Are the Tampa Bay Rays' Injuries the Start of a Crash?

Nick MarckelCorrespondent IAugust 14, 2008

A franchise-high 72 wins and we’re still in August. First place in the AL East, ahead of the Sox and Yankees. Nobody—not even myself—predicted the Rays to be where they are come mid-August this year.

But with the recent injuries to stars Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, can the Tampa Bay Rays stay in the playoff picture?

Crawford tore a tendon in his right middle finger and recently opted for surgery. It looks like the speedster (302 steals in his first seven seasons) is going to miss the rest of the year.

Statistically speaking, Crawford hasn't had his best season with Tampa, but he is still a very important piece. A steady left fielder with an arm second to none makes third base coaches cautious to send runners home—not to mention the pressure his speed puts on defenders.

Crawford has been with the Rays since they were "Devil like" and a joke of the league. When Crawford was a rookie in 2002, guys such as Greg Vaughn and Ben Grieve patrolled the streets of Tampa. One year later, they upgraded, bringing in free agent Travis Lee from Philadelphia for a season.

Crawford is now a veteran to the very young team that has been placed together with pieces such as B.J. Upton, Scott Kazmir, and Evan Longoria.

Longoria also has just been placed on the DL with a fractured wrist. Luckily for Tampa, he is only likely to miss two weeks. But will he be the same when he comes back?

Will Tampa have enough pop in the lineup without Crawford and Longoria to hold off Boston and New York in the East? Can the pitching staff continue to pitch gem after gem, knowing the offense isn't going to give them much run support? Who's going to step up? I don’t think anybody.

I know it's a long ways away, but looking at the wild-card picture, Chicago is only two games back of Boston. 10 of Tampa Bay's last 14 series are against teams that are currently above .500. The other four series are Baltimore (2), at Oakland (1), and at Detroit (1) to end the season, and each one will be pivotal.

Not exactly what I would call an easy stretch without some of your top talent—especially when your team is young and inexperienced.

Every team chasing Tampa—whether it's for the wild card or the division—knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. Tampa does not. This might not be their year. It might be next year.

Think about it for one second.

One year from now, Tampa Bay could be running away with the East. A pitching staff consisting of Kazmir, Shields, Garza, and young, up-and-coming David Price would be the best in baseball.

Price, who was the first overall pick in 2007, could even be a September call-up this season, to help out the Rays in the bullpen. He is 6-0 with a 2.08 ERA in eight starts with the Southern League’s Biscuits, with 48 strikeouts and 12 walks in 52 innings.

But he can't hit.

Still, the question is: Who can replace Longoria's Rookie of the Year numbers?

Or Crawford's?

Do the Rays fold like the Mets did last year?

In this case, I believe they do. The injuries have caused too much for this young team. Unless the organization goes out and makes a trade, I do not see Tampa holding onto a playoff spot.

The injury bug bites again—but don't worry Rays fans—Tampa could be atop the AL East for a long time to come—just not this year.