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Big weekend to sort out AL East puzzle

O's visit Yankees, Rays face Blue Jays and Red Sox host defending champs
MLB.com @RichardJustice

You've got questions about the American League East. Hey, we've got questions about the AL East.

Can the Blue Jays still turn things around? When will the Red Sox begin scoring runs?

You've got questions about the American League East. Hey, we've got questions about the AL East.

Can the Blue Jays still turn things around? When will the Red Sox begin scoring runs?

Did we get the Orioles all wrong again? Finally, how about the Yankees and Rays? Everyone likes good news, right?

This weekend probably won't provide all that much clarity, but it should make for some fascinating baseball.

Video: BAL@NYY: Gausman, Sabathia to duel in New York

Orioles at Yankees
OK, we were probably wrong about both these teams, and that is probably an understatement.

Here's the interesting thing about the Orioles: They've got the AL's best record (14-6), but they really haven't played their best.

Their two most important pitchers -- Chris Tillman and Zach Britton -- are on the disabled list. Offensively, only five Major League clubs have scored fewer runs.

Yet the O's have done what they usually do. They've played defense. Dylan Bundy has anchored the rotation.

Even without Britton at the back of the bullpen, manager Buck Showalter has mixed and matched with his usual genius.

Translation: Baltimore is a nice place to visit in October.

The Yankees are a game behind the Orioles at 13-7, and this is also a surprise, although not a stunning one.

The Yanks always intended to contend, even as they transitioned to younger players. While 25-year-old right fielder Aaron Judge has been as good as advertised, it's the veterans -- Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury and CC Sabathia -- who've helped fuel a nice start.

The Yankees' 2.90 staff ERA is the best in the Majors, led by a bullpen (1.51 ERA) that is performing at a historic pace.

If this weekend's games are close, it should make for a fascinating chess match of Joe Girardi and Showalter working their bullpens. In other words, good baseball.

Video: TB@TOR: Snell, Stroman set to duel in Toronto

Rays at Blue Jays
First, the good news. The Rays are doing something they haven't done very much in recent years.

That is, Tampa Bay is scoring runs -- 102 in all, good for the 10th most in MLB. That may not be earth shattering until you consider the Rays have finished 24th, 25th and 27th the past three seasons.

Outfielders Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza Jr. enter the weekend hitting .325 and .330, respecitvely, and realizing plenty of their promise.

Combine that offense with the usual top-end pitching staff, and Tampa Bay is in a great spot to be fighting for a playoff berth in September.

The Blue Jays are 6-16 and have been hit hard by injuries to Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez and Troy Tulowitzki. Jose Bautista is hitting .163, Russell Martin .190.

All Toronto can do is hold on, get its injured players back and hope that Bautista and Martin get it going.

This is where a manager -- in this case, John Gibbons -- is tested in all sorts of way. The Blue Jays have the credibility of back-to-back trips to the AL Championship Series, and that's what they can lean on while hoping for a second-half charge back into contention.

Video: Red Sox, Cubs get set for weekend series

Cubs at Red Sox
Besides a Fenway homecoming for Theo Epstein and Jon Lester, this series is another litmus test for the Red Sox.

Only three teams have scored fewer runs, and even with David Ortiz retiring, this isn't what anyone expected from a club that led the Majors in runs last season.

Problem is, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval have either been injured or less productive than expected. Dustin Pedroia is hitting .242, Jackie Bradley Jr. .226.

The Red Sox don't really have a Plan B for Sandoval at third, so when he returns from the disabled list, he'll be right back in the lineup. Sandoval's career has been one of very hot and very cold streaks, and Boston could use a hot one when he gets back.

As for the rotation, Chris Sale has been just about perfect. But that dominant front three hasn't materialized with David Price on the disabled list and Rick Porcello posting a 4.75 ERA in his first five starts.

On the other hand, there's time. The Red Sox are still a game over .500 (11-10), and it's unlikely the AL East is going to get away from them.

Boston still has enough farm depth if there's a trade to be made, and no executive is more aggressive than Dave Dombrowski.

Yes, it's still early. Yes, we keep waiting for the AL East race to take shape. What we don't know: Maybe it already has.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice.