Saturday, January 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' MVP not an easy choice

ST. PETERSBURG

In the most thrilling of stories, it is usually easy to figure out the hero.

That's how it goes. The better the tale, the easier it is to find the star. You just follow the theme music.

Why, he's the guy playing Braveheart, leading the charge down the hill. He's the guy in the Batman mask, unleashing his wonderful toys. In Arabia, he's Lawrence, gliding across the sand dunes. He's the guy with the clever lines, the guy fighting the main villain, the guy who ends up with the prettiest girl.

In the ensemble cast of these Tampa Bay Rays, however, it is a little more difficult to figure out who the lead actor has been.

Evan Longoria?

David Price?

Yunel Escobar?

This is how the year has gone for the Rays. They have had a lot of players with very good seasons, but none with a monster year like Miguel Cabrera or Chris Davis or Mike Trout. As such, they have a lot of players who could be considered the team MVP, an award voted on by the media that will be presented tonight.

James Loney?

Matt Moore?

Ben Zobrist?

Oh, if you want to be a stickler about it, none of the above looked particularly MVP-ish in Thursday night's 8-2 loss to Texas. Moore was knocked out after the fourth inning. Escobar made an error. The hitters didn't do a lot of damage, which is a concern if the Rays meet the Rangers in a one-game playoff and Yu Darvish is on the mound.

On most nights, you could make a decent argument for all of them. It is mid September, and the Rays are still in the chase. Somebody has to be doing something right. In this case, a lot of somebodies.

"It's hard for me to name just one name," manager Joe Maddon said. "You kind of have to parcel it out. If you're looking for our defensive MVP, it's Yunel Escobar. If you're looking for offense, it's Evan Longoria. If you're looking for a pitcher, you could make a case for Matt Moore. Or for David Price.

"It's almost like you have MVPs for all of these different components. You don't have one guy who dominated in all of them."

So who gets the vote?

Start with Longoria. He has been so good for so long around here that it seems as if Longo wins this award every year. The truth is, he has never won it before. Longoria is the Rays' biggest power threat, and he has driven in the lead run or the tying run 24 times. Longoria admits that he has been inconsistent offensively, but in the field, he seems to make an impossible play at third every night.

How about Loney, who only dipped below .300 this week? He has a dozen three-hit games this season. He's among the league leaders in average, on-base percentage and slugging.

Then there is Zobrist, the former utility player who seems to have found a home at second base. Zobrist has hit .271 and is tied with Longoria with 24 tying or go-ahead hits.

Moore? He has won 15 times, and opponents are hitting only .210 against him. With one more win, he joins James Shields and Price as the only Rays pitchers to record 16 or more wins in a season.

Price? He has hit a skid lately, losing three straight decisions. But it was his energy as he came off the disabled list that sparked this club. For his role as mentor, Price deserves consideration.

Escobar? Despite shaky reviews as he joined the team, Escobar has been terrific. His little bouts of gamesmanship — his jump shot after making plays, his quirks as he approaches the plate to bat — are regarded as bursts of joy by Maddon. Before, managers always seemed a little suspicious of Escobar. The result is Escobar has flourished under Maddon's gentle hand.

Who is it? Outfielder Matt Joyce says it's Longoria. So, too, does designated hitter Luke Scott.

"It's close," Scott said. "But he has the best offensive numbers, and he's played a Gold Glove third base."

"There are plenty of guys who have been a huge factor in us having a successful season," Joyce said. "You could say a lot of guys are our MVPs. But seeing Longo make ridiculous plays on a daily basis at third, it's really remarkable. You kind of take it for granted."

Longoria sees it differently. He votes, in order, for Escobar, Loney and Price.

"It's a really tough vote," Longoria said. "And that's a good thing. It speaks to the power of the team. We have a lot of cogs moving the same direction.

"If I had to sit down and think about it, I want to say that Yunel has been our most valuable player because of the impact he's had on us, the stability he's brought to our offense and our defense. Loney is a very close second. You could interchange those two guys. And David deserves a vote. He was hurt for a bit of the year, but the impact he has on the guys is big. He's able to mentor and to teach."

Personally? I voted for Zobrist. After all, he leads the team with a .353 on-base percentage. He's third in batting average at .271. He's third in RBIs with 67. He has only five errors all year.

Yeah, it could be Zobrist.

Or Longoria. Or Escobar. Or Loney. Or Price. Or Moore.

Then again, if Wil Myers had just played another 60 games or so ...

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