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Rays Tales: Tampa Bay Rays year in review

The 2010 season will be defined, ultimately and absolutely, by what the Rays still have to do, starting Wednesday at Minnesota or at home against Texas. Today, we'll take a bit of a look back at what they did — and on three occasions what they didn't do — to get to this point:

Most Valuable Ray

3B Evan Longoria, at just 24, in only his third season, already has a reputation as being the guy. He has the look. And, because he's searching for that dang cap in the one TV spot, and he's Beyond Baseball in another, and he's in this magazine or on the cover of that one, he's known nationally as the Ray.

When the 28 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (two in each AL city) cast their MVP ballots tonight and the winner is announced in November, there's a good chance Longoria will have the most votes of any Ray and potentially their first finish in the top seven.

Longoria, obviously, has good numbers — .294, 22 homers, 104 RBIs, 46 doubles. And the Rays' poor play during his injury absence over the past week highlights — glaringly, perhaps — his importance to the lineup every day.

But he's not the MVP of this team.

(And, for what it's worth, in voting by 12 Tampa Bay BBWAA members, he finished fourth, without a single first-place ballot.)

That honor, as odd as it sounds, goes to a player who participated in less than 5 percent of the action.

If the team's ultimate goal is to win games, then the MVP should be the player who most helps accomplish that.

And on this Rays team, in this season, that player is closer Rafael Soriano.

He has the most impact on the team's overall success of any one player, and he has been the biggest difference in this year's team from last year's.

Yes, he pitched just 60-some innings. He has saved "only" 44 of their 94 wins. And they would have found somebody else to get some of the work done.

But if you disagree, ask yourself this valuable question: Where would the Rays be without Soriano?

Runnersup: 2. LF Carl Crawford (who had his best overall season), 3. Longoria, 4. LHP David Price, 5. RHP Joaquin Benoit

Most pleasant surprises

It's convenient when an off-the-radar acquisition works out for team execs to play coy and say they didn't know what to expect and, by golly, didn't it turn out well as they pat themselves on the back.

But in the case of RH reliever Joaquin Benoit, the Rays deserve all praise. And so does he.

Benoit missed all of 2009 recovering from shoulder surgery, wasn't particularly impressive in some winter workouts and wouldn't be ready to start the season.

But the Rays saw enough to take a (low-priced) chance, and Benoit took advantage, turning in what is actually a historic performance, with the third-lowest average of baserunners per nine innings (6.02) of any reliever ever.

Runnersup: 2. C John Jaso (who wasn't supposed to be in the majors, much less playing regularly and hitting leadoff), 3. INF Sean Rodriguez, 4. LHP David Price (to be this good), 5. INF Reid Brignac

Biggest disappointments

It's actually pretty amazing that the Rays won as much as they did given how many players are worthy of mention and discussion in this category.

Do you start on the mound, where James Shields went from opening day starter to postseason question mark over the course of one miserable season?

Look at Ben Zobrist, whose statistical decline was staggering:

Last year.297 27 HRs 91 RBIs .948 OPS

This year.241 1075.706?

Or Jason Bartlett, who similarly went from:

Last year .32014 66.879

This year .254 4 47.674?

Carlos Peña, who cost the team with his ongoing offensive struggles and himself millions, if not tens of millions, that he now won't get in free agency?

B.J. Upton? Kelly Shoppach? Dioner Navarro? Pat Burrell?

Based on expectations compared to performance, Zobrist is the choice. But it's a very tough call, which says something.

Runnersup: 2. Peña, 3. Shields, 4. Bartlett, 5. Shoppach

No, No, No

• When the Rays were on the wrong end of Mark Buehrle's July 2009 perfect game, they shrugged it off as a random occurrence.

Then it happened again this May, when Dallas Braden threw a perfect game at them. And again in June, when ex-mate Edwin Jackson threw a no-hitter.

And that made the Rays part of major-league history: the only team to be no-hit three times in a one-year span.

They also became just the 10th team to be no-hit twice in the same season.

• Then in July, they saw it from the other side as Matt Garza threw their first-ever no-hitter, against the Tigers.

That made the Rays the third team in MLB history to be involved in three no-nos in the same season. The other two, amazingly, did it to each other in the 1917 season — two by the St. Louis Browns, one by the Chicago White Sox.

They also were the first team to be on both sides of a no-hitter in the same season since 1991, when the Expos, Orioles and White Sox were.

Crowd control

Attendance has been such a popular topic of conversation, it seems there are more people talking about going to the games than actually are.

For whatever reasons (and, trust us, we know there are plenty), the numbers tell a simple story: The Rays had a better season this year and drew fewer fans:

Total Avg. MLB rank MLB Avg.

2010 1,864,999 23,025 22 30,075

2009 1,874,962 23,148 23 30,351

2008 1,811,982 22,370 26 32,528

2007 1,387,603 17,130 29 32,785

Statistical contradiction of the year

The Rays are in line to break two offensive team records — for most runs scored (803, 2009) and for lowest batting average (.253, 2002).

Worth noting …

Joe Maddon got his career record to .500 twice this season, and for the third time overall, and the Rays lost the next game all three times.

Rocco Baldelli made a comeback and homered on his first swing, which made it two straight since his last swing as a Ray was a homer in the 2008 World Series.

Jason Bartlett ended a streak of 21 solo homers (second longest in MLB history) with a three-run shot June 30 at Boston.

John Jaso is the third catcher in MLB history to lead off 40-plus times in a season and the first rookie to do it at all since 1976 (Bruce Kimm, Detroit).

Sean Rodriguez started at seven positions, joining Ben Zobrist (2009) as the only players to do so since 2001 (Denny Hocking, Twins).

Reid Brignac's 11th-inning homer Sept. 13 vs. the Yankees gave the Rays their first 1-0 extra-inning win and first 1-0 walkoff win in franchise history.

Rays Tales: Tampa Bay Rays year in review 10/02/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 2, 2010 9:38pm]

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