The Kansas City Royals welcome the New York Yankees into Kauffman Stadium for a three-game series this weekend. The two teams have both played well early in the season, but have had much different experiences in dealing with injured players.
The Royals this season have avoided costly injuries. Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino are the only players the Royals have placed on the disabled list, and the two pitchers are both recovering from injuries sustained last season.
The Yankees, on the other hand, have been snake-bitten with injuries. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Michael Pineda are all recovering from off-season surgery, and the team has lost Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Joba Chamberlain, Ivan Nova, Francisco Cervelli and Kevin Youkilis since the start of spring training.
This isn't all just good luck for the Royals and poor luck for the Yankees. New York has an old roster, and old players are more likely to suffer injuries then younger players. The three veteran pitchers Kansas City has acquired since last season have all been relatively injury-free throughout their careers, which bodes well for the likelihood of staying off the DL this season.
That doesn't mean that injury fortunes cannot change quickly. Jered Weaver, Zack Greinke, Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez and Johnny Cueto are just a few key players currently on the disabled list that you wouldn't have necessarily predicted would wind up there before the season began.
Both Los Angeles teams have underperformed this season, and injuries have played a role in their disappointing starts. The Yankees have played quite well despite the rash of injuries, as they have received unexpected contributions from Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner in the lineup, while Hiroki Kuroda has pitched like an ace through his first seven starts of the season.
It's hard to imagine that the Royals would sit above .500 if Alex Gordon had to miss the first month of the season, or if Ervin Santana blew out his arm in spring training. It's possible that Will Smith or David Lough could catch fire and hold the fort down for a few weeks, but my fandom has conditioned me to expect the worse, so I would wager against lesser players stepping up and contributing.
It's also difficult to envision the Royals surviving a serious injury blow the remainder of this season, since their margin of error appears to be low. If the Salvador Perez or Lorenzo Cain injuries had happened this season instead of last, there would be less optimism surrounding the team, and the front office would be feeling quite a bit more heat from the fanbase.
The following statement is true for almost any major-league baseball team, but I feel like it is especially applicable for the Royals; the key players on the team must continue to stay healthy for the dream to stay alive for the rest of the season. Given how top-heavy the team's success has been, with Cain, Gordon and Billy Butler carrying the lineup and the team's top-three pitchers all currently sporting a sub-3.00 ERA, any long-term injury would be crippling.
I don't there is a good reason right now to expect any of those six players to suffer an injury that would cause them to miss significant playing time, but anything could happen. It's a long season and things are bound to change (including how much those players are contributing to the success of the team), so it's not completely unreasonable to worry about an important player missing time.
Of course, if the Royals can manage to keep everyone healthy for the vast majority of the season, it would be a big advantage for their chances of success in 2013. The lineup is young and doesn't have many players who have shown a tendency to get hurt (Cain is probably the exception, but he still has the young factor working for him). The pitchers have a bit more wiggle room, as the team could likely recover from a starter or two getting hurt in the summer with Paulino and Duffy slated to return.
It can be frustrating to acknowledge that forces outside of a team's control can have an impact on the season, but that's the reality of any professional sport. The front office has done good job trying to avoid players more likely to receive injuries, and it has payed dividends so far this season. I have no idea how much credit the team's training staff deserves for the current positive bill of health, but they should also receive some of our thanks as well.
Looking at the Yankees injury issues can scare you into thinking that a big injury is bound to happen, or can make you thankful that the team is less likely to deal with the same problems. They also could offer inspiration if a big injury happens, since they have continued to win without many key contributors.
So I'm not sure if this article has a larger point, other than I find comparing the team's and their polar opposite injury situations interesting. I do know the fact that the Royals key players have all stayed healthy has helped the team start the season well and will continue to be a big factor for the rest of the season, whether it is a positive or negative one.