The Orioles were in first place after 40 games last year

With the Yankees' loss to Seattle while the Orioles were off last night, the idle Birds moved to within 1 1/2 games of first in the AL East. They are in third place in the standings, and they were in first after they had played 40 games last year.

AL East after 40 games in 2012:
Baltimore: 26-14
Tampa Bay: 24-16, 2 GB
Toronto: 22-18, 4 GB
New York: 21-18, 4.5 GB
Boston: 18-21, 7.5 GB

AL East after 40 games in 2013:
New York: 25-16
Boston: 24-17, 1 GB
Baltimore: 23-17, 1.5 GB
Tampa Bay: 20-20, 4.5 GB
Toronto: 17-24, 8 GB

Heading into tonight's series opener with Tampa Bay, it is surprising to see this evening's starting pitchers with ERAs in the five range. But Jason Hammel is 5-1 with a 4.93 ERA, and Jeremy Hellickson is 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA.

Hammel has allowed 10 earned runs in 10 innings over his last two starts and gave up six runs over four innings in his last outing. Hellickson gave up six runs over 6 2/3 in his last start and has an ERA of 7.15 over his last four.

According to Hellickson's history, the O's have a much better chance to win tonight if they homer. In Hellickson's career starts, Tampa Bay is 21-6 when he does not allow a homer and 15-30 when he does give up a home run.

The Orioles are 14-9 on the road, but only 9-8 at home.

Tampa Bay is 14-8 at home, but just 6-12 on the road, this after the Rays led the majors with 135 road wins over the last three seasons.

Tampa is 7-12 against AL East opponents while the Orioles are 9-6, which includes the O's 4-2 record against Tampa. The Orioles have won four of five series within the division.

By the way, who would have thought Tampa Bay would rank better on offense than pitching at this point? But while the Rays are 10th in the AL in team ERA, they rank seventh in runs scored.

Tampa is averaging 5.4 runs per game over its last 27 games. Now there is a surprise and another test for the O's pitching staff this weekend.

While Ryan Flaherty has struggled at bat and heard some boo birds during Wednesday's game, he is not alone. Nate McLouth is 0-for-14 his last four games and 3-for-28 over his past seven games. Nolan Reimold is 1-for-15 over four games and and 4-for-30 during his past eight contests.

Still, the Orioles rank fourth in the AL with 196 runs scored. Oakland is second at 199, but has played two more games than Baltimore. Boston is third at 197 and has played one more game. Detroit is leading the AL with 210 runs scored.

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