Surging Evan Longoria Keeping Tampa Bay Rays In AL East Hunt

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

You won’t find it on any tabloids, but Evan Longoria has had quite the torrid affair these past few days.

See, the Tampa Bay Rays, who have more or less owned the Toronto Blue Jays over the past two years (10-26 between 2011-2012), just came off salvaging the week’s four-game series against their divisional rival by winning back-to-back in the final two games, and no one is more sad than their star third baseman that it’s coming to a close.

That’s because Longoria simply loves batting against the Blue Jays, and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon.

Here’s his triple slash going into the series against Toronto: .301/.370/.522 — excellent numbers all around, and pretty indicative of his All-Star form. After the series? The line balloons to .331/.397/.600; yes, that’s right, he raised his OPS by over 100 points in a four-game span.

Obviously, early season SSS allows for drastic shifts in numbers like this, but the total damage done — nine hits, four doubles, two home runs (including his first grand slam of the year) — is nothing to scoff at.

But the most impressive stat of the week for Longoria? Just one strikeout in 17 at-bats. No matter what the Blue Jays were throwing at the guy, he was slowing down the baseball in his head Matrix-style and having little problem crushing it.

In short, though the Rays were unable to take advantage of a series against an opponent they’d had no problem beating since their emergence as a AL East power (if anything, it further exacerbated their bullpen problems), the battles this week may well have sparked Longoria — the Rays’ most important player — into overdrive.

It should be no surprise, then, that the Rays offense that struggled out of the gate has come alive, leading the league (in a first-place tie with the Minnesota Twins, of all teams) in runs over the last seven days with 44.

That’s good news of the 16-18 team that’s still hanging around the ultra-competitive AL East at 4.5 games back, especially considering that the team’s traditional strength in pitching (23rd-ranked 4.19 ERA) — and particularly the bullpen (29th-ranked 5.04 ERA) — has had its share of troubles in 2013.

Tampa Bay will need to keep scoring runs to cushion those struggles to maintain within striking distance for now, and as they’ve found out this week, that starts and ends with Longoria.

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