Evan Longoria Injury: Star's DL Stint Will End Rays' Reign at Top of AL East

Jessica MarieCorrespondent IIMay 2, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 29: Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays during batting practice before the game against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on April 29, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
Rick Yeatts/Getty Images

As it stands, the Rays sit atop the AL East while the Yankees and the Red Sox sit in third and fifth place, respectively.

That all will end, however, with Evan Longoria on the disabled list for 4-8 weeks.

According to ESPN.com, the Rays slugger was placed on the 15-day DL on Tuesday with a partially torn left hamstring, spelling doom for the Rays who are one game ahead in the AL East. Longoria is the primary reason for it, hitting .329 with four home runs and 19 RBI.

Last year, Tampa Bay found itself in an excruciatingly similar situation when they lost Longoria very early in the season due to an oblique injury. He was out for 26 games, and a plethora of other players spent chunks of time on the DL as well, putting the Rays' postseason hopes in jeopardy.

Until, of course, the Red Sox's epic collapse that allowed the Rays to sneak into the playoffs via the wild card.

The player who hit the playoffs-clinching walkoff home run that sent the Red Sox packing for good? Evan Longoria.

It's clear that he's an instrumental component of the Rays' offense. He's led the team in RBI in each of the last three seasons, and his defense at third is no easy task to replace.

But that isn't the only reason the Rays won't be able to slide by without him in 2012 the way they did in 2011. A year like 2011—with its crazy finishes and crazy collapses—isn't going to come around again for a long, long time.

If the Red Sox, by some divine intervention, even look like a playoff contender come September, the odds are they won't embark on another epic collapse that makes MLB history.

In order to keep the division lead—which will be their best way into the playoffs—the Rays will need to find another way to win rather than relying on a late-season burst. The Red Sox aside, the American League is too loaded this year. The Yankees aren't going to dwell in third place in the East for much longer, nor are the Orioles going to hold strong to fourth. If the Rays are competing for the wild card, they'll have two teams in the stacked Central to fight off. 

Thus means they have to keep winning to make sure they get through the next four to eight weeks alive. If they fall out of the division lead, it's all downhill from there.