While the sprint of 2020 gave urgency to the regular season, this year brought back the challenge of baseball’s marathon regular season. The longer season brings greater health challenges. We’re particularly on edge for pitchers attempting to more than double their year-over-year workload. Hamstring injuries to position players have proven to be the more drastic bugaboo in the early going, however. Regardless, less than two weeks into 2021, the landscape has already begun to shift rosters and change odds.
The defending champs just placed Cody Bellinger on the 10-day injured list, while MVP runner-up Mookie Betts has been out of the lineup for a couple of games now. As much as a Dodgers lineup without Bellinger and Betts will boost some heart rates, neither injury appears to be serious – for now. The concern for all injuries, of course, goes beyond the time missed.
The Diamondbacks started the year with ace Zac Gallen on the shelf, and it took only one appearance for offseason addition and candidate-to-close Joakim Soria to join him on the shelf. Starters Nick Ahmed and Kole Calhoun have been out, though both recently returned to the lineup. Gallen should return this week too, but now Ketel Marte is out with a strained hamstring. Marte’s injury hurts all the more, not only because he’s become the face of the franchise in the post-Paul-Goldschmidt era, but because he was off to a rip-roaring start to the season with a 259 wRC+ through six games.
The Padres might have the scariest injury of all this season, as the centerpiece of their organization, Fernando Tatis Jr., dislocated his shoulder at the plate. Shoulder subluxation is the technical term, but a slight tear in his left labrum is the term to make you wince. Tatis is already working his way back, but this is going to be a pins-and-needles situation for the rest of the season, not only for the Padres, but for the league, as Tatis Jr. has rapidly become the face of the “let the kids play” generation. The Padres have also dealt with injuries to Trent Grisham, Dinelson Lamet, Austin Nola, Pierce Johnson, Michel Baez, and others. The Padres offseason spending spree all but guaranteed that they have the depth to contend, but the injuries are piling up.
Bad news has not been unique to the NL West, however. The Nationals started the season with a COVID-19 outbreak, which delayed their opening series and placed nine players on the injured list on Opening Day. Patrick Corbin made his return the other night, but he was rusty, and they still have yet to see Kyle Schwarber, Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, Jon Lester, or Will Harris.
The Mets knew they’d be without Noah Syndergaard for the first half, but Carlos Carrasco has joined him on the injured list, as have key bullpen arms in Dellin Betances and Seth Lugo. J.D. Davis is out now as well, though Jonathan Villar should grant them cover at the hot corner until Davis returns.
In the American League, the White Sox head the list of forlorn head-shakers. Eloy Jimenez tore his pectoral late in spring, forcing the ChiSox to lean early on their questionable depth. First base prospect Andrew Vaughn and spring-training-castoff Billy Hamilton made for a patchwork timeshare, but Hamilton is out now as well. Tim Anderson, mercurial leadoff man and heartbeat of the roster, is also out with – you guessed it – a hamstring injury. How innocent it seemed when the team’s fourth outfielder Adam Engel went on the injured list at the end of Spring Training, but it’s only gotten worse since then.
Like the White Sox, the Blue Jays are a popular pick for the “it” team of 2021, but they’ve been without star pitching prospect Nate Pearson and prized offseason addition George Springer. Robbie Ray has been activated for his season debut, but closer Kirby Yates may never even throw a pitch for the Blue Jays. Yates needs Tommy John surgery, and he’ll miss the season.
The Astros got their injury heartbreak early enough to pivot before the season even started. They knew they’d be without Justin Verlander, but Framber Valdez’s season is now in doubt as well. Losing Valdez particularly smarts, given the breakout he enjoyed in 2020. They’re also without Austin Pruitt, Pedro Baez, Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb, and Josh James. They were able to add Jake Odorizzi, but will he be enough?
The A’s got a real punch in the gut with A.J. Puk’s injury news. It might be funny if it weren’t so tragic: Puk shined in his season debut, only to find himself back on the injured list. The same can be said for Trevor Rosenthal, a savvy offseason addition to replace departed closer Liam Hendriks without the long-term financial commitment. It took a season and a half for Rosenthal to re-calibrate after Tommy John surgery, but he seemed to have found the form that made him a star closer for the Cardinals early in his career. Oakland’s $11MM investment is now on the 60-day injured list.
The Rays lost Nick Anderson and large swaths of their bullpen, as have the Yankees, who are down a couple of southpaws and their first baseman. A strained oblique sent Adalberto Mondesi to the injured list on Opening Day. Josh Donaldson doubled in his first plate appearance – and then headed to the injured list. The Rangers have done a full line change in the bullpen, and veterans James Paxton, Dexter Fowler, and Seranthony Dominguez are all out for the year.
The first punches of the 2021 season have been thrown. Some teams have had better luck than others, but all face the reality of a long season. Injuries are not the fun part of the game, but they are a part of baseball. If nothing else, every injury provides an opportunity for somebody else. Narratives change, but baseball continues, and we crown new heroes every day. After all, Adam Wainwright’s iconic strikeout of Carlos Beltran in the 2006 postseason never happens if Jason Isringhausen isn’t injured in September, for example. Tom Brady doesn’t get a chance to start if Drew Bledsoe isn’t injured. And so on.
Which team’s new reality is most disconcerting? Which team’s early injuries have changed their long-term fortunes the most? And who did I leave out? (Poll link for app users)