The Kansas City Royals might enter the season with only one player on the disabled list, a luxury that other teams would undoubtedly envy. It might give the Royals a much needed buffer against the division championship favorite Detroit Tigers, as well as wild card competitors Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics.
The injury bug has been biting particularly hard this Spring. Both the Rangers and the Dodgers, favorites in their divisions, will limp into opening day. Los Angeles has lost Matt Kemp, Zack Greinke and Chad Billingsly until some time in April and Yasiel Puig is day-to-day with a back injury.
The Rangers might have it even worse. They’ve already lost starter Derek Holland for most of the season. Matt Harrison‘s back is still nagging him, even after he missed the virtually all of the 2013 season with surgeries that attempted to correct his back issues. Their young second base phenom Jurickson Profar tore a muscle in his shoulder and may not play until after the All-Star break. Geovany Soto will miss half the year with a torn meniscus in his knee. Elvis Andrus is having elbow issues. Yu Darvish will also miss opening day with a sore neck.
While the American League East teams remain mostly healthy, the West seems to be falling apart at the seems. In addition to the aforementioned Rangers, the Oakland Athletics lost a few important pieces this off-season.
The A’s lost their best starting pitcher for the season, Jarrod Parker. A.J. Griffin is also injured. So is Ryan Cook. So is Craig Gentry. That is a rough start for a team that was supposed to stay neck-and-neck with the Rangers in the race for the American League West Division Title.
The Mariners are on the fringe of the playoff race thanks to the additional wild card spot added last season. However, they now face multiple problems in their already problematic rotation. Taijuan Walker is out for a few weeks. Hisashi Iwakuma has been battling a sprained finger on his throwing hand and he’s always an injury risk. That rotation already couldn’t afford any more issues.
The Royals, on the other hand, have lost only right-handed reliever Luke Hochevar to Tommy John surgery. That’s it. Considering the extreme depth of the Royals bullpen, this is by far the most affordable injury the team could have suffered. Other than that, the Royals are fit as a fiddle. Alcides Escboar missed a few days with shoulder discomfort, but is back now. Second Baseman Omar Infante had bone spurs removed from his elbow, but continues batting and has yet to hit the disabled list.
As pointed out last month, the Royals’ outstanding health record could be a key to the team’s success. While several teams in competition with the Royals for a wild card spot are licking their wounds, the Royals might have a leg up for a time.
Perhaps most importantly, the Detroit Tigers took a major hit with the loss of shortstop Jose Iglesias. Iglesias suffered stress fractures to both tibiae (shins). He will miss half of the season, if not all of it. Left-fielder Andy Dirks will miss a few of months, making the Tigers rely solely on the bat of Rajai Davis at the position. Anibal Sanchez has been nursing a shoulder issue all spring. Justin Verlander has had a few issues as well.
The Royals are poised to earn a playoff spot by riding the misery of other teams.