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Tampa Bay Rays can't read too much into great April

As exciting, rewarding, confidence-boosting and crowds-drawing (oops, skip that one) as the Rays' April was, it was just April.

Sure, the 17 wins count, but leading the AL East on April 30 won't mean anything if they're not still there at the end.

Historically, leading at the end of April means they've pretty much got half a chance to still be there come October.

During the 14 full seasons of three-division play, the team leading (or co-leading) the AL East on April 30 won the division eight times — though only three in the past nine seasons.

(More interesting, only one team in that span that was six or more games out of first on April 30, as the Red Sox were, came back to win the East: the 2005 Yankees, who were 6½ down and tied Boston. Only one other, the 2007 Yankees, made it back to be a wild card.)

Looking at the entire AL since 1996, of the 42 division races, the April 30 leader won 25 times. (And 23 in the NL.) Again, slightly more than half a chance.

Certainly, there were some positives for the Rays. The offense led the majors in scoring, and without much from No. 3 hitter Ben Zobrist (0 HRs, 10 RBIs). B.J. Upton and Pat Burrell (on a pace for 92 RBIs) showed signs of resurgence. Carl Crawford appears much more on-a-mission focused than distracted by pending free agency.

The starting pitching has been tremendous, though keeping up their AL-most 6.39 innings per start (6.62 without Jeff Niemann's 11/3-inning abbreviated outing) will be a test of their youth and durability. As well as their philosophy of having the starters go deep to mask the vulnerability of the bullpen, which will be an ongoing story line until, and maybe after, J.P. Howell's expected late-May return.

There have been some disappointments thus far (Zobrist, Dioner Navarro, Sean Rodriguez) but also some pleasant surprises (John Jaso for sure; Reid Brignac, Wade Davis, too).

For one month, for 14 percent of their schedule, for the equivalent of being in the second quarter of Game 3 of the Bucs season, the Rays should take it for what it is, a good start. And better than the alternative.

Tampa Bay Rays can't read too much into great April 05/01/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 1, 2010 11:01pm]

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