1. Akinori Iwamura, 2b
2. B.J. Upton, cf
3. Carlos Pena, 1b
4. Evan Longoria, 3b
5. Carl Crawford, lf
6. Pat Burrell, dh
7. Matt Joyce, rf
8. Dioner Navarro, c
9. Jason Bartlett, ss
Not bad. Not great, but not bad. Where do I get off on saying 'not great'? Easy, two through six that's a great lineup, there are plenty of question marks at the leadoff spot and seven through nine. Iwamura, Joyce, Navarro and Bartlett is not a modern day murderers row by any stretch of the imagination. In regards the 'studs' like Upton, Pena and Longoria, they will not be able to sneak up on anyone in '09 and teams will take greater care charting them and will have had a whole offseason to look for any potential hole in their swings.
Look, the sophomore slump is a genuine phenomenon. My questions to those who want to scrap the '09 regular season and throw Tampa right into the playoffs would be;
- Tampa struggled to score runs in the '08 regular season, is Pat 'the bat' going to make that much of a difference?
- Can Tampa's bullpen come back as strong in '09?
- Will Scott Kazmir's arm fall off for once and for all?
- Is it fair to expect David Price to beat all comers in his rookie season based on a few high octane playoff outings?
- If teams adjust to Tampa's stars and the sophomore slump hits the Rays, what's left to trade for help, or can they spend any money in free agency?
There's no doubt the Rays had a fabulous '08, the thing is, '09 is going to throw a whole new host of challenged their way. My point is, maybe we should all let them play a few games before we anoint them the best team in the AL East.