire month now, the Orioles and Red Sox have been engaged in a dogfight for the American League East lead. Both were good for most of the month of May, spending weeks at a time seemingly matching win for win.

Eventually, it was the Orioles who blinked first, as happened within the last week. The Orioles set the MLB record for strikeouts in a three game series as they whiffed 52 times while being swept in Houston. Boston took two of three from the Rockies over those same three days. That'll do it.

Which of these teams is truly the better one? We will have some chances to get an answer over the next couple of weeks, including the very next series, as the Red Sox come to Baltimore for four games starting today.

If one team is able to come away with three or more wins from the series, that could prove decisive going forward - or at least for the next little while. Or will they only manage to beat each other up while another team gets hot and climbs back into the race?

Boston Red Sox

  • Record: 30-20
  • Last Week: 3-3 (2-1 vs. Rockies, 1-2 at Blue Jays)
  • Games Ahead: 1 (gained a game on Orioles)
  • Upcoming: 4 games at Orioles, 3 games vs. Blue Jays

The Red Sox continue to tower far over the American League competition when it comes to scoring runs. They are 62 runs above their next-closest competitor. They have played more games than some teams that had rainouts, like the Orioles, but the Orioles are not likely to score 81 runs in two games.

It seems to be an endless stream of lengthy hitting streaks for the Red Sox. Though Jackie Bradley Jr.'s was dashed over the past week, Xander Bogaerts, the poor man's Manny Machado, now has a hitting streak that has gone on for 22 consecutive games.

Greasemaster Clay Buchholz has gotten himself dumped from the starting rotation. He will be replaced by former Orioles prospect Eduardo Rodriguez, who will be returning from the disabled list to make his first start of 2016 against his old organization on Tuesday.

This Sounds Familiar: Over the Monster's Ben Buchanan does not think a bullpen demotion is sufficient for Buchholz, believing he needs to hit either the DL or the great DFA in the sky. More than a few Orioles fans would like the O's to do one or the other with Ubaldo Jimenez.

The Future Is Soon: OTM's Marc Normandin checks in on some prospects who might be helping the Red Sox as soon as next year, including first baseman Sam Travis.

Baltimore Orioles

  • Record: 28-20
  • Last Week: 2-4 (0-3 at Houston, 2-1 at Cleveland)
  • Games Behind: 1 (lost a game on Red Sox)
  • Upcoming: 4 games vs. Red Sox, 3 games vs. Yankees

In comments to O's reporters on Sunday, manager Buck Showalter proclaimed that Jimenez is the "projected" starter for Thursday, rather than the guaranteed starter, but it's not clear whether this signals any kind of imminent change. Showalter went on to say, "I'm the projected manager for today, but who knows if that will happen?" It happened.

The big Orioles story of the week, other than all of the strikeouts, was the dumping of a draft pick along with Brian Matusz's salary. Accompanied by a separate trade of international bonus slots for a minor league pitcher, the O's landed three new minor leaguers: Brandon Barker, Travis Belicek, and Franderlin Romero. Whether any of them do anything remains to be seen.

There is a new garden outside of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which is meant to be a friendly habitat for actual oriole birds:

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Record: 26-26
  • Last Week: 4-2 (2-1 at Yankees, 2-1 vs. Red Sox)
  • Games Behind: 5 (gained a game)
  • Upcoming: 3 games vs. Yankees, 3 games at Red Sox

In what's almost an annual ritual, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit the disabled list this week. His issue here is a strained right quad. He expects to miss only the minimum 15 days.

Former Oriole Jimmy Paredes has now been in Toronto for long enough to play in seven games, in which he has accumulated this batting line: .267/.353/.533. Not bad, but of course, it's a small sample size.

It continues to be the case that no other American League team has accumulated more losses in their bullpen than the Jays. Their relievers have been charged with 14 losses this season, a sign that the unit is giving up a number of runs in the least opportune times. I know we all feel so bad for them.

The Jays moved up from fifth place to third place this week.

Jays Draft Tendencies: On Bluebird Banter, Matt W. has a breakdown of the money that the Jays have spent on the draft in recent years - whether they tend to spend on college or high school, hitters or pitchers.

The Run Prevention Problem: Also on BB, Matt Gross looked at a couple of problematic numbers for the Jays, one of which is that, before Wednesday, the Jays were 0-21 when their opponent scored more than three runs. They're now 3-22 in those games.

New York Yankees

  • Record: 24-25
  • Last Week: 3-3 (1-2 vs. Blue Jays, 2-1 at Rays)
  • Games Behind: 5.5 (same)
  • Upcoming: 3 games at Blue Jays, 1 game at Tigers, 3 games at Orioles

Reports of the demise of CC Sabathia's career were premature, at least based on his results so far in 2016. The big lefty has held opponents to a 2.83 ERA in seven starts and has thus far allowed only one home run all season. This is good news for the Yankees, who will see Sabathia's 2017 option vest unless he ends the year on the DL with a shoulder injury.

The Yankees have needed that kind of turnaround from Sabathia because one pitcher on whom they had pinned some hopes, Michael Pineda, has started ten games and is sitting on a 6.92 ERA. Pineda is in fact the only qualified AL starter (1 IP/team game) to have a higher ERA than the O's Jimenez.

Some people may prefer not to see Alex Rodriguez as an actual human being but this is pretty adorable:

The Magic Knee Brace: On Pinstripe Alley, Jason Cohen presents a couple of keys to the resurgence of Sabathia, one of which, apparently, is a nigh-magical knee brace. He's also throwing more cutters.

Don't Go Chasen Relievers: Also on PSA, Ben Diamond has a breakdown of the struggles of reliever Chasen Shreve, who looked like a passable reliever last year and has done poorly this season. Shreve is presently on the DL with a sprain of his left shoulder AC joint.

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Record: 22-26
  • Last Week: 2-5 (1-3 at/vs. Marlins, 1-2 vs. Yankees)
  • Games Behind: 7 (lost 1.5 games)
  • Upcoming: 3 games at Royals, 3 games at Twins

Would you believe that, going into Sunday's games, the Rays team leader in fWAR was former Oriole Steve Pearce? Well, it's a three way tie between him, Evan Longoria, and Logan Forsythe - which maybe explains why the Rays are in last place. Forsythe hasn't played since May 9.

Don't go thinking the Rays are surely buried despite being seven games out. The 2014 division winning Orioles were as many as 6.5 games back on June 6th that year, their 59th game played, and they went on to win by 12 games.

The Rays will need some improvement from starting pitchers like Matt Moore and Chris Archer to have any hope of that.

Let The Buyer Beware: On DRaysBay, Jack Kelly ponders whether the Rays will be, or should be, buyers in advance of the trade deadline.

**

It remains a two team duel for the top of the division, and those two teams will be playing for the next four games. By the way, the Orioles play the Red Sox for seven games between now and mid-June but after that it'll be two months before we see them again.

If the O's have a good series against the Red Sox over the next few days, they will have a great chance of being back atop the division this time next week. Of course, the only time that really matters is the end of the season. Sure wouldn't hurt to hold the lead from now until then.