|The Rays' 42-44 record this season without Evan Longoria speaks volumes. (US Presswire)|
Is Evan Longoria baseball's most valuable player? No, I'm not suggesting he win Mike Trout's seemingly-already-awarded 2012 AL MVP, I'm just wondering what it is about Longoria that makes the Rays world beaters when he's in the lineup and mediocre when he's not.
Seriously, it's uncanny. The Rays opened the season 15-8 before Longoria hit the disabled list. That's a pace of 106-56. But then Longoria went down with a serious hamstring injury and the Rays proceeded to go 42-44 with him on the shelf. Longoria returned Aug. 7 and since then the Rays have gone 11-3.
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So with Longoria on the active roster, the Rays are 26-11, which is a full-season pace of 114-48. Without him, they have a full-season pace of 79-83. Even with the (buzzword alert) small sample when Longoria's on the active roster, that's an absurd discrepancy.
If we leave aside hyperbole, simplicity and sarcasm, the reason the Rays are winning games again is obviously a combination of things, but it all starts with the pitching.
David Price is having a better season than he did in 2010, when he finished second in the AL Cy Young voting. He's the front-runner to win the award in 2012 at this point. He's easily the biggest workhorse, but by no means is he alone in the stable.
Since a rough start, Matt Moore is 9-3 with a 2.78 ERA in his last 15 starts. James Shields is 3-1 with a 2.89 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings in his last six starts. Jeremy Hellickson sports a steady 3.28 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. He's their No. 4. On many teams he'd be a top two starter. Save for an awful last start, Alex Cobb isn't bad, and Jeff Niemann is nearing a return.
Then we can glance down at the bullpen and see the Rays prove once again what folly it is to overspend on relief pitching (see the Phillies comment below for more). It's lights-out Fernando Rodney at the back end, with a supporting cast of high-strikeout, low-WHIP guys like Joel Peralta and Jake McGee.
So, yes, the real answer is the Rays are hot due mostly to their pitching. Longoria still deserves some credit, though. That lineup just isn't the same without him and no team can win with zero runs, no matter how good its pitching (as the Rays themselves proved Tuesday night).
As always, rankings, comments and stats are through Tuesday. Please feel free to contact me via email with comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.