Not much has been settled in the American League East through the first third of the season.

A week ago, the Boston Red Sox seemed to be pulling away. They had built a three-game lead on the strength of the game’s best offense. Heading into Memorial Day weekend, they led the league in runs scored, batting average and were the first team in baseball history to have two players with hitting streaks of 20 games or longer before June 1.

Then came a little bump in the road. The Sox actually got back to playing teams within the division.

Boston has lost six of its last 10 games. Not coincidentally, all 10 were against AL East opponents. It was a stark reminder that this is a division full of teams that can bash the ball, a division with teams built to win.

The AL East might not be the best division in baseball, but there are no patsies. Just about every other division has at least one brutal team in it, a team you can bank on beating 10 or more times over the course of a season. In the AL Central, Minnesota is 16-40 and is already 151/2 games out of first. In the AL West, Oakland recently went on a run to get back within 10 games of first but began the week seven games under .500.

The National League? Atlanta, Cincinnati and San Diego are a combined 60-111.

In the AL East, the Tampa Bay Rays are in last place – and have hit more home runs than any other team in baseball. The New York Yankees are one good series away from .500 and have the best three-headed bullpen in the game.

The real competition is closer to the top of the division. Boston got a harsh reminder of that over the past two weeks.

The Red Sox lost four of six games to the Blue Jays, who have the lowest ERA in the American League. That’s a frightening proposition for a team that’s best known for its offense. Last season the Jays made it to the postseason for the first time in 22 years thanks to a lineup that bashed the ball all over Ontario. No team scored more runs than the Jays last season. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and AL MVP Josh Donaldson combined for 120 home runs – the fourth trio with at least 39 homers apiece in MLB history.

The best of Toronto’s offense this season is yet to come.

The Baltimore Orioles have won more games since the start of 2012 than any other AL team. On Sunday, they rallied against the vaunted Yankees’ bullpen to win 3-1 and move percentage points ahead of the Sox in the standings. Their bullpen ERA is 2.76 – second only to defending champion Kansas City in the AL.

Mark Trumbo, the best free-agent signing in baseball, began the week tied for the major league lead with 18 home runs. Manny Machado is an MVP candidate. Free-swinging Chris Davis is always a home-run threat.

Since the epic Sox collapse of September 2011, Boston is 34-56 against the Orioles. And there are still 12 more games between the two teams this season, including three at Fenway next week.

The Sox know they need to improve the pitching staff and will be looking for help in the rotation and the bullpen. Every team in the division will be looking for help. It’s a seller’s market, and teams will have to overpay to get what they want.

The best deadline moves could dictate who wins the division this season. The Sox finish the year with 23 straight games against AL East opponents. As we were reminded in the past week, even a great offense like Boston’s can struggle against competition like that.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.


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