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With Rays visiting this weekend, Orioles on playoff pace with strong divisional record

With four more games against the Tampa Bay Rays this weekend, the Orioles close out their divisional slate for the first half of the season against the team that's currently occupying last place.

Tampa Bay might not be an immediate threat to the Orioles' division lead, but these games still matter. How teams fare within the division has had a direct correlation to playing into October in the American League East recently.

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Before the Orioles visited Boston earlier this month, the peerless Alex Speier of the Boston Globe noted that since 2003, the team with the best divisional record in the AL East has made the playoffs — 11 times as the division champion and twice more as a wild card.

The Orioles enter the Rays series 18-13 against the division, good for a .581 winning percentage that just edges the Toronto Blue Jays (23-19, .548) for the best record inside the division.

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Toronto has played far and away the most divisional games — nearly twice as many as the Rays, who have just 24. The Blue Jays can fatten up their overall record with some of the nondivisional opponents the rest of the division has enjoyed playing so far, but have a good portion of their AL East games under their belts now.

Those are the only two teams with winning records in the division, though. The Rays are 12-12 entering their four-game set at Camden Yards, the Boston Red Sox are 15-17, and the New York Yankees are sputtering to a 10-17 divisional record.

After the homestand ends and the Rays leave town, the Orioles have their own set of challenges outside the division, in the form of a three-city, nine-game West Coast road trip. They have back-to-back division road trips to Tampa Bay and New York after the All-Star break, and have just three games at home in 25 days after they fly west on Sunday evening.

But a good weekend before they hit the road, and continued success in the division, where they're 7-2-1 in series this year, and the Orioles could keep themselves on track for a return to the postseason.

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