I will begin by asking two questions, both of which have the same answer.
1. Which team represented the AL in the 2008 World Series?
2. Which team has the best record in baseball?
That's right, not the Yankees and not even the Red Sox. Although admittedly it's very early to be making judgements, and perhaps too early to put any weight on the best record. However the manner in which the Rays accumulated these wins (including a 4 game sweep of the Red Sox) should be enough to impress even their most stagnant critics.
Almost every player on the team is a young player with tremendous potential. Let's take a look at some players who illustrate that most accurately.
2B Sean Rodriguez -
In the middle of the season last year the Rays and Angels
made a trade that surprised most in sending Scott Kazmir to Los Angeles. Kazmir had been the Rays ace for the previous years, and was heralded as being extremely talented. However with the Rays out of contention and Kazmir pitching poorly they decided to look to the future, at a position they needed more and from LA they took Rodriguez. Sean was possibly the Angels top prospect, a great hitting short stop with some speed. Now on the Rays he's off to a slow start, but that talent should shine through soon enough.
3B Evan Longoria - By now Longoria is a known figure amongst casual baseball fans. In his first two seasons he's averaged 30 home runs, a .357 OBP and a 130 OPS+. Not only that but many scouts and statisticians alike view him as an elite defensive third baseman. Thus far in 2010 he's on pace to do even better, and that would fit as most see him as having not tapped into his full potential yet. Evan Longoria is a true ball player, the talent's always been seen his results are no surprise, his drive is only a positive, and his skill is as good as it gets there's not much he can't do on a baseball field.
CF BJ Upton - Upton's problem has never been his talent. That's always been there, Upton oozes raw skill. His defense in center can match up with almost any, and he'll always be near the top in stolen bases, not to mention that he's got the bat to go with it. However, he's experienced some problems in attitude, effort, and luck. A combination of those three things helped make his 2009 season (where many saw a break-out) one to forget offensively. He hit just .241 with a 79 OPS+. However, he's got the skill and all the scouts see it, he's hit well before and he's hitting well now and he'll hit well again.
SP Matt Garza - After the 2008 ALCS where Garza was named series MVP many started to see the talent that had always been there. As far as wins go Garza's past two seasons can be categorized as unlucky. Most pitchers with two straight sub-4 ERA seasons would end up with at least 20 cumulative wins between the two seasons. Garza didn't. So far this year the 26 year old fireballer has gone above and beyond to earn the wins (he leads the league now) by getting a 2.17 ERA and limiting the need for the bullpen by leading the league in batters faced.
SP Wade Davis - Perhaps overshadowed when in the minors by David Price, Wade Davis never really got the publicity he deserved. However last season with Price in the majors Davis dominated and his talent was seen. Davis has all the tools to dominate even the best big league hitters, and although he's only made nine career Major League starts the results are outstanding. He averages a 3.38 ERA, and this season has a 2.65, and his average K/9 ratio is 8.3. A powerful ratio for most any starting pitcher, and this is just the beginning, Davis has hardly had a chance to flaunt his skill.
In looking at these names and then considering players like Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Pena, James Shields and David Price it can be determined that the Tampa Bay Rays are a good great baseball team. Why can't the Rays make the play-offs? Because the Red Sox broke the curse? No. Why can't the Rays win the division? Because the Yankees have money? No. If the players on the Rays perform like they can than this team matches up with any in baseball, they can go toe-to-toe in a pitching duel our punch for punch in a slugfest. They can play with the very best and that's because they are among the very best.