Evan Longoria is no longer considered a rising star.

Many now consider Longoria to be a baseball superstar and the face of the Tampa Bay Rays. In just under three seasons as a Major League third baseman, Longoria has a career .282 avg. with 78 home runs and 282 RBI, not to mention a Gold Glove.

He began his 2010 campaign with high numbers that have come to be expected from him, but he tailed off when the Rays went into their “June Swoon”. Longoria hit his 12th home run on June 15 against Atlanta and has only hit six since then. However, two of those six have come in the past week in what has been an offensive resurgence for Longoria.

Why has Evan gotten so hot lately? The return of first baseman Carlos Pena to the Rays’ lineup has certainly had an effect. In the seven games since Pena’s return on August 16, Longoria is hitting .392 with two home runs and 12 RBI, and has returned to the clutch form he has become famous for.

While his Gold Glove defense has been consistent all season, Longoria had been inconsistent at the plate. With Pena’s big bat behind him, pitchers now cannot focus solely on Longoria. BJ Upton has also had a mini revival at the plate since Carlos Pena’s return and the entire lineup seems to be clicking better.

All signs point to a fun fall for baseball fans in the Tampa Bay area, but when October is done and the champions are crowned, Carlos Pena will be a free agent. With Longoria and Upton both starting to get hot with Pena’s return, one has to wonder how Pena’s probable departure in 2011 will affect the Rays lineup.

There will be a lot of issues the Rays must face this offseason, including Pena, Crawford, and Soriano’s free agencies, the stadium debate, and the performance issues of hitting coach Derek Shelton. While the future of the franchise may be blurry, the 2010 season still promises hope.

On August 23, the Rays are 76-48, one game behind New York and 5.5 games ahead of Boston for the Wild Card. Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff predictor, PECOTA, gives the Rays a 95.6 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 47 percent chance of winning the division. If Longoria continues his recent upswing, look for the Rays to seriously challenge the Yankees for the American League East crown.

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