For all you casual Rays fans, and for those of you who witnessed the early part of this season and figured last year's World Series run was a fluke, it's time to start paying attention again.
The Rays beat the Toronto Blue Jays last night 4-1, and now have a season-long seven-game winning streak.
After hovering around .500 for several weeks, the St. Pete club has busted out to a record of 44-35, nine games over for the first time this year.
The Rays are four games behind AL East-leading Boston and a game-and-half behind second-place New York, which currently holds the wildcard playoff spot. Their record is better than Al Central-leading Detroit (43-34) and AL West-leading Los Angeles (42-33). (Yes, it's early with only 79 of 162 games played but I tell you this just to reinforce the idea that the Ray are back in the hunt.
Third baseman Evan Longoria, who's been hobbled with a hamstring injury in recent weeks, was voted by the fans to start in the All-Star Game. Left fielder Carl Crawford is having a career year, and should be chosen to the team, as should shortstop Jason Bartlett. Utility man Ben Zobrist and relief pitcher J.P. Howell have drawn serious consideration, but Joe Maddon, who will manage the American League in the All-Star Game, may find it all but impossible to place either one on the squad.