Across MLB, 2016 has been a year with a lot of injuries. Injuries effectively derailed the seasons of teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks before they began. Now, in the final two months of the season, injuries continue to impact playoff races around the baseball world.
But what are the most significant injuries? What injuries are most likely to leave fans with bitter tastes in their mouths if their favorite teams end up falling short?
With just a shade under two months of regular season action left, what are the eight injuries that can most impact MLB’s playoff races?
1. Clayton Kershaw, starting pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers
In terms of both their record and where they stand, the Dodgers are actually significantly better than they were on June 26 when Kershaw took his last start.
That’s great, but a deeper look into the stats of the Los Angeles starters tells a much different story.
Dodgers rotation pre and post Kershaw injury. Interesting trend. pic.twitter.com/ktfODYRx1G
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) August 10, 2016
Additionally, with Kershaw in the rotation, Dodgers starters were averaging just under six innings per game. Without him, they are averaging only slightly over five.
What’s going right? The Los Angeles bullpen has been lights out.
One of two things will happen from this point on.
One, the Dodgers bullpen will continue to hold strong. With that, Los Angeles may pass the San Francisco Giants for first place in the National League West. At worst, though, Los Angeles would cruise to a Wild Card spot.
Two, the Dodgers bullpen will eventually begin to tire from overuse. If San Francisco begins to play better ball, it would be heavily favored in the NL West race. And even with solid standing now, Los Angeles may even be vulnerable in the wild card race.
We’re going to find out. Jack Baer of MLB.com has recently reported that Kershaw will be out until at least September. Even then, without rehab starts, it may take Kershaw an outing or two to return to form. The Dodgers need a healthy Kershaw down the stretch and certainly need him once the playoffs begin.
2. Yoenis Cespedes, outfielder, New York Mets
The Mets have had a largely inconsistent offense this season. Still, they remain in the thick of the National League Wild Card chase. The offensive contributions of Cespedes have helped keep New York in contention.
Cespedes sports a .289/.362/.548 slash line. The latter two totals are both career highs. He’s also belted 22 home runs in 332 at-bats. That AB/HR rate of 15.1 is nearly three better than his previous career best.
If the Mets are going to earn one of the two wild card spots, they will need Cespedes in their lineup. The good news is that according to ESPN’s Adam Rubin, Cespedes is expected to return to New York after the 15-day minimum. Unfortunately, there’s some bad news as well.
First off, Cespedes will still miss at least seven more games. If the Mets struggle in that time, they’ll be digging a serious hole for themselves. Secondly, one never knows how long it will take a player to return to form following in injury. Oftentimes, it takes a few weeks worth of games.
That can’t happen with Cespedes. New York will need him to be back strong early. If that doesn’t happen, the Mets’ players can start booking tee times for October, especially given the other injuries the team is facing.
3. Asdrubal Cabrera, shortstop, New York Mets
In the same report where he gave good news on Cespedes, Rubin delivered some bad news on Cabrera.
“(Cabrera’s) progress from a strained patellar tendon has been slower than desired. He hit off a tee from the left side on Tuesday.”
Cabrera was one of the savviest acquisitions of this past winter. He’s hit 13 home runs with a .255/.308/.410 slash line. All are solid offensive totals for the shortstop position.
Additionally, Cabrera has provided a solid presence up the middle, playing better than expected defense at a premium position.
Cespedes is certainly the bigger name. But much like his teammate, if Cabrera doesn’t return and return strong, it’s hard to imagine New York having a terribly successful playoff race.
4. Danny Salazar, starting pitcher, Cleveland Indians
While nobody will mistake him for Clayton Kershaw, Salazar was in the midst of a very good season before getting hurt.
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) August 10, 2016
The Indians have a solid starting rotation. That will make them a very difficult team to face in a best-of-five or best-of-seven series. The problem, of course, is that they first have to make the playoffs.
Right now, that looks okay. The Tribe sit in first place in the American League Central, and even if that lead is squandered, a wild card spot would be likely. The problem is that Cleveland has been very dependent on its starting pitching to earn that playoff spot.
Without Salazar in the rotation, the Indians’ starters take a major hit. That will put Cleveland in a spot where it will have to rely heavily on an offense that hasn’t always been reliable.
5. Michael Brantley, outfielder, Cleveland Indians
The timing of Salazar’s return is uncertain. While the same can be said for his teammate, Brantley has had a long list of issues over the last year.
Here is a look at Brantley's timeline since injuring his shoulder last season. Has seen four doctors to date. pic.twitter.com/CbEs6G1ERu
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) August 9, 2016
The return of Brantley would be a huge difference maker for the Indians. Brantley was one of baseball’s best all-around offensive weapons during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. If he returns and returns strong, Cleveland becomes the American League’s best team and a clear favorite heading into October.
Without him, the Indians still likely make the playoffs, but it would hard to separate them from the AL’s other top teams.
Unfortunately for the Tribe, it doesn’t seem as though a return is imminent. The Indians are definitely a strong team. But without Salazar and Brantley, they are missing two big x-factors.
6. Nick Castellanos, third baseman, Detroit Tigers
Unfortunately for the Tigers, an injury to Castellanos will keep him out for most of the rest of the year. That will certainly hinder them in their efforts to chase down the Indians.
Castellanos was a big part of Detroit’s offensive success. Prior to his injury, the young third baseman had 18 home runs with a .286/.331/.500 slash line. He ranks fourth on the team in home runs and RBI and is tied for third in runs scored.
Now, one could look at the Tigers’ offense and say that they’re still formidable without Castellanos. Statistically, that’s true. The problem is that Detroit’s pitching rotation is well below average. For the Tigers to be at their best, they’ll need to score a lot of runs. Plenty will be scored against them.
In Castellanos’ absence, Casey McGehee is Detroit’s starting third baseman. That’s a significant drop.
As we documented, Cleveland has its problems too. The difference is that while the offense is sometimes shaky, the Indians are a far more balanced squad. Injuries will hurt the Tribe, but they’re not as dependent on any one element. The Tigers are.
The loss of Castellanos will certainly hinder Detroit’s chances of running down Cleveland. Worse, it could certainly make their spot atop a crowded American League Wild Card chase quite precarious.
7. Colby Lewis, starting pitcher, Texas Rangers
Lewis was one of the American League’s best pitchers for the first half of the season. Over 15 starts and 98 innings, he posted a tremendous 3.21 ERA and backed it up with a 1.020 WHIP. While Cole Hamels has a better reputation, he was not pitching better than his teammate.
Then Lewis got hurt. His return is very much in question.
At the time of his injury, the Rangers were 46-26 with a 9.5-game lead in the American League West. They still hold a strong lead in the division, but have played only .500 baseball since then.
The problem here is similar to what it was with the Dodgers. Texas has a good starting rotation but with one of its best starters out, is forced to rely more and more on the bullpen.
The difference is that Los Angeles has a strong bullpen that it hopes will hold up. The Rangers bullpen is well below average and is nowhere near as likely to hold up.
With September featuring a heavy load of divisional action, big leads can certainly shrink. If Lewis is out into the playoffs, his absence will certainly hurt Texas come October.
But with a shaky starting rotation and a bad bullpen, not having Lewis in the rotation could very well have a large impact on the regular season race as well.
8. Koji Uehara, relief pitcher, Boston Red Sox
An injury to a non-closing reliever may not quite be a headline grabber, but it’s certainly significant.
The Red Sox are a team with plenty of strengths, but starting pitching is not one of them. Naturally, a team with shaky starting pitching will need to rely a lot on its bullpen. Uehara’s 4.50 ERA wouldn’t tell you that he’s having a great year. For relievers, though, that can be a misleading stat.
Uehara’s WHIP (1.028) and strikeout rate (12.8 per nine innings) indicate that he’s having a tremendous season as one of Boston’s setup men.
His absence will test of the Red Sox pitchers. It also won’t be a short run.
Koji Uehara has started throwing from flat ground, out to 60 feet. Sox are going to take him gradually. If he's back it won't be quick
— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) August 9, 2016
The starters will consistently need to go deeper into games, while the other relievers will need to take on even bigger roles.
While the loss of a setup man may not grab headlines, this one can have a domino effect that will certainly impact the Red Sox as well as the American League East and wild card races.