There’s an old cliché that says “being there is half the battle.” In sports it’s more. There is no greater determinant of success than health, especially in baseball. And not just being healthy enough to, well, play, but healthy enough to play well. It’s ‘a game of inches’ where even slight adjustments can create problems hitting or pitching. Aches and pains add up during a 162-game schedule, so you hope, at least, in the beginning of Spring Training your guys are starting on a healthy slate with no injury concerns to tweak and aggravate.
People tend to be doubters of the Orioles and after all, their 29-9 record in one-run games will be impossible to duplicate. But a good sign for the Baltimore Orioles: no players in the lineup, rotation or bullpen are dealing with injuries right now. Brian Roberts has missed much of the last three seasons and Nolan Reimold was out for most of last year but both of those are already playing in Grapefruit League games. They also have zero players on the roster older than 35. The same cannot be said of other teams.
Like the team three hours north up I-95. For New York, three of the most important pieces of their season are entering their 19th season in the Bronx. Not many players in history have ever been effective after that many years. Then realize that Derek Jeter, the starting shortstop, is recovering from a broken ankle in October and only started running on the field a few days ago. Closer Mariano Rivera, born in the ’60s, is recovering from a torn ACL. Rafael Soriano is gone so the Yankees are going all-in with Mo. Andy Pettitte (40) came back after a broken ankle, and in his previous stint in 2010 he missed two summer months with a groin injury. They all say they are fine, but that is three senior citizens with recent significant injuries
Unfortunately, that’s not all for the Yankees. Now they are faced with the absence of their center fielder Curtis Granderson until at least mid-May with a broken arm suffered a week ago. Phil Hughes has a bulging disk in his back and is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. Ace C.C. Sabathia is “ready,” but coming off offseason elbow surgery. Kevin Youkilis says he would be playing through the oblique he’s experiencing now if it was the regular season but hey, he’s missed at least 40 games each of the last three seasons; this minor soreness could be a sign of things to come. And speaking of missing games, slugger Travis Hafner has made seven trips to the disabled list the last five seasons.
There’s still a lot of talent on the Yankees. The pitcher between C.C. and Pettitte in the rotation is Hiroki Kuroda and he’s good enough to be a staff leader. But is it worth mentioning he just turned 38? His Japanese teammate Ichiro has averaged 159 games a year for his entire career but he joins the Forty Club in October. And while I’m at it what the heck; the other outfielder Brett Gardner is off to a nice start this spring and is young and totally healthy, but I couldn’t help but notice that he missed 146 games in 2012.
And that’s excusing Alex Rodriguez and Michael Pineda who will both miss at least half the season. But at least we expected that.
I’m not being pessimistic; just observing the facts. Joe Girardi thinks the Yankees can win 95 games (or he did before Granderson went down) like they did last year. Many of the guys I mentioned are not on the current injury report. But just four weeks before Opening Day the risks and red flags are already being signaled for this team and I just counted twelve. And unlike last year there is significant lack of depth at every position, less depth than they’ve had in over a decade. And with the young and healthy Orioles and Rays pressing and revamped Blue Jays expected to make a splash, spring injuries are the last thing you want to hear at camp. And if anything worse happens, this could be just the second time since the strike of 1994 without a playoff game in the Bronx.