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It can get late real early in AL East

It’s early. Keep telling yourself that. The season is still young. Remember that.

This isn’t 2008. Understand that.

But does it have to feel like 2007?

I’m not going to predict how 2009 will turn out for the Tampa Bay Rays. I’m not going to forecast doom like some. I’m not going to suggest champagne and rings like others. But I do know this: This current trend of win one, lose one, win one, lose one, win one, lose one will not get the Rays to the postseason.

It’s early, yes. But it can get late awfully fast in the American League East. Get buried in this division and the offseason starts the first Monday in October.

Here come the Boston Red Sox to Tropicana Field for a four-game series that begins tonight. The Red Sox just rolled off 11 straight wins.

The last time we saw the Red Sox at the Trop, Akinori Iwamura stomped on second base for the final out of American League Championship Series. Remember that? The Red Sox do.

Not that all of 2009 hinges on these next four games. But it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Rays of this year to remind us a little of the Rays of last year.

It looked as if that were possible earlier this week. The Rays kicked the Minnesota Twins around a little bit on Monday and won. They battled back Tuesday, showing more fight than they had in any of their first 12 losses.

The Rays fell behind early and came back. They fell behind again and came back. Someone came off the bench to deliver a big ninth-inning hit — a home run by pinch-hitter Ben Zobrist off Twins closer Joe Nathan. Then with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth, manager Joe Maddon moved Zobrist from right field to behind second base, giving the Rays five infielders. J.P. Howell got the double-play ground ball he needed. Shades of last year. But Aki bobbled it and couldn’t turn the double play. Twins 4, Rays 3.

That didn’t happen last year. Last year the moves paid off.

This isn’t last year.

It’s early, yes, but it’s time for B.J. Upton to start hitting and for Andy Sonnanstine to start winning.

It’s time for Dioner Navarro to play like the All-Star he was during the first half of 2008.

It’s time for Pat Burrell to get going and for Matt Garza to keep his team in a game and for one of the Gabes to do something to justify Zobrist not playing every day.

Or it’s time to put Zobrist in right field every day.

The Rays could use a little umph from the bench. Why do they have to get to the Z’s to find someone who can deliver in a pinch?

A bad start won’t necessarily sink this season. But the Red Sox are playing well, and the Toronto Blue Jays look tough. What happens to the New York Yankees when Alex Rodriguez returns?

It’s early, yes, but the Rays need to string together wins, start winning series.

It doesn’t stay early for long in the AL East. Keep saying it’s early, that there is still plenty of baseball left, and before you know it, it’s too late.

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