It might be hyperbolic to consider Thursday, July 10th “BLACK THURSDAY” but few days in recent memory spread so much misery across the baseball landscape.
The injury bug didn’t just bite, it burrowed deep beneath the skin of the pennant race and sent a toxic disease coursing through its veins.
Three very big names went down Thursday, costing playoff aspirant teams some key contributors and big names. How do these teams cope with these losses? An investigation:
RIP Masahiro Tanaka
The biggest blow came arguably to the right elbow of Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees ace and $100 million dollar man was diagnosed with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm, a precursor to Tommy John surgery, should the six weeks of rest and platelet rich plasma injection fail to heal the Japanese master of the splitter.
The Yankees problems are two-fold. Number one, this season might be all but over. The loss of one player is tough to take, but no man is an island and no baseball team with playoff dreams lives and dies with one player who only performs every five days.
But Tanaka is not the only Yankee starter on the shelf. CC Sabathia suffered a setback earlier this month and his return is in question. Michael Pineda is throwing again, but only on flat ground and pitching in the big leagues remains a long term proposition. Ivan Nova threw himself before the Ligament Gods and won’t be back until next season.
It all adds up to “Brandon McCarthy, staff ace” and the kind of strain on pitching depth no team can weather easily.
The Yankees have the deep pockets to perhaps hit the trade market and take on salary to continue their assault on the AL East standings. But with a spotty lineup (now without Carlos Beltran, another Black Thursday casualty) and iffy defense, a team built around pitching now finds itself facing a lost season.
In the bereft American League East, anything can happen. But losing Tanaka makes an already challenging situation nearly impossible, even for the Bronx Bombers. The three extra wins he accounts for could have extra sting as the Yanks struggle to back fill their rotation with even replacement-level talent.
RIP Yadi Molina
The idea of replacement level reminds me of high school calculus - it seems daunting at first but once you grasp the main concept, the logic is inescapable.
The numbers, the inputs and variables that put food on the Wins Above Replacement are not the foundation, it is the ideas that are the true driving force behind these concepts, and the reason they gained so much traction in the baseball world over recent years.
There is a very good reason that the “replacement level” for catchers is set so high - finding a viable starting catcher is very difficult. By this same token, replacing one is even tougher. Yadier Molina is one of the best catchers in baseball. Few people will dispute this, though fans in San Francisco and Milwaukee will argue that their guy belongs atop the heap.
There is an ocean of talent between Yadi and whoever the Cardinals could possibly hope to insert in his place during the three or four months he’s expected to miss. Tony Cruz is the Cards’ dutiful backup, the man charged with managing the staff in the youngest Molina’s absence.
The mythic qualities of Yadi’s pitching calling and control of the running game are likely overblown, intangible skills that somehow overshadow his actual on field skills, which are all but unmatched.
Luckily for St. Louis, they are only without their talisman for a few months, a shot the deepest team can roll with provided their offense finally kicks into gear. With the Brewers swooning and the Reds dealing with issues of their own, the Cardinals could escape this unfazed.
RIP Brandon Phillips
Piling on Brandon Phillips is old hat. At 35, he is not the player he once was. Heck, even the player he once was isn’t half the player his “legend” describes. He is a great second baseman who hits more than his share of home runs and benefits from hitting behind Joey Votto and others.
If ever there was a player the Reds could easily replace, it’s Phillips. Just like his division mate Molina, BP is set to miss six weeks or so with a torn thumb ligament.
As unappealing as Ramon Santiago and Skip Schumaker are as Phillips stand-ins, the difference between what they bring and he offers is far less than baseball’s star mechanism would have us believe.
Like the Yankees, the cascading effect of losing both Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips might doom the Reds, as stretching bench players into starters in two different spots introduces more marginal big leaguers to the equation than a team making moves on a division title would like.
No one player can individually turn the tide of an entire season. But injuries stacked on top of each other and in positions might force the Reds, Cardinals, and Yankees to reevaluate their 2014 goals and what, if anything, they expect to take away from this year.
Feature photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports/Jeff Curry