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Aybar can't save Rays, but Shields might

10/7/2010

OK, so the Tampa Bay Rays definitely win the award for Biggest Roster Problems After Just One Game:

    The Tampa Bay Rays removed designated hitter/outfielder Rocco Baldelli from their American League Division Series roster Thursday and added Willy Aybar.

    The move was announced before the AL East champions faced the Texas Rangers in Game 2 of their first-round series.

    Baldelli went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against Cliff Lee in Game 1. His career has been derailed by a string of injuries and a condition that causes muscle fatigue.

    --snip--

    Manager Joe Maddon said "cramping ... the same things that's bothered him to this point" surfaced again during Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Rangers. The Rays announced the 29-year-old was removed because of "left leg fatigue," which is a symptom of mitichondrial disorder.

The Rays look completely lost right now. As I wrote Wednesday, Baldelli never had any business being on the roster in the first place. Not that Aybar's much better. After dumping Pat Burrell, the Rays had more than five months to find a decent right-handed hitter for this slot, and didn't do it.

So now they're stuck with Aybar, who didn't hit much at all this season, in a slot that's usually reserved for players who can hit. With another left-hander going for the Rangers Thursday, Joe Maddon has (reasonably) benched Carlos Pena ... and essentially replaced him with rookie Desmond Jennings, who was just decent (at best) this season in Triple-A. Third-string catcher Dioner Navarro, upset about being left off the Division Series roster, has left the club and presumably isn't coming back.

Which will be a problem only if John Jaso or Kelly Shoppach gets hurt. But, still.

Fortunately, there's little wrong with the Rays that can't be fixed by James Shields pitching a good game Thursday. I've probably overrated Shields some in my recent writings. He does sport a 5.18 ERA this season, mostly because he's been hit-unlucky and because he's given up 34 home runs in 34 games.

Shields also sports one of the better strikeout-to-walk ratios in the American League. If he can keep the ball in the park, he'll probably win. If he gives up one home run, it's a toss-up. If he gives up two home runs, the Rays are in big, big trouble. And Aybar probably won't be able to fix things.