Tampa Loses the "Devil", AL East Gains Another

Matt FanningCorrespondent IMarch 22, 2008

With the MLB season just around the corner, the revived Tampa Bay Rays sit atop the Grapefruit League standings.  It has been awhile since Tampa's fans (all five of them) had something to get excited about.  Yet, this season might bring the team's first winning record since coming into existence in 1998.  But, let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Playing in what is considered one of the toughest divisions in baseball with the evil empire, the New York Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox, they are usually considered ton not stand a chance at winning the division.  Although they probably won't win the division, they still have a good shot at third, and a possible run at second place.  They can easily finish ahead of the aging, poorly put together Baltimore Oreos, i mean Orioles. Furthermore, they have a chance to even finish ahead of the oft injured Toronto Blue Jays.
The Rays have strung together a pretty good offense made up of young talented players.  Their outfield includes 23-year-old super player B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, Jonny Gomes, Cliff Floyd, and Rocco Baldeli.  Cliff Floyd may be done, but Upton, Crawford, and Gomes seem to be on the upslope.  Former super-prospect Rocco Baldeli has been slowed by injuries but may have a chance to come back and finally pan out into the player he should have been. 

Their infield looks strong too.  They have a 45 HR, 120 RBI hitter in Carlos Pena at first, Japanese sensation Akinori Iwamura making the switch from third to second, and prospects Willy Aybar and Eva Longoria at third.  Oh, I mean Evan Longoria, but Eva wouldn't do a bad job either.  I think they should sign Barry Bonds as rumors had suggested earlier.  He is a distraction, but he can play DH and he can still rake.  He's good for 25 home runs, and who is going to turn that down.
Their pitching staff looks the best its been, ever.  With Shields and Garza at the top right now and Kazmir hopefully not staying on the DL for too long, they have a strong trio, all of whom are under 27 years old.  Edwin Jackson looks to the be the fourth starter.  He could prove to be useful considering that he has good stuff, but he hasn't really panned out as expected.  They have three decent relievers in Troy Percival, Al Reyes, and Dan Wheeler.  
They have pretty much no shot at first place, which is almost locked up by the Boston Red Sox, but the Yankees haven't sold me yet on second place. Jorge Posada is coming off a career year and is unlikely to repeat that.  I have no idea why Jason Giambi is even still in the majors, and Johnny Damon has proved to be almost useless since leaving the Red Sox (I kinda miss Captain Caveman).  Bobby Abreu is aging and Derek Jeter is the worst fielding shortstop in baseball (See?).  Furthermore, their pitching rotation after Wang is shaky at best.  Mariano Rivera is done, but Joba looks too be the new heir of the closing position.
It may be ludicrous, call me crazy, but whens its all said and done, you might be surprised.  The Tampa Bay, yes thats right, the Tampa Bay Rays might actually have a shot at beating the almighty New York Yankees.