Monday, February 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

For Tampa Bay Rays, this lineup is puzzler

ST. PETERSBURG — Butch Cassidy said it best. In the precise moment that he realized the depth of his trouble, he turned to the Sundance Kid and wondered:

Who are these guys?

• The leadoff hitter was batting .241. In this order, the others called him "Basher."

• The cleanup hitter was in his sixth major-league game of the year.

• The No. 5 hitter had just spent six weeks on the disabled list.

And furthermore, why are these guys?

• The No. 7 hitter still has infield dirt from Durham on his feet.

• The No. 8 hitter came into the game with a .179 average.

• The No. 9 hitter went eight years between major-league at-bats, and he now has gone 12 days without you paying attention to another one.

And one more question: Where were the other guys?

Yeah, you can say the Rays went down swinging Monday. Given a starting lineup of strangers and vagabonds, what else would you have expected? Over the years, Rays fans have endured a lot of punchless attacks, but I'm not sure there has ever been a lineup quite this non-threatening.

Out of nine hitters, four were hitting .206 or less. Three were in the minor leagues this season. One has been injured for most of the season. Also, Jose Molina.

In other words, it probably shouldn't surprise anyone that the Rays didn't make a lot of noise in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox. For the day, the Rays managed three hits. All things considered, that might have been overachieving.

Tell me: Is this how a team battles for first place? I know, I know. It has been a long season, and players have to have a game off every now and then, and the Rays had been in Boston the previous day. Besides, a lot of people can sound silly as they criticize how often Joe Maddon jiggles his lineup on his way to winning those AL Manager of the Year awards.

On the other hand: Yikes.

Sean Rodriguez? Okay, he hit a big home run on Sunday. B.J. Upton? Fine. He was on a 10-game hitting streak. Ben Zobrist? Not many teams bat a .206 hitter third, but he has had his moments. But then came this: Drew Sutton followed by Jose Lobaton followed by Elliot Johnson followed by Will Rhymes followed by Jose Molina followed by Rich Thompson.

Just wondering, but at what point of the proceedings do the outfielders back up?

The last time you saw a lineup like this, it was spring training, and the words that came to mind were these: Split squad? Put it this way: Memorial Day should not be a day for remembering Ben Grieve and Danny Clyburn and Vinny Castilla and the rest of the Jason Tyner dancers.

Can you imagine what White Sox pitcher Chris Sale thought when he saw the Rays' lineup? Just guessing, but I bet it took him an hour and a half to stop grinning. After which, Sale strolled out and struck out 15 batters. One of them, I think, was on two pitches. The Rays' hitters whiffed so often that Hunter Ceiling Fans might soon become a team sponsor.

Again, the Rays have won a lot of games over the past few seasons with lineups dotted by fairly anemic batting averages. That isn't anything new. But here's a question: Why pull Matt Joyce and Luke Scott and Carlos Peña from the lineup on the same day?

Those are the top three home run hitters on the roster. Given that injuries have already stripped the lineup of Evan Longoria and Desmond Jennings, shouldn't one of them have started in front of a holiday crowd?

"Given the weekend we had in Boston, I wanted to give some guys a day off," Maddon said. "Combined with the guy we were facing, I thought we might be better off to spot them in the late innings (against Chicago's bullpen) when we might get a better matchup.

"I really thought this lineup was capable of some good things. The other guy (Sale) was just good."

He was. On the other hand, consider Friday night. The Rays were facing another fine left-hander in Boston's Jon Lester. They started all three of their left-handed power hitters. Peña hit a home run. Joyce hit a grand slam.

Do you think Matt Moore might have liked a bit of that? That's a shame, too, because Moore could really use a win right about now. Monday, he was good enough to get one.

In a way, of course, it says fine things about the Rays that they have been able stay in the pennant race with a patchwork lineup. Sprinkle a bunch of guys with something to prove around dangerous hitters, and they can keep a season afloat. Take those hitters away, however, and winning is a lot to ask.

Just a thought, but wouldn't it be nice for the Rays to keep one or two of the big kids in the lineup?

You know, just for the memories.

B.J. UPTON

DREW SUTTON

ELLIOT JOHNSON

JOSE MOLINA

3B

RF

DH

2B

LF

HITTING FOURTH entering MONDAY

Career: 5-12, 1 HR, 4 RBI

HITTING FOURTH ON MONDAY

0-3, 3 strikeouts

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