Apr 28, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Ben Zobrist (18) fields a ground ball off the bat of Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez (not pictured) during the third inning at US Cellular Field. Ramirez was out on the play. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Next Task for the Rays: Surviving Without Ben Zobrist

The Tampa Bay Rays are struggling severely. Their record stands at just 13-16, 6.5 games back of the first place Red Sox in the AL East. Their offense has not been terrible, ranking 9th in the AL in runs, but their pitching, the bedrock of their franchise has been the worst we have seen it in a long time. Their 4.35 team ERA ranks just 12th in the American League, with their starters ranking 8th and their relieving ranking just 14th, ahead of only the Houston Astros. Now the Rays have another factor to contend with: the loss of one of their offensive stars, Ben Zobrist for at least a couple of days.

It’s terrible that Zobrist’s grandmother died and he certainly bares no blame for leaving the team. However, without him the Rays journey just becomes even tougher. Here’s their lineup for today’s game.

1. Desmond Jennings, CF
2. Matthew Joyce, RF
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. James Loney, 1B
5. Kelly Johnson, LF
6. Ryan Roberts, 2B
7. Jose Lobaton, C
8. Sean Rodriguez, SS
9. Alex Cobb, P

Without Zobrist, the Rays lineup goes from passable to decrepit. Kelly Johnson batting fifth? Ryan Roberts batting sixth, against a right-handed hitter no less? And without Zobrist, the Rays lose plenty of versatility and didn’t even have time to replace him on the roster as Zobrist’s departure was so sudden. With Yunel Escobar out after getting hit by a pitch, Rodriguez is the only shortstop left on the Rays roster–if he goes down, Ryan Roberts would probably have to play out of position at shortstop (he played there in the minors leagues, last in 2010). Evan Longoria also has one major league game, a start, at shortstop. Rodriguez probably won’t get hurt, but except in the most desperate situation, the Rays can’t pinch-hit for him or risk exposing their defense. The situation is so dire that Joe Maddon said that he will use pitchers to pinch-run and pinch-hit if he has to. How will the Rays make it through this game?

The Rays need a big performance from Alex Cobb today. He was pitching great until the 6th inning of his last start, and he needs to find a way to get back to that. The top of the lineup has to step up, with Evan Longoria being the key to the entire time, and look for players like Johnson, Roberts, and Rodriguez to be especially aggressive on the basepaths if they can get on as the Rays do whatever they can to manufacture runs. This is only a two-day thing with Zobrist being gone. But with the season looking bad enough already, the Rays need to find a way to stay afloat and win games, and Zobrist’s absence for a couple days only makes it tougher.

Tags: Ben Zobrist Sean Rodriguez Tampa Bay Rays

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