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Parity creating tight division races, but Orioles have a chance to take control

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Baltimore's big homestand is off to a rousing start, and the most intriguing series may be yet to come.

The Orioles took two of three from St. Louis, and they now lead the AL East by five games over Toronto — the largest division lead of any team in baseball. Manager Buck Showalter's team hosts the New York Yankees for three games starting Monday night. The third-place Yankees are six games behind, so if the Orioles can win this series as well, they'll be in good shape for the stretch.

It says something that Baltimore's five-game lead looks like such an impressive margin. Right now, all of the six division races look like they could go down to the wire. That wasn't the case last year at this time, when Atlanta was running away with the NL East, the Los Angeles Dodgers were comfortably ahead in the NL West and Detroit was taking control of the AL Central.

In 2014, every race is interesting — and they all matter since wild cards have to meet in a one-game playoff just to advance to the Division Series.

According to the number-crunchers at Fangraphs.com, there are 16 teams that still have at least a 15 per cent chance of making the post-season. Chalk that up to the second wild card — and a level of parity in which only one team (Oakland) has won more than 60 per cent of its games.

So get ready for more days like this coming Tuesday, when there is a full slate of 15 games and 11 of them involve at least one team solidly in post-season contention.

The Orioles took two of three in Toronto last week and have a chance to extend their lead over the Yankees during the next few days. Here's a look at the other five division races around baseball:

AL CENTRAL: Just over a week after acquiring star left-hander David Price, Detroit finds itself clinging to a precarious half-game lead over surging Kansas City. The Royals will have a chance to keep the pressure on if their offence holds up, and although the Tigers have their three Cy Young Award winners in Price, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, they now have to deal with injuries to Anibal Sanchez and Joakim Soria.

AL WEST: The Athletics and Los Angeles Angels look safely headed for the post-season, but both would like to avoid being a wild card. The teams play seven games against each other later this month. The Angels have baseball's second-best record but trail Oakland by four games.

NL EAST: Atlanta lost eight straight, giving Washington a chance to take control in this division, but the Nationals didn't really take advantage, losing two of three to the Braves in their recent series. Washington has a 3 1/2-game lead, but also the worst record of any division leader.

NL CENTRAL: This one should be fun. Milwaukee leads St. Louis by two games, with Pittsburgh another half-game behind and Cincinnati only five games out of first. Those four teams are all in play for the wild cards too.

NL WEST: The San Francisco Giants are 20-35 since June 9, and if that keeps up, they probably won't be long for this race. The Los Angeles Dodgers have a 4 1/2-game lead over their rivals to the north.

STAT OF THE WEEK

There were enough wacky numbers in Toronto's 6-5, 19-inning win over Detroit on Sunday to fill this category for a month, but let's go with this one: Melky Cabrera of the Blue Jays reached base eight times and did not score a run.

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