AL East features pivotal matchups

The battle in the AL East is closer than ever with all five teams separated by just three games. Each team is at least two games over .500 and no team has a negative run differential. That's impressive, considering that according to Elias, the last time prior to this season that an American League division had all of its teams at least two games above .500 at least 50 games into the season was in 2000 (AL West).

A look at some key matchups within the division tonight:

Rays at Yankees, 7:05 ET

James Shields looks to get revenge against a New York Yankees team that has owned him in his career. Shields is 5-12 with a 4.39 ERA in 22 starts against the Yankees, including 2-7 with a 5.00 ERA in 11 starts at Yankee Stadium. This season New York has tagged him for nine ER in 11 innings (7.36 ERA) over two starts. The Yankee lefties feasted, going 9-for-29 (.310), and he struck out only 9.4 percent of those batters.

Andy Pettitte faces a Tampa Bay Rays team that gave him trouble in 2010. He gave up nine ER in 7 1/3 innings (11.05 ERA) in two starts against them, and is coming off his worst start of the season (five runs, nine hits) versus the Los Angeles Angels. Pettitte tried to work away from the Angels batters, with little success, as they were 4-for-9 (.444) and missed on 2 of 19 swings (10.5 percent) against pitches on the outer third of the plate.

Orioles at Red Sox, 7:10 ET

Jason Hammel takes the mound for the Baltimore Orioles, looking to avoid losing consecutive starts for the first time since May 10th and 15th of last season. Hammel beat the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on May 5th, allowing two runs in 6 2/3 innings. The Red Sox struggled to make good contact against Hammel last month, fouling off a season-high 30 of 55 swings (54.5 percent).

14-0 or Better to Start Career vs Team in Expansion Era

Jon Lester gets the start for the Red Sox. Since his one-run, complete game on May 14th, Lester has allowed 15 ER in 16 2/3 innings (8.10 ERA). But the Orioles are the perfect team for him to break out of his slump against, considering he is 14-0 in 19 career starts against Baltimore. According to Elias, only three other pitchers won each of their first 14 decisions against a particular team in the Expansion Era (since 1961).

Rangers Reeling

The Texas Rangers, once the hottest team in baseball, are in a slump right now with five losses in their last six games. The offense has slipped, with three runs or fewer in four of those six games, and Monday night Texas was held hitless through the first seven innings of the game by Jarrod Parker.

However, the pitching has been even worse, as the Rangers have allowed 10+ runs in three games during this six-game slide. In their first 49 games, they gave up at least 10 runs just once.