TORONTO — There's no question about how much LF Carl Crawford has meant to the Rays' success this season.
But here are two questions worth considering:
Is this going to be Crawford's best season?
Should he be considered for the AL MVP award?
Crawford has been sizzling of late, and overall he is hitting .304 with 30 doubles, 10 triples, 15 homers, 75 RBIs and 42 stolen bases. He's second in the league with 98 runs and fourth with a .364 average with runners in scoring position. And he has been as good or better than ever in leftfield.
"I definitely hope this is my best season," Crawford said. "I'm not going to lie about it, I'm trying my best to play as well as I can. … I try my best every year, but for some reason it's been a little bit better this year."
Cynics would say there are 100 million reasons, as Crawford, 29, is headed into free agency as one of the top players on the market, and he doesn't deny the impact of it being in a contract year. And playing on a team competing for a championship has helped, too.
"I'd say they're right about both of those things," Crawford said. "And the fact that I understand things a little better, I'm learning the game a little bit more."
3B Evan Longoria (.293, 21 homers, 96 RBIs) is considered the Rays' most likely candidate to get MVP votes, but Crawford could make it interesting if he finishes strong.
"I've been around (Crawford) for a while now, and I've seen him play well," teammate B.J. Upton said. "But I've never seen anything like this year.''
SIX-PACK SHIELDS: As much as he'd like to, RHP James Shields can't really forget his last start in Toronto when he takes the Rogers Centre mound tonight.
Not since he made history, tying the modern-day major-league record by allowing six homers Aug. 7.
"Hopefully I'll definitely do better than my last outing," Shields said.
Shields has some ugly numbers. His 30 homers are most in the AL, his 204 hits second, his 4.92 ERA is the highest of the 24 pitchers with at least 170 innings and his 12 losses match his career high. But he remains convinced he is pitching well enough to win.
"I feel pretty confident right now," he said.
MINOR MATTERS: Class A Charlotte was to play the third and decisive game of its opening-round Florida State League playoff series against Bradenton (Pirates) in Port Charlotte. The winner advances to face host Tampa (Yankees) tonight in the best-of-five championship series. … Triple-A Durham pulled even with a 6-2 win over Louisville after losing Wednesday's opener in the best-of-five first-round International League playoff series. Game 3 is tonight in Durham.
MISCELLANY: RHP Jeremy Hellickson was named minor-league pitcher of the year by the Sporting News. … Montgomery RHP Matt Gorgen, a Southern League All-Star with 22 saves and a 1.65 ERA, was sent to Arizona as the player to named to complete the trade for RHP Chad Qualls.