You can call 'em the first place Rays

Rays teammates B.J. Upton (left) and John Jason celebrate a win over the Yankees Monday in St....

Rays teammates B.J. Upton (left) and John Jason celebrate a win over the Yankees Monday in St. Petersburg, Fla. (STEVE NSIUS/Reuters)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:03 PM ET

DETROIT - Before the season started the consensus seemed to be that in the AL East, it would be a cakewalk for the Red Sox.

The Yankees were thought to be the next best team and although their pitching looked shaky, they had a murderous lineup that could pile up runs.

The Rays? They were an afterthought.

They had lost two vital parts of their offence in Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena as well as their entire bullpen plus a key member of their rotation in Matt Garza.

The thinking was the Rays would be in a regrouping mould, they needed time to sort out all the new pieces.

Then the season started and things went south. The Rays dropped eight of their opening nine games and along the way they lost veteran slugger Manny Ramirez too, due to his flunking a drug test and then retiring.

The feeling was that that was it for the Rays. Have a nice season.

But then something happened, something clicked and the Rays started winning. They haven’t stopped. Since that 1-8 start they have gone 23-9 and sit in first place in the AL East.

Backed by terrific starting pitching, the Rays have simply been getting it done — be it in low scoring games or like in Monday’s come-from-behind victory over the Yankees, a rare display of power when they hammered three home runs.

Oddly enough the Rays have performed far better on the road where they have gone 13-5 than at home where they are 11-12.

Offensively, all-star third baseman Evan Longoria is looking better at the plate every day since he returned May 3 from a strained left oblique. Since then he has hit .295 with two homers and eight RBIs.

“My body has felt good,” Longoria said the other day. “I haven’t had any setbacks, knock on wood. I don’t see in the future taking (days) off, unless it’s a scheduled off-day for the team.”

Their bullpen, a mystery at the start of the season, seems to be jelling and they have had no problems closing games out with Kyle Farnsworth revelling in that role. So far, Farnsworth has been good in eight of nine save situations.

“(Farnsworth) has been nice, man,” manager Joe Maddon said following Monday’s win over the Yankees. “He comes out there, you can see that he’s under control. He feels very good about himself. I see a lot of confidence now. He’s pitching. This is a guy that has always had the big fastball ... but he is pitching more with his cutter and his slider —- that makes him better.”

But not everything is rolling Tampa’s way.

The legend of Sam Fuld, their exciting left fielder, has taken a hit since he was batting .396 on April 18. In his last 71 at-bats, Fuld has managed but eight hits.


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