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Travis d’Arnaud embodies the underdog spirit of the Rays

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He’s making the most of his time in the spotlight

2019 ALDS Game 1 - Tampa Bay Rays v. Houston Astros Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Sometimes, all it takes for success is to be in the right place at the right time.

In baseball, that usually means the right trade or free agent pick up, sending a previously lackluster player to a new team, where he suddenly begins to shine. Whether it’s new coaches, new teammates, or just a new kind of energy, there’s something in the air that brings a player to life.

No one embodies this more than Travis d’Arnaud.

There is a moment in every Travis d’Arnaud at bat where he stares down the pitcher, breathes deeply, and looks so focused that he might throw up. It’s the most single-minded, locked-on attention I can ever recall witnessing in a batter. He looks like a man with the weight of a whole team on his shoulders, as if each and every plate appearance is a make or break moment.

Divisional Series - Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Four Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Perhaps he is aware just how fleeting those opportunities are, and is relishing them as they occur, but I think it’s far more likely that in those instances he isn’t thinking much of anything beyond get on base.

If anyone on the Rays could be expected to understand and appreciate the lucky position they find themselves in this postseason, it’s d’Arnaud. On May 3, he was released by the Mets after being DFA’d in late April. He’d been with the Mets since his major league debut in 2013 and had a decent, though never particularly dazzling career with them over seven years. He missed the bulk of the 2018 season due to Tommy John surgery.

He was picked up by the Dodgers as a third catcher, and played in a single game with them before being traded to the Rays for cash. The Rays were in need of another catcher with Mike Zunino injured, and though d’Arnaud’s 2019 numbers weren’t impressive, they saw something in him they liked.

Turns out it was a brilliant choice for both the Rays and d’Arnaud.

Since coming to the team he’s hit .263/.323/.459, with 16 home runs (a tie for his career high), and has amassed a 1.6 fWAR and a 98 wRC+. He has partnered beautifully with the Rays pitching staff, using his non-kneeling catcher’s stance to smother wild pitches. He also has a 29% caught stealing record this season, the best he’s posted since his 2015 season.

Travis d’Arnaud has had quite a ride this past season, first being dropped by the only major league team he’d played for, and now catching in the ALDS. It’s not his first trip to the postseason, he went all the way to the Word Series with the Mets in 2015. But it has to feel special, after being DFA’d, then traded, to have such a great year with a team that is surprising everyone.

In that sense, the Rays and d’Arnaud are a perfect fit, because they’re both capable of doing incredibly special things, and it’s finally time that the rest of baseball took notice.