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Rays’ most valuable? Come back, McClanahan

Tales | Biggest disappointments, most pleasant surprise and other notables.
There's no doubt Shane McClanahan enjoyed a better first half to the season, but even with the second-half struggles, who else would be the team MVP?
There's no doubt Shane McClanahan enjoyed a better first half to the season, but even with the second-half struggles, who else would be the team MVP? [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Oct. 1

HOUSTON — When Tampa Bay members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted on their award winners, announced Sept. 24 during the final homestand, it raised the possibility that performances over the final two weeks might alter how their choices could look retrospectively.

Specifically in the MVP race.

Shane McClanahan was the writers’ choice, somewhat overwhelmingly, based primarily on his outstanding first three months.

He went 10-3 with a majors-best 1.71 ERA and 147 strikeouts over 18 starts and 110 2/3 innings (with 12 homers and 19 walks), stepping up when others were sidelined to lead the staff, and he earned the All-Star Game start.

Then he went 2-4, 4.26 in his next nine (entering Saturday’s game against the Astros), striking out only 45 over 50 2/3 innings (with seven homers and 18 walks). That he was sidelined for two-plus weeks with a shoulder issue and left another start with a neck issue hasn’t helped his case.

But it’s not like there is increased competition.

Infielder Yandy Diaz, the next-best choice as their only hitter with a plus-.800 OPS, returned to the lineup Friday for the first time since Sept. 19, limited to one pinch-hit appearance in nine games due to a sore left shoulder.

And outfielder Randy Arozarena, while cobbling together one of the most productive seasons in team history with 20 homers, 41 doubles and 32 steals (through Friday), disappeared again, with an 0-for-15 stretch that included nine strikeouts until an RBI triple Friday.

Going by baseball-reference.com WAR, next in line after McClanahan (3.9) was reliever-turned-starter Jeffrey Springs (3.6). All of which means McClanahan is still most valuable.

Most disappointing (injury division)

Brandon Lowe couldn't stay off the injured list this season.
Brandon Lowe couldn't stay off the injured list this season. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

In a season in which 30 players served 41 stints on the injured list and, per Spotrac (through Friday), missed 2,253 days, there is a painfully long list of candidates. That includes high-leverage relievers Nick Anderson, JP Feyereisen and Andrew Kittredge; promising starters Shane Baz and Luis Patino; and impact position players Wander Franco, Brandon Lowe, Kevin Kiermaier and Mike Zunino.

Given that Franco has finally returned to form, Lowe — who served three injured list stints and hit only .221 with eight homers in 65 games — is the most disappointing.

Most disappointing (non-injury division)

Josh Lowe was given two opportunities to prove his bosses right in thinking he was ready to contribute regularly at the big-league level, and failed both times. He hit .221 with two homers, 13 RBIs and a .627 OPS in 52 games with the Rays, but .315-14-67-.958 in 80 games back at Triple-A. But at least he had the excuse of being a rookie.

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Ji-Man Choi, who is counted on as a key part of the lineup, followed up an okay first half with a miserable second in which he lost considerable playing time, hitting .133 (17-for-128) over 43 games with six extra-base hits, a .238 on-base percentage and a .465 OPS. That’s worse.

Most pleasant surprise

When injuries took a toll on the bullpen, Jason Adam provided welcome relief.
When injuries took a toll on the bullpen, Jason Adam provided welcome relief. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Illustrating the unpredictable course of this season, there was also a long list of candidates here. How about Jason Adam, who stepped into a high-leverage role after Kittredge and Feyereisen were hurt, and dominated? Springs, who hadn’t started since 2017 in Class A, and is 8-3, 2.64 in 23 starts?

Spring acquisition Harold Ramirez, who if not for missing a month with a broken thumb, would be challenging for the batting title with a .309 average? Or Isaac Paredes, another spring trade pickup, who in limited opportunity (107 games) hit a team co-leading 20 homers (a number he never reached in the minors)? Most pleasant, given the team needs and role? Adam, but it’s close.

Notables

• Feyereisen worked 22 games with a 0.00 ERA before his season ended in June due to injury, his 24 1/3 innings the most without an earned run since Earl Moore went 26 with the Phillies — in 1908.

• The Rays lost July 8 at Cincinnati on a walkoff balk by Matt Wisler.

• Arozarena became the first Ray to have at least 20 homers, 30 steals and 40 doubles in a season, and the 20th player to do so in major-league history.

• Typically sure-handed outfielders Kevin Kiermaier, Manuel Margot and Brett Phillips misplayed fly balls in consecutive June games.

• Corey Kluber, the 36-year-old veteran coming off three straight injury-shortened seasons, led the team with 30 starts. (Who had him in the pool?)

• The Rays, through Friday, ran into a majors-most 71 outs on the bases, not including pickoffs, caught stealings or force plays.

• On Aug, 21, the Rays used the first batting order in modern history with players born in eight countries. On Sept. 15, they had the first lineup with the hitters all from Latin American countries.

• Christian Bethancourt hit a 318-foot fly ball down the leftfield line July 15 that was a home run, just clearing the low wall.

• If/when Easton McGee pitches, the Rays will have used a team record-tying 61 players and 37 pitchers. Related, 26 pitchers have wins, second most in big-league history (2016 Braves had 28).

• The Rays have 28 wins without a homer, which is a good thing as they hit only 17 in 28 September games. (Aaron Judge hit 10.)

Rays rumblings

With the Rays celebrating their 25th anniversary next season, it seems like the right time for them to start a team Hall of Fame or a ring (or catwalk) of honor. If so, who should be the first inducted? … Kluber added $5 million in bonuses to his $8 million salary in making 30 starts, cashing in once he got to 10 and for every five after. … First baseman Kyle Manzardo and lefty Mason Montgomery, who both split their seasons between High A Bowling Green and Double-A Montgomery, were among 12 players named to mlb.com’s All-Prospect first team. … Baseball Hall of Fame officials last week received the Rays’ Sept. 15 lineup card, which featured the first all-Latin American batting order. … When Triple-A Durham clinched the East Division title last week, Josh Lowe FaceTimed infielder Miles Mastrobuoni, who had recently been called up, into the clubhouse celebration. … Catcher/infielder Ford Proctor, traded by the Rays at the Aug. 2 deadline for Triple-A pitcher Jeremy Walker (and to clear a 40-man roster spot), made his debut for the Giants on Sept. 24, got his first hit the next day and Thursday his first homer, a grand slam.

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