To say an injury bug has gone around the Tampa Bay Rays organization this year would be a massive understatement. In fact, whatever has been making its way around the Rays' clubhouse closer resembles a plague than a bug.
The Rays have spent parts of this season without some of their best hitters (Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings), and they continue to be far short of their opening day strength on offense, with Matt Joyce and Luke Scott joining Longoria on the disabled list.
It's starting to take a turn for the worst on the mound as well with Jeremy Hellickson and Jeff Niemann both on the mend.
It's yet another obstacle that the Rays must maneuver their way around in order to stay in contention in the AL East. But so far, their record wouldn't show much sign of injury problems.
Despite being in third place in the East, Tampa Bay is only 3.5 games back of New York with a record of 40-32 after Sunday's double-header sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Make no mistake; there are no All-Stars in this Rays offense. It's a good thing that Joe Maddon loves to switch and swap his lineup, because he has been forced to do so all season.
The Rays have gone through never-ending roster changes, bringing in countless unknown players.
What casual Rays fan had ever heard of Will Rhymes, Drew Sutton, Rich Thompson, Brandon Allen, or Chris Gimenez before this year? Jeff Keppinger may be the biggest current component of the offensive firepower, although the word "firepower" is a clear overstatement.
The Rays have clearly missed Longoria in the lineup, yet they have remained afloat without him. But now with the recent losses of Joyce and Scott, the bending-but-never-breaking Rays will indeed have to show off their flexibility.
On the pitching side of things, the Rays have continued to show off their stock of arms. Kyle Farnsworth, who was stellar as Tampa Bay's closer last season, was not only replaced by Fernando Rodney, but the new closer has been the superior player.
Niemann was replaced in the rotation by Alex Cobb, who has held his own since returning to the Big Leagues.
Likewise, after Hellickson went down with fatigue in his throwing shoulder, Chris Archer was there with a veteran-like outing, despite the game eventually resulting in a loss.
Whether it's by putting their confidence in the players they pick up (or call up) or if they really know what formula of seldom-used players will keep them in the hunt for a playoff spot, the strategy has yet to fail for Tampa Bay.
Example: Brooks Conrad, days after being signed to the team, has already made an impact, with 4 RBI in Sunday's second game in Philadelphia.
So while the Rays try to fight injuries that show no signs letting up any time soon, Tampa Bay will be forced to continue running the playoff race with pieces being moved in every which way.
The good news in all of this? It hasn't seemed to bother them yet.
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