BALTIMORE -- When the Red Sox finished up their West Coast road trip a little more than two weeks ago, it was widely noted that each one of final 23 games in the regular season would be against teams from their own division.
If the Red Sox were going to get into the playoffs, they would have to run the gauntlet -- home and away -- against everyone in the American League East.
May the best team win.
Now, almost two-thirds of the way through that stretch, the drama is gone and there's little mystery about who's king of the division.
With their 5-3 win Thursday night at Camden Yards, the Red Sox won their eighth straight, posting their second straight four-game sweep of a division rival.
First, it was the Yankees at home. Next came the Orioles.
Different teams, different ballparks. It didn't matter.
Since leaving California air space, where they went 4-2 as a prelude to this All-East, all-the-time portion of their schedule, the Red Sox have gone 11-3.
They've taken on everyone but the Rays, who are next up and, frankly, irrelevant to the matter.
They went 2-1 in Toronto.
They went 4-0 in Boston against the Yankees.
They went a combined 5-2 against the Orioles in a home-and-home arrangement. They set 'em up, and then they shut them down.
"As we've done with other challenges put in front of us,'' said John Farrell, "we focus on the task at hand. It's about taking care of what we need to to prepare. It says our guys are looking forward to challenges that are thrown our way. We knew the schedule was going to be a tough one, as it was for (other) teams that were vying for post-season play.
"The way we've responded, the way we've come back in some tight ballgames, the way we've won on the road, I think it says a tremendous amount about the guys in our uniform.''
You name an aspect of their game, and the Red Sox have excelled in the last few weeks. The starting pitching has been dependable. The offense has been formidable. And the relief pitching has been dominant.
That's a tough combination to beat. Together, they make the Red Sox the team to beat in the American League with the post-season just around the corner.
"We've played good baseball,'' said David Price, who pitched seven innings and won his 17th. '"This is the time of year when you want your team to get on the kind of roll that we have. That's what we've done. We just need to continue to bring that same attitude every day.
Price has seen this before -- in the not-too-distant past. When he went from Detroit to Toronto at the trade deadline in 2015, he joined a Toronto team mired around .500. But the Jays jelled over the final two months and pulled away to win the division.
Now, he's on another A.L. East team showing a strong finishing kick.
"We do everything well,'' Price said. "I don't know what our weakness is, to be honest, but we do a lot of things really well. That's what you want. There's no glaring weakness with our team. Everybody has picked it up in the second half and that's what you need.''
You can't say the Red Sox backed into anything. Over the last two weeks, they took on three other good teams in the division and beat each one handily.
Three more series remain, all against East opponents. But the test is over and the Red Sox just didn't pass, they aced the exam.