Tampa Bay GM says hot Rays can do better

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Tampa Bay Rays have baseball's best record but have yet to play to their potential because of some sleepy bats, general manager Andrew Friedman said Monday.

The Rays have sparkled in the early going with a 26-11 record and a two-game lead in the A.L. East over the New York Yankees.

"I don't think we've played our best baseball yet," Friedman said in an interview with ESPN radio.

"Offensively, we're a much better team than we've played to date. A lot of guys have been underperforming their baseline and we're confident we'll get going."

Despite the slow starts by regulars such as shortstop Jason Bartlett (.236), center fielder B.J. Upton (.225) and first baseman Carlos Pena (.180), the Rays are thriving thanks to their starting pitchers.

"Our starting pitching has been nothing short of phenomenal," said Friedman.

The Yankees will see first-hand how they match up when they host the Rays for a two-game series starting Wednesday.

A long-term worry for rivals is that Tampa Bays' rotation of James Shields (4-1), Matt Garza (5-1), David Price (5-1), Jeff Niemann (3-0) and Wade Davis (3-3) all range in age between 24 and 28.

Rookie Davis has the highest earned run average of the group at a still enviable 3.38.

"The one thing we're very confident in is that there are not five starters in baseball that will outwork our five guys," the general manager said.

Tampa Bay, a small-budget team that went all the way to the World Series two years ago, has developed a young, talented team that appears to be coming of age.

But with disappointing crowds turning out to the indoor Tropicana Field, Friedman admitted he might not be able to make the same sort of midseason acquisitions to fix problems as big-spending teams like the Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

"It will come down to acquisition costs," he said. "We can't forget that we're a small revenue team yet we also understand where we are right now.

"We'll approach it as aggressively as we can."

(Writing by Larry Fine, Editing by Steve Ginsburg;)