Many experts predicted that the Tampa Bay Rays would falter in the heat of a pennant race because of inexperience.
However, the experts didn't predict injuries to the two most crucial members of Tampa Bay's talented offense.
Carl Crawford was recently placed on the 15-day DL to undergo surgery on a tendon in his right, middle finger. Crawford is expected to miss six to eight weeks while recovering, and Tampa Bay's Vice President, Andrew Friedman, said, "If every single thing went extremely well, I'd say there's a chance he could play in a regular-season game."
An injury to a player of Crawford's caliber in the heat of a pennant race alone could cripple a team.
However, Crawford isn't the only player the Rays lost within the past week.
Tampa Bay's Rookie of the Year candidate Evan Longoria was placed on the 15-day DL this past Monday with a non-displaced fracture of his right wrist. Longoria is expected to miss around three weeks while he recovers.
While an injury to Crawford alone could cripple the Rays, injuries to Crawford and Longoria could decimate the team's chances of winning the AL East.
Before his injury, Crawford was batting .273, with eight HRs and 57 RBI. He also had 25 stolen bases. Eric Hinske has played the majority of the time in left field since Crawford's injury. Though Hinske's season numbers are around Crawford's (.253, 17 HR, 50 RBI, 8 SB), Hinske is a career backup and doesn't make the same impact on the basepaths or in the outfield as Crawford.
Before Longoria's injury, he was batting .278, with 22 HRs and 71 RBI. Willy Aybar, Longoria's replacement at third base, doesn't nearly have the numbers that Longoria had (.229, 6 HR, 16 RBI). Aybar is also a career backup.
Though Crawford and Longoria are key cogs in Tampa Bay's offensive success, the Rays still have excellent pitching in Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine, Edwin Jackson, and Matt Garza.
While the Rays will not win the AL East—because of their two major injuries—they should still make the playoffs because of their solid pitching staff.