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AL East shaping up to be tight race

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Entering Wednesday night's action, just 2 1/2 games separated the top team in the AL East, the Orioles, from the last place team, the Rays.

Under the current division format (since 1994), this is only the fourth time a division has been separated by 2.5 games top to bottom on May 7. The others were the NL West in 2001, the AL West in 1999 and the NL Central in 1996.

The Rays are not off to the start they hoped, but despite their start, they are not in a bad position.

"A lot of us being in a good spot is the fact that the whole division, nobody is running away with it," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That's makes it somewhat easier. ... Of course we expect to play at a higher standard than we have to this point. We expect to have a better record than we do at this point. ... We want to get back to .500 first and then start building over .500."

This is the first time that the AL East did not have a team with 18 wins heading into games on May 7 since the current division format. And it is the first season since 1990 that the AL East leader has the lowest winning percentage on May 7 among other division leaders.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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