Could Injuries Be Tampa Bay Rays' Achilles' Heel In AL Wild Card Race?

By Thom Tsang
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Maddon may be known around MLB as a bit of a miracle worker, but even he can’t help players who just aren’t able to play.

And if the Tampa Bay Rays end up in a tiebreaker situation for the Wild Card (though all things considered, you’ve gotta think that a three-way tie is just the situation they’d thrive in) or worse — end up out of the playoff picture all together, it’s like going to be the result of the team not having quite enough depth to cover for the players who are unavailable.

Sure, many will say that they’re in the position they’re in now heading into the final games of the season because they happened to put on one of their worst defensive efforts of the year on Friday, but to be fair, the talent issue has been simmering for some time now.

If you were among the Rays fans who worried that the hamstring injury to the red-hot Desmond Jennings would end up being the final nail here, your concerns are not entirely unfounded.

No, it isn’t as dire as that as the Rays are clearly still competitive and still control their own destiny, but when combined with the concurrent ankle ailment to shortstop Yunel Escobar, it’s created a perfect storm of events where the team has been forced to trot out players regularly that shouldn’t really be in the lineup at all going down to the wire.

At the center of this storm is Matt Joyce, who could literally end up being the difference-maker for the team in the most disappointing way.

It didn’t always used to be that way, as the versatile outfielder was once one of the Rays’ true secret weapons and a true testament to the platoon advantage. However, with hits in just a mere five out of 20 games played, he’s been easily the team’s worst player at -0.6 fWAR for the month.

Yet, there he was batting leadoff on Friday, .382 OPS in tow, in a game where he shouldn’t be in the lineup at all. Could that be Maddon’s biggest mistake of the season? Judging by the fact that Joyce went 0-for-4 and that Ben Zobrist, the guy hitting behind him, went 3-for-3 with a homer, it’s hard to argue that it wouldn’t have affected the outcome of the game.

The worst part of it is that it might just be the best lineup that the team can muster up right now. With Zobrist having to take over shortstop duties thanks to Escobar’s injury, the Rays can’t avoid the trickle-down effect that’s led them to the giant sinkhole that is Joyce in the outfield.

And as much as they are used to playing in these high-leverage games at the end of the season where they’ve thrived, you’d have to imagine the possibility of the team getting dragged down is a realistic one.

Thom is an MLB writer for Follow him on Twitter @BlueJaysRant, or add him to your network on Google

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