Obviously, it's still early, but the Rays are more than one-fourth through their schedule, with some surprising results. If they were to keep up the same pace, here's how things would look at season's end:
Troy Percival saves41
Andy Sonnanstine victories23
Carlos Pena home runs34
Carlos Pena strikeouts192
Carl Crawford runs scored121
B.J. Upton RBIs 98
James Shields shutouts8
Dioner Navarro average.373
Dan Wheeler runs allowed15And if the whole AL stayed on the same pace, here's how things would look on Sept. 28:
AL East standings
AL playoff pairings
• Rays/Red Sox vs. White Sox
• Angels vs. Rays/Red Sox*
* Tiebreaker would determine AL wild card
Got a minute?Edwin Jackson
Band you'd like to be on stage with?Anthony Hamilton or Wyclef — they jam when they're on stage.
Best meal you can make?Steaks. I like frying steaks, putting them on the skillet. And any kind of vegetables with them.
Must-see TV?The First 48.
Skill you have people don't know about?I don't know. (Cliff Floyd says, "He can rap. Trust me.") I can't rap. I guess you could put playing the drums.
Dream date?I've always been a big Alicia Keys fan.
After the latest deal with Scott Kazmir, the Rays have the chance — as promised — to keep their core together for a long time. A look at the key players and how long they are under Rays control, some through team options:
Cliff Floyd DH
Troy Percival RHP
Trever Miller LHP
Dan Wheeler RHP
Dioner Navarro C
Jason Bartlett SS
Edwin Jackson RHP
Scott Kazmir LHP
B.J. Upton CF
Matt Garza RHP
Andy Sonnanstine RHP
James Shields RHP
Evan Longoria 3B
Most (Improbably) Valuable
Manager Joe Maddon said last week the co-MVPs of the first fourth of the season were reliever J.P. Howell and shortstop Jason Bartlett. As improbable as that sounded, we asked around the clubhouse and found that Maddon wasn't the only one thinking that way. That said, here are five names we heard:
SS Jason Bartlett: It seems odd to be talking like this about a guy with a .264 average and a team-high five errors, but if not for his individual play, he is in the conversation for personifying the vastly improved defense.
RF Eric Hinske: His bat has cooled and his playing time cut a bit, but his big April (six homers) made a big difference since most of the other bats were quiet. He still leads the team in extra-base hits.
LHP J.P. Howell: He is in theory a middle reliever, but his contributions have been much more significant. By working three-inning stints six times, he not only has picked up three wins and a save but saved the rest of the bullpen that night, and the next.
RHP Troy Percival: The two blown saves didn't hurt nearly as much since the Rays came back to win both games, and the ease in which he converted the other 11 meant a lot to a team that last year treated every close game as an adventure.
RHP James Shields: Andy Sonnanstine has more wins, but what Shields did in shutting out the Red Sox, and the way he rebounded from his Boston massacre to blank the Angels, is evidence of his nickname, Big Game James.
PTI host Tony Kornheiser picked the Rays to win fewer than 81 and said: "I can't name the manager and I can't name any of the players." … Not much downside for Scott Kazmir in his long-term deal — he banks nearly $40-million and can hit the free-agent market at 28. … In a WFAN radio interview, principal owner Stuart Sternberg said the payroll will go up "the next 2-3 years as well," attendance at the Disney games was "disappointing, no question" and in his mind "the Red Sox are now the No. 1 enemy." … ESPN.com's Rob Neyer says B.J. Upton is "probably not as good as his little brother" (Justin) but he's "guessing" the Rays have a long-term deal done by the All-Star break. … Kazmir said "I will be" a salesman to try to get Upton signed. … There were an awful lot of scouts watching Edwin Jackson's last start. … ESPN's Buster Olney writes that "in the last year, Rays general manager Andrew Friedman and the Tampa Bay baseball operations staff has pitched the front office version of a perfect game." … Monday's crowd of 13,932 was the second smallest of 88 Yankees games at the Trop. … The Rays were No. 3 in SI.com's latest power rankings. … Guessing this headline hadn't appeared in the New York Times before last week: Rays Provide Yanks Glimpse of What Could Be.