The American League East renaissance continues

Is the AL East really the best division in baseball?

Nineteenth-century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli cautioned against putting too much faith in statistics, but he was probably a cricket fan, so his credibility in the area of team sports is clearly suspect.

Here's a statistic that cannot possibly lie. On June 1, the American League East was the losingest division in baseball, with a combined 121-136 record (.471) and only one team -- the New York Yankees -- above .500.

Predictably, that sparked a lot of discussion about the decline of one of Major League Baseball's historically strong -- and rich -- divisions and what factors might lead to the continuation or the end of that trend.

Well, whatever those factors were, that trend has been turned on its head in a very short time. Just three weeks have passed and the AL East is now the winningest division in baseball. AL East teams have combined to play .649 baseball since June 1 and now stand at 182-169 (.519).

Where three weeks ago there was just that one team over .500, now there are four. Just two other divisions in baseball have as many as three teams with winning records going into Monday night's games.

So, what happened? We know in Baltimore that the return of some key players -- J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters -- has made a huge difference in the Orioles recent 13-4 surge. The Yankees have had a roller-coaster season, but they've taken advantage of some surprisingly strong individual offensive performances (most notably Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez) and terrific late-inning relief to stay at or near the top of the standings.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays have shaken off a rash of serious pitching injuries to capitalize on their terrific organizational pitching depth to rise to the top of the division. There's a chance to get Matt Moore back soon, too. And the Blue Jays simply crush the ball and figure to keep doing so all season.

That's why four teams are bunched within three games of each other in the standings, while the Red Sox were in steep decline until just the past week. Now, even they are playing better, winning four of their past six games going into the series against the Orioles that starts on Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

There's a long way to go, but the AL East has come a very long way in a very short time.

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