Lineup Order Still Doesn't Matter That Much, But...

With the Tampa Bay Rays exploring lineup options as they enter a pivotal stretch of games tonight against divisional rivals Boston and New York, and with several key players struggling, here's how I'd refine the team's batting order.

vs. RH
LF Crawford
RF Gross
3B Longoria
2B Zobrist
DH Aybar
1B Pena
C Zaun
SS Bartlett
CF Upton

vs. LH
LF Crawford
RF Kapler
3B Longoria
2B Zobrist
1B Aybar
SS Bartlett
DH Burrell
C Navarro
CF Upton

The biggest move here is to get Gabe of the Day much higher in the order. Gross hasn't hit for much power, but he sports a .370 OBP vs. righties, can handle the bat, and gives Crawford a little extra basestealing edge as a lefty hitter behind him. Meanwhile Kapler's hitting .306/.386/.594 vs. lefties, making him one of the team's most potent bats against that side.

Other moves: Aybar in for Burrell vs. righties. Aybar's shown he can hit from both sides, and needs to be playing every day, or close to it. He's the best bench bat in MLB, which is a waste. I nearly benched Burrell vs. lefties too, but Pena's been abysmal against that side, and this keeps everyone fresh but also involved. Not moving Bartlett up much higher than he is, since so much of his success is predicated on an unsustainable .384 BABIP. The catching situation assumes the Rays make a deal for Gregg Zaun. It's shocking to me that they haven't already with Matt Wieters taking over in Baltimore, and this is exactly the kind of low-hanging fruit that the Rays are so good at grabbing, even if Andy MacPhail is smart enough to know not to give Zaun away for free. Navarro stays in the lineup vs. lefties, on the strength of a .298 average, a .468 SLG, and as a way to keep the incumbent involed and hopefully hitting again in a lower-pressure role (same as Burrell).

Finally, Upton drops down to 9th while he works to shake out of his season-long slump. If/when he does recover, the Rays will still have the benefit of Upton and Crawford hitting back-to-back and driving opposing pitchers mad.


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