What the Rays hope to be playing for over the next six weeks is the chance, as manager Joe Maddon likes to say, to play the last game of the season, and — this time — win it. But over the final week of the regular season, they have a few other things to play for:
The Rays could win more games than any team in the majors but not win any of the major postseason awards. Their best and probably only shot, albeit long, is for David Price to swoop in and take the AL Cy Young Award, though realistically he's probably running third behind Seattle's Felix Hernandez and CC Sabathia, and he's likely to make only one more regular-season start.
"Absolutely, I would love to win it," Price said. "That's an honor to be considered with those names for an award as big as that one. There's a couple of us that deserve it, so we'll have to see how it goes."
The debate has been particularly interesting this season because each of the three perceived "finalists" has a different case.
Sabathia has the most basic: the most wins, 20. Hernandez has the best other numbers, leading the league in ERA, innings, strikeouts and quality starts while allowing the lowest average of the three, and doing the most with the least help, given by far the least run support (justifying, to his supporters, the low wins total). Price is in the middle, the only of the three to rank among the league's best in wins and ERA, and has done so against the toughest schedule.
Cy-zing up the field
Key: QS — quality starts, RS — run support, DD — percent of starts vs. teams .500 or better.
The highest finish by a Ray has been ninth — Carlos Peña in 2007 and '08, Ben Zobrist last season — and that should be surpassed this year. The question, though, is by which Ray? Evan Longoria, above, gets most of the national attention (and thus probably more of the votes, which are cast by two Baseball Writers Association of America members in each league city), but the case can be made that Carl Crawford has had the better season and that Rafael Soriano the most significant impact. None of the three has a chance to win, with Texas' Josh Hamilton, New York's Robinson Cano and Detroit's Miguel Cabrera the perceived favorites.
Rookie of the year
The Rays have three deserving of consideration — RHP Wade Davis (AL rookie-high 12 wins), C John Jaso and INF Reid Brignac — but none worthy of winning. Texas closer Neftali Feliz, above, and Detroit OF Austin Jackson are the frontrunners.
Carl Crawford, simply put, has to finally win one, or the system of having coaches and managers vote has to be examined. Evan Longoria is in line for his second.
Manager of the year
Joe Maddon — despite what you hear and read in some places — has done another good job. But either Minnesota's Ron Gardenhire, left, who has never won the award despite all the success, or Texas' Ron Washington, right, is going to honored for doing better.
David Price has broken the team record for wins, Rafael Soriano for saves and Randy Choate for appearances (plus Ben Zobrist for sac flies), while James Shields has become the franchise leader in wins (and starts, innings pitched and losses), Carlos Peña the top home run hitter and Joe Maddon the most ejected manager (plus Willy Aybar the top pinch-hitter). A few other season records are in sight:
Runs: Carl Crawford on Saturday tied his own mark of 104.
Doubles: Evan Longoria is one shy of Aubrey Huff's record 47.
Sac bunts: Jason Bartlett is one shy of Felix Martinez's record 12.
ERA: Price is set to eclipse Scott Kazmir's mark of 3.24.
Strikeouts: B.J. Upton and Peña are 14 shy of the Peña's record 166.
Homers allowed: Shields is tied with Tanyon Sturtze at 33.
Whether with the Rays or — more likely — elsewhere, there are at least a half-dozen potential free agents playing for their next contracts.
Most speculation has focused on Carl Crawford, who will be among the top two or three players hitting the market — along with Rangers LHP Cliff Lee and Phillies OF Jayson Werth — and headed for a payday in excess of $100 million. Next most sought after will be Rafael Soriano, who seems in line to get $30 million or so over three years, or maybe $40 million-plus over four.
Most interesting will be Carlos Peña, whose poor season has put a serious dent in his demands.
The line of other potential free agents starts in the bullpen with Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate and Chad Qualls. Plus Dan Wheeler, unless the Rays pick up a $4 million option. Others include OFs Rocco Baldelli, Brad Hawpe and Gabe Kapler.
The tarps are expected to remain in place for opening round playoff games, limiting capacity to 36,973. … The plaid BRaysers will be worn to Kansas City. … Best guess is that the 2011 payroll starts with an "F" — but unknown is whether it will be closer to $40 million or $59 million. … Ben Zobrist's new at-bat music is a new song by his wife, Julianna, Only You, from an upcoming album. … The customized 2011 Harley Davidson Fat Boy motorcycle the Rays gave Matt Garza — for display purposes only — cost in excess of $16,500. … The Rays continue to look at installing a new AstroTurf for next season with blades that stand up like natural grass. … On ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, Tony Kornheiser talked of "the 450 Rays fans that exist." … A video of Trop "sensation" DJ Kitty has gotten more than 475,000 views on youtube.com, and some criticism, including the Wall Street Journal.
Got a minute? Dioner Navarro
Beat meal you can make? Arepas (a cornmeal cake with filling). It's the only thing I know how to make.
Time killer at the mall? Apple, or Dick's Sporting Goods.
Karaoke song if you had to? I can't choose one. I could sing anything — I don't know how I'd do — but there's got to be alcohol involved.
Late-night TV? George Lopez.
With your wife Sherley's permission, dream date? Shakira.