CLEVELAND — The Orioles just came off a 31-game stretch in which they played eight teams that were over .500 and have to be considered legitimate playoff contenders.

They went 21-10 in that span and improved their first-place lead in the American League East to 7 1/2 games.

Starting Friday night, the Orioles were set to embark on another interesting stretch. Of their next 26 games — a period that lasts until the Sept. 12 doubleheader against the New York Yankees — none of their seven opponents had a record above .500.

That stat officially ended Friday night, when the Orioles lost, 2-1, in 11 innings to the Cleveland Indians, who consequently improved to 61-60.

The Orioles shouldn’t take these next 25 games lightly, of course. They will be playing talented clubs that have underachieved. In fact, four of the teams in this stretch — the Indians, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds — all made the playoffs last year.

But the point here is that the Orioles are capable of winning a chunk of these games. Yes, this game isn’t played on paper — if it were, the Orioles would have finished, what, fourth this year? — but, based on the records alone, the Orioles should be the better team in most of these games.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter has said all season that his club has the toughest schedule in baseball. And that may be true.

But it appears the Orioles have been handed a bit break right now. And theoretically, anyway, this will be their best opportunity to leave the rest of the division in their wake.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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