Injuries happen. They are a part of sports, whether it be at the high school, college or professional level. Being prepared to survive a wave of injuries that strikes during the grind of a long season is part of what makes a team successful.
However, what the New York Yankees are dealing with this season is unprecedented, and it’s just straight-up hard to believe at times.
As of Sunday, the Yankees had 13 players on the injured list. There are 25 spots on a team’s regular-season roster. It does not take a genius to realize that is a pretty sizable chunk of production missing.
At one point in mid-April, the Yankees were missing eight of the nine pieces of their full-strength lineup. Concurrently, New York was without two of its five starting pitchers.
In addition to a handful of key role players, the Yankees’ injured list is littered with bona fide stars. Former National League MVP outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and former American League MVP runner-up outfielder Aaron Judge head the list and have each played only a handful of games. Starting pitcher Luis Severino — who finished third in the 2017 American League Cy Young voting — has yet to pitch a game in 2019 and likely will not toe the rubber until after the all-star break.
Relief pitcher Dellin Betances, one of the league’s most dominant relievers over the past five seasons, has not pitched due to a shoulder injury. And shortstop Didi Gregorius and outfielder Aaron Hicks — both of whom are key cogs in a lineup that has been among baseball’s best for two seasons — have not played yet due to elbow and back injuries.
Every time it appears the team is getting some relief and help is on the way, another name hits the shelf. As the Yankees welcomed third baseman Miguel Andujar back from a 28-game absence after a small labrum tear in his shoulder, the team announced that starting pitcher James Paxton would miss three weeks with a knee injury.
But by some miracle, these Yankees are 19–14 and sitting just two games back of first place in the division. But how?
Despite the pile of injuries, the Yankees are still hitting well. New York is in the Top 10 in the league in nearly every offensive statistical category — batting average, on-base percentage, home runs, hits and runs. The watered-down lineup packs a punch that is a far cry from that of last year’s record-setting crew — one that spent the season perched atop a bevy of offensive league-leader lists.
But whatever it is doing is working. Led by spectacularly unspectacular first baseman Luke Voit, the offense has collected enough timely hits to get by. Catcher Gary Sanchez — who had a 10-day IL stint of his own — has quietly been one of the best hitters in baseball. The third-year catcher is tied for third in the league with 11 homers, and he has more than 30 fewer at-bats than everyone else in the top nine.
Aside from Sanchez, no hitter on the roster has particularly stood out — partially because no one has stayed healthy enough to contribute consistently. New York has simply timed its hits well enough to sneak out of close games with victories.
On the mound, it has again been a collective effort to come up with the production to replace the arms on the IL. The banged-up pitching staff is nestled just inside the Top 10 in earned runs allowed, hits allowed, batting average against and strikeouts.
Before landing on the injured list on Sunday, Paxton was leading the rotation with a 3.11 ERA. His 52 strikeouts in 37.2 innings rank eighth in all of baseball. 26-year-old Domingo German has been a pleasant surprise in the Bronx, but many within the organization fear that his performance is just a flash in the pan.
The vaunted bullpen has held its own, but has blown a few more late leads than expected. The unit is rated as right around league-average by most metrics, which is a disappointment relative to pre-season expectations. But it is hard to find much to complain about when a team with this many injuries is sitting at five games above .500.
Which is why, again, what New York has done is nothing short of a miracle. Manager Aaron Boone is running out lineups comprised of anonymous names on a daily basis. If you had asked even the most die-hard Yankees fan who Mike Ford, Giovanny Urshela or Mike Tauchman were before the season, you would likely get a blank stare.
And if you had told them that those three guys would routinely be in the lineup, they would probably guess that hell had frozen over.
Here we are, and as the light at the end of the tunnel becomes visible, Yankees fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Most of the injured players are due back in May or June, and New York has done more than enough to remain competitive as it waits for its stars to return.
The nightmare is almost over and reinforcements are on the way.