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Chris Archer: Cy Young and MVP candidate

Here's a quick little thought: Chris Archer ... MVP candidate.

That's right. The Tampa Bay Rays ace isn't just a Cy Young contender; considering his dominant numbers and Tampa Bay's first-place status in the American East, he's a strong candidate for first-half MVP, not that they give out a trophy for that.

Archer had another sublime effort on Tuesday against the high-scoring Blue Jays in a 4-3 victory: 8 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 SO, 100 pitches. He's now 9-4 with a 2.10 ERA, has won his past six decisions and has allowed one earned run or fewer in 10 starts, tied for second in the majors with Max Scherzer and one behind Zack Greinke's 11. Note that Archer doesn't get to pitch in the National League.

Archer's maturation into staff ace is a key reason the Rays have survived last summer's trade of David Price, the offseason loss of manager Joe Maddon, the trade of Ben Zobrist, the injuries to Alex Cobb (zero starts) and Drew Smyly (three starts), the injuries to Desmond Jennings (just 18 games played) and James Loney (30 games), the recent injury to Jake Odorizzi (he's missed three starts and will be out at least another two weeks) and the play of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera -- the team's "big" offseason acquisition who is hitting .210 with a .267 OBP.

Look at all those problems. And yet the Rays, picked by most to finish last in the division, are 41-32. I don't want to hear how many injuries your team has suffered. They Rays are down three-fifths of their projected starting rotation and their two best players from 2014. And they're in first place.

Look at the lineup manager Kevin Cash used in Tuesday's win: A 29-year-old rookie named Joey Butler hitting second, Logan Forsythe hitting cleanup, Cabrera hitting sixth despite his woeful numbers, a utility infielder (Jake Elmore) playing first base and hitting eighth, a catcher hitting .163 with a .204 OBP.

Everybody says the Rays can't stay here. Why not? They're the one team in the AL that has pitched well so far. Cash has been a master at handling the pitching staff in unique ways: Short pitch counts for the bottom of the rotation and a reliance on a deep and terrific bullpen. Six different relievers have recorded saves, and they're 35-1 when leading after seven innings and 38-0 when leading after eight. Yes, they don't score many runs -- 13th in the AL in runs per game. Yes, Evan Longoria is no longer the superstar third baseman. Yes, the rotation currently includes three rookies and Erasmo Ramirez.

But these are the Rays. They usually find a way to win. They went 77-85 last season, but they'd won 90-plus games in five of the six previous seasons. Maybe 2014 was simply an aberration, some bad luck, a year to retool the roster. Maybe the Rays are just playing way over their heads so far. Keep in mind the potential reinforcements: Odorizzi's return, Smyly at some point and Matt Moore, currently rehabbing in the minors from last year's Tommy John surgery.

As for Archer, he didn't dominate the Blue Jays in his usual manner. He induced just 11 swings-and-misses, his third-lowest total of the season. But he threw strikes and forced the Jays to put the ball in play: His average pitches per plate appearances was a season-low 3.45. He's electric to watch, basically just an old-school fastball/slider guy, which you rarely see anymore -- 94 of his 100 pitches were fastballs or sliders, with just six changeups mixed in. You'd think he'd be vulnerable to lefties since he doesn't use the changeup much, but that hasn't been the case: Lefties are hitting .206/.245/.278 against him, nearly identical to the .194/.260/.267 line for righties. Lefties are hitting .165 against his slider, with one extra-base hit (a double) in 91 at-bats ending with the pitch.

Archer is a smart kid, charismatic and interesting on and off the mound. We throw out things such as "Face of the Franchise" pretty freely, but he's the kind of player you make the Face of the Franchise.

MVP talk? OK, here's the case. Aside from the fact that he's second in the AL in ERA, first in strikeouts, fourth in innings, fourth in batting average allowed and second in wOBA allowed, he's among the AL leaders in WAR (3.1 entering Tuesday). But none of the top five position players -- Jason Kipnis, Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Miguel Cabrera and Manny Machado -- are on teams currently in a playoff position. That potentially opens the door for a pitcher, and the recent MVP choices of Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw indicate voters no longer snub their noses at pitchers.

We're not quite at the halfway point, but it's a fun discussion. And where would the Rays be without Chris Archer?