SS Yunel Escobar added the most value to the Rays. He was a true stabilizing force in the middle of the infield, disproving a reputation for selfishness and laziness with a legitimate Gold Glove performance, making the routine plays regularly and dazzling plays routinely. After a brutal first three weeks (.089), he has hit a solid .272 with some power, giving the Rays the uncommon two-way threat at that position. And he gets a lot of credit from coaches and teammates for the energy he brings to the dugout and field.
Rookie RF Wil Myers' value is evident in the numbers, as the Rays have won more frequently since he came up in mid June (.587 winning pct.) than they did before (.522). Since his arrival, he leads the team with 52 RBIs, 48 runs, 21 doubles and a .476 slugging percentage, and is second with 96 hits, 13 homers and a .293 average.
2B Ben Zobrist's value can be as much intangible as obvious. Not only does he lead the team in hits and on-base percentage and rank near the top in several other categories, his ability and willingness to play any role and position (starting at second base, leftfield and shortstop in a four-day period) with max effort and no qualms is worth quite a bit.
But in what has been somewhat of an odd and inconsistent season for the team overall, the choice for the most valuable Ray has to come back to 3B Evan Longoria.
He has admittedly had a frustratingly inconsistent offensive season, striking out more than ever and going through several extended skids, but he leads the team in homers and RBIs. Though he has had a few costly mistakes (two Friday), his defense has overall been tremendous. And, though it might seem forced at times, he has evolved into the team leader role who adds value to those inside and outside the clubhouse.
Runnersup: 2. Escobar, 3. Zobrist.
Most pleasant surprise
For a guy who started as the No. 4 starter, RHP Alex Cobb has had a pretty tremendous season, especially considering the trauma he went through. For a guy who wasn't in the plans at the end of spring training and opened the season at Triple A, LHP Alex Torres has become a force out of the bullpen. For a guy whose callup wasn't certain until an early June hot streak at Triple A, Myers has had more of an impact than could have been expected. And for a guy who came with such a questionable reputation, Escobar, by all accounts, has been nothing but a positive influence.
But for a guy whom the Rays weren't really sure what to expect from, 1B James Loney has to be the most pleasant surprise. They assumed he would play strong defense, but he has been better than expected. They heard he was quiet but now say he plays with an intense, sometimes fiery, approach. And they had the same questions about his offense and are more than pleased with the run production (74 RBIs), power (13 homers), average (.301, including an MLB-best .357 on the road) and consistency (44 multihit games, 14 3-hit games).
Runnersup: 2. Torres, 3. Escobar.
For a team battling to the last weekend for a playoff spot, there are a surprising number of candidates. Though the dropoff from his AL Cy Young season has been immense, it's hard to label LHP David Price the most disappointing since, a) he was injured, and b) his return sparked the run that put the Rays in this position. RHP Jeremy Hellickson is on the list, given how he took a step back (5.17 ERA) at a time when the club needed him to step up. So, too, is DH Luke Scott, though some would argue that realistic expectations should not have been too high anyway. The same, in a way, could apply to RHP Roberto Hernandez, who turned out to be a bad choice as the first free agent starter this Rays administration brought in. CF Desmond Jennings didn't do as well at the plate or in the field as expected.
But the most disappointing player has to be OF Matt Joyce, who has all but disappeared for several stretches, including an .094 September. His extended slumps and lack of consistency at the plate (and defensive lapses) led the Rays to acquire David DeJesus. Rather than assert himself as an everyday player (at least against right-handers), Joyce has raised questions about his future in any lineup.
Runnersup: 2. Hellickson, 3. Price.
Determined to loosen up one of the more serious teams they've had, manager Joe Maddon went beyond the usual dress-up theme, taking the team out for a party at a Long Beach, Calif., sports bar and bringing entertainment into the clubhouse, including a DJ, magician, cockatoo, Latin band, a pair of penguins — and a 20-foot snake.
Of time and temperature
The Rays had seven games delayed, mainly due to rain, for nearly 15 hours. One in Cleveland was delayed three times for a total of 4:49 and ended at 3 a.m. … A franchise-record 18-inning home game ended at 2:05 a.m. … The Rays started an April 10 game with a first-pitch temp of 39 degrees in, of all places, Arlington, Texas. … On May 2, they started with a temp of 41 and a feels-like of 32, then got through only 3½ innings due to Kansas City's first measurable May snowfall since 1907. When they went back to finish on Aug. 26, it was 52 degrees warmer.
Among words manager Joe Maddon dropped into interviews this season: ball-peened, brachycardia, epiphanic, machismo, over-boogie, poisontry, preppyism, vociferous, zenith. Also, Godspell — as an adjective to describe the day-by-day status of an injury.
It's not just a game
There were two horrifically scary scenes five weeks apart at the Trop as Jays LHP J.A. Happ and Rays RHP Alex Cobb were struck in the head by line drives, though both have since returned to pitch. … The Rays were heading out of Fenway Park when the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish line 1½ miles away.
• OF Sam Fuld pitched in a game, a September game no less, hitting 87 mph in getting the final out of an 11-2 blowout loss to the Angels, the third position player in Rays history to do so.
• The Rays played — and lost — three games to three different teams in three consecutive days. (Home to Yankees, at Royals for a makeup, home to Angels.)
• The 2013 Rays became the second team in major-league history to win 90 games and finish last in attendance. The other? The 2012 Rays.
3 No. 1 overall draft picks currently on roster (INF Tim Beckham, 2008; LHP David Price, 2007; OF/DH Delmon Young, 2003).
11 Players who had walkoff hits, including Jose Lobaton twice in three days, for a team-record-tying 13 last-pitch wins.
13 Games lost in which they blew a lead in the seventh inning or later.
17 Team-record shutouts by Rays pitchers this season.
18 Consecutive at-bats with the bases loaded in which the Rays were hitless.
62 Total errors by the team, on pace to break Seattle's MLB record of 65. (Orioles have 53.)