Evan Longoria will reportedly miss six to eight weeks after injuring his hamstring in Monday's win over the Mariners.
No team can afford to lose its best hitter for long, but the Rays always seem to find a way. Longoria missed a month last season and the Rays went 15-11 in his absence.
My first thought was this will make the Rays vulnerable to left-handed pitching since their lineup leans to the left side with Carlos Pena, Matt Joyce and Luke Scott. But the Rays have actually hit left-handed pitching better than right-handers this year -- .292/.365/.483 versus .236/.327/.404.
The Rays haven't announced a roster move, but they have several options here. Jeff Keppinger could play third on a regular basis. Backup infielder Elliot Johnson could play there, or Johnson could play short with Sean Rodriguez moving over to third. Or Reid Brignac could be recalled from Triple-A to play some shortstop, with Rodriguez, Brignac, Johnson and Keppinger playing in a sort of four-man platoon of sorts. With Joe Maddon managing, expect the Rays to survive by moving players around on a daily basis.
As far as the impact on the field, consider Longoria about six wins better than a replacement-level player over the course of a season. Guys like Johnson and Brignac are classic replacement-level contributors, so if Longoria misses eight weeks, we're talking about 45 to 50 games, or nearly one-third of the season. While the impact of losing a player like Longoria seems significant, we're probably talking about two wins, assuming his fill-ins aren't completely terrible.
Two wins isn't a lot. On the other hand, in what promises to be a tight AL East race, two wins may be the difference between winning the division, winning the wild card, or missing the playoffs altogether. (UPDATE: Rays GM Andrew Friedman is saying the injury might not be as bad first feared. Stay tuned.)