The best thing you could say about the Rays season thus far is little has gone as expected but yet it hasn't been half-bad. A look back:
1. Kyle Farnsworth, RHP
The simplest definition of an MVP can be this: What player would the team be worst off without? By that measure, and many others, Farnsworth is that guy. Primarily a middle reliever in his career, he stepped up and filled the closer's role better than anyone could have expected, converting a career-high 17 of 19 saves (four of four or more outs) with a 2.02 ERA and .209 opponents' average and the willingness to pitch in any situation.
2. Ben Zobrist, RF/2B
Sure, he has been streaky. His power has dropped off. There have been a few miscues in the field. He doesn't lead the team in any major category. But Zobrist has done more than any other position player, playing top-notch defense at both spots, hitting first through seventh and having quality at-bats almost every time up.
3. James Shields, RHP
The team is built for the starting pitchers to carry it. But it wasn't likely Shields, coming off a 13-15, 5.18 disappointment, would lead the way. The quality of his work offset the inconsistency of the other four and earned him a trip to the All-Star Game.
Runnersup: 1B Casey Kotchman, CF B.J. Upton
Biggest disappointment 1. Reid Brignac, SS
Of all the players taking on new roles, the one the Rays seemed least concerned about was Brignac. But he turned out to be the biggest problem, his poor offense leading to him losing the everyday job and the team's confidence. Among the 263 big-leaguers with at least 175 plate appearances through Friday, his .462 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages) is the lowest and his .194 average sixth worst.
2. John Jaso, C
Kelly Shoppach takes most of the heat — and with a .174 average he should — but at least he has been solid behind the plate. Jaso, after an impressive 2010 rookie season, has stepped back quite a bit, hitting .223 with only a .298 on-base percentage and throwing out only 7of 43 basestealers.
3. Manny Ramirez, DH
Everybody expected there to problems at some point during the season. But the Rays had to expect they would get more than one hit out of him before he was done.
Runnersup: Shoppach, 1B Dan Johnson
Most pleasant surprise 1. Casey Kotchman, 1B
Just playing every day is an accomplishment given his poor 2010 season in Seattle, being forced to take a minor-league deal and not making the Rays team out of spring training. But to be playing this well, with a .345 average to go along with his usual flawless defense, is simply stunning. In a good way.
2. Kyle Farnsworth, RHP
The Rays saw something in him, and he has showed them to be right, and everyone else.
3. Johnny Damon, DH
The Rays knew he'd bring a lot, but his offense (.279, 9 HRs, 41 RBIs) and his clubhouse leadership and presence have exceeded what they expected.
Runnersup: RHP Joel Peralta, OF Sam Fuld
Well, hello to you
It should have been some kind of sign that the season started on April Fool's Day, because the first 10 days looked like a cruel joke. Which was worse, that the Rays started 0-6, then 1-8? That their best player, 3B Evan Longoria, got hurt in the second game and missed a month? That their prime off-season acquisition, DH Manny Ramirez, up and left after a positive drug test, forcing a major reshuffling of their lineup? And yet the Rays rebounded - going 48-31 (.608) through Friday - to become just the seventh of the 78 teams (and third since 1922) to climb out of a 1-8 or worse hole and get at least 10 games over .500. They'll get to the All-Star break with the second-best record of those 78 teams:
Year Team W-L Pct.
1995 Reds 43-25 .632
2011 Rays 49-39 .557
1973 Cards 51-45 .531
1945 Red Sox 36-35 .507
1983 Astros 40-40 .500
1959 Tigers 40-40 .500
1939 Pirates 34-34 .500
No place like home
For all the complaints about the Trop, the one good thing has been how well the Rays have played there, with a 158-85 record (.656 winning pct.) from 2008-10 that matched the Red Sox for best in the majors. But this season, it's been anything but home sweet dome as they have just a .500 record under the tilted roof. The obvious issue is a significant lack of offense, but the why is a mystery as neither the change in personnel nor turf should matter this much. Consider, with rank in the majors:
W-L Rank R/PG Rank ERA Rank
Road 28-18 (1) 5.20 (2) 3.91 (16)
Home 21-21 (14) 3.26 (26) 3.27 (10)
Man, oh, Manny
Manny Ramirez got exactly one hit in the five games he played for the Rays before bailing, and they probably can't thank him enough. If Ramirez had not "retired," Sam Fuld wouldn't be a legend, Casey Kotchman wouldn't have been called up when he was, and Johnny Damon wouldn't be as productive if he were playing leftfield every day. Manny for MVP?
The dearly departed
How the big-name players who left for more money or were dealt in the offseason are doing:
• RHP Grant Balfour, A's * #
4-2, two saves, 4.21 ERA
• SS Jason Bartlett, Padres
.238, one homer, 21 RBIs
• RHP Joaquin Benoit, Tigers #
2-3, two saves, 4.28 ERA
• LHP Randy Choate, Marlins #
0-1, no saves, 0.98 ERA
• LF Carl Crawford, Red Sox *
.243, eight stolen bases, .275 on-base percentage
• RHP Matt Garza, Cubs *
4-7, 4.26 ERA
• 1B Carlos Peña, Cubs #
.221, 19 homers 48 RBIs
• RHP Rafael Soriano, Yankees *
1-1, one save, 5.40 ERA
• RHP Dan Wheeler, Red Sox * #
1-1, no saves, 5.27 ERA
* Spent time on the disabled list # Not including Saturday's game
Long on bad luck
So far, this season, 3B Evan Longoria has had a car stolen, his spring house burglarized, spent a month on the DL with a strained oblique, got so sick he missed his homecoming series in Anaheim, has been hampered by a nerve condition in his left foot, failed to make the All-Star team for the first time in his four-year career, committed six errors in 58 games and hit just .247. His season in a word? "Unlucky," he said.
• DH Johnny Damon's climb up the majors' hit list included passing the legendary Ted Williams, who was 71st at 2,654.
• 2B/RF Ben Zobrist had a team-record eight RBIs in the opener of the April 28 day-night doubleheader at Minnesota then two more in the nightcap, giving him 10 for the day and 18 for a five-game span.
• RHP James Shields had three consecutive complete game wins and six total.
• OF Sam Fuld, a New Hampshire native, had four extra-base hits and 11 total bases in his first game at Fenway Park.
• Matt Joyce led the majors in hitting for 13 days, last on June 2, the latest for a Ray.