You know, if there’s anything we’ve blamed the shocking ineptitude of the 2013 Dodgers on, it’s injuries. Sure, there were some foolish decisions in the front office — a big contract for Brandon League, not really having a backup plan for Luis Cruz — and Don Mattingly has certainly earned his fair share of detractors so far, but nothing has killed this team more than the absence of core players.
That goes for Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp and Zack Greinke and A.J. Ellis and Chad Billingsley and… well, you know the list by now. When your team has exactly two players who have hit enough to even qualify for the batting title, when it’s the third week of June and not only has just about the entire 40-man roster appeared in the bigs but Justin Sellers and Juan Uribe have the most plate appearances on the left side of the infield… that’s an enormous problem.
It’s a pretty good excuse for the failure of this team, because it’s such a valid one. Except as the Dodgers head into Yankee Stadium tonight — I’ll be there, high above home plate — they face perhaps the only team in baseball who can claim similar issues, but the difference is that the Yankees haven’t allowed it to ruin their season. Neither Derek Jeter nor Alex Rodriguez have seen the field this year, nursing injuries sustained in last year’s playoffs. Power bat Curtis Granderson (84 homers over the last two seasons) was hurt when he was hit by a pitch in camp, came back to play in eight games, then broke a knuckle when he was hit again. Mark Teixeira‘s bad wrist kept him out until May 31, allowed him to hit .151/.270/.340 in 15 games, then put him back on the shelf too.
It goes on and on. Kevin Youkilis is battling back problems, and so is Andy Pettitte. Catcher Francisco Cervelli broke his hand on a foul ball in the same game that starter Ivan Nova left with elbow soreness — hell, Michael Pineda, the prize of last year’s Jesus Montero trade that now looks like a lose-lose deal, still hasn’t pitched for the team after hurting his shoulder.
We spent a lot of time laughing at the Dodger lineups last year that had Juan Rivera, Bobby Abreu, & Adam Kennedy all together, or even this year’s oddball infield lineups that had some combination of Cruz, Sellers, Uribe, Dee Gordon, and Nick Punto. But this Yankee team has started Lyle Overbay (cut by Boston in camp) at first base 48 times (and four times in right field!) He’s hitting .240/.282/.440. They’ve given 62 starts at short and third to Jayson Nix; he’s hitting .259/.319/.312 with mediocre fielding. They’ve constantly cycled through the waiver wire flavor of the week, picking up and dumping names like Brennan Boesch, Reid Brignac, Ben Francisco, Alberto Gonzalez, Thomas Neal, and Chris Nelson. Hell, my pals over at River Ave Blues actually sounded mildly disappointed the Dodgers beat them to John Baker over the weekend. John Baker!
Of course, the pièce de résistance, this team was in such bad shape that they willingly took on Vernon Wells from the Angels in late March, after Granderson went down. You want problems? You think the Dodgers have problems? This team has problems.
And yet… it’s worked, more or less. It helps that their superstar bat (Robinson Cano) is contributing far more than Kemp is, that they still have Mariano Rivera where the Dodgers have League, and that their speedy outfielder who missed basically all of last season (Brett Gardner) has not only been productive, but healthier than Crawford. The Yankees were in first place as late as May 26, and even today they’re just three games out and seven games over .500.
It’s starting to fall apart, of course, because guys like Travis Hafner, Overbay, and Wells, who helped push the Yankees out of the gate with hot starts, have absolutely cratered. In Thursday’s 18-inning loss to Oakland, the quartet of Hafner, Teixeira, Wells, & Youkilis combined to go 0-28 with three walks. In June, this team is hitting just .217/.289/.318, which is a .268 wOBA that’s worse than every club in baseball outside of the Astros; they’ve lost 10 of their last 17.
Now the Dodgers come to town in what should be a pretty entertaining series, if only for the presence of Don Mattingly, the history between these two clubs, and of course the arrival of Yasiel Puig in New York. The Dodgers have their problems; so, so many. But so do the Yankees, and they’ve managed to keep it together so far where the Dodgers have not. Perhaps, as Los Angeles limps through another road trip, the Dodgers can pick up some pointers.