Jeff Keppinger is batting cleanup for the Rays?

by Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk

There’s a whole lot of people picking the Rays over the Red Sox in the AL East. I wonder how many of them have taken a gander at Tampa Bay’s Opening Day lineup against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia:

CF Desmond Jennings
RF Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
DH Jeff Keppinger
SS Sean Rodriguez
2B Elliot Johnson
1B Carlos Pena
C Jose Molina
LF Matt Joyce

Obviously, there are a couple of caveats here, the first one being that B.J. Upton is sidelined. With Upton healthy, Zobrist would be playing second base and Johnson would be on the bench. The other is that manager Joe Maddon has really jumbled the lineup with the lefty on the mound for the Yankees. Keppinger actually makes some sense in the cleanup spot versus a southpaw, while Pena and Joyce will obviously move up in the lineup against right-handers. Luke Scott will also be starting against righties.

All that said… this is one hideous lineup after the top three. The cleanup hitter’s career high for homers in seven. The No. 6 hitter is a 27-year-old with a .190/.247/.318 line in 179 major league at-bats. And Pena and Joyce were flat-out terrible against lefties last season. Pena came in at .133/.260/.333 in 120 at-bats for the Cubs, while Joyce hit .217/.287/.370 despite usually sitting against the tougher ones for the Rays (he was benched in all four of Sabathia’s starts against Tampa Bay last season).

The Rays have some of the league’s best pitching, so they’ll almost certainly hang in the race this year. Still, their lineup against left-handers leaves much to be desired. As I wrote a couple of months ago, they hurt their chances by not bringing in additional right-handed help beyond Keppinger over the winter.

 

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