Five Teams Benefiting From Injuries

Congratulations! If you’re a major leaguer and you survived spring training, you’re already doing a whole lot better than a number of your peers. From the near-endless run of pitching injuries — sorry, Brandon BeachyPatrick CorbinDerek HollandKris MedlenJarrod ParkerBruce Rondon and others — to Jurickson Profar‘s torn shoulder muscle to Jose Iglesias‘ stress fractures and on and on, this year’s spring has been a meat grinder, and the domestic season hasn’t even started yet.

With injuries to valuable players comes an inevitable impact on pennant races, particularly when some of those teams have realized that their backup alternatives are far from adequate.

Today, we count down five teams who are in better shape now than they were even a few weeks ago, if for no other reason than that their rivals for October have been slowed.

5. Seattle Mariners

Despite the acquisition of second baseman Robinson Cano, most had the Mariners safely pegged in fourth place in the AL West behind Oakland, Texas and Los Angeles, because this is still a team that lost 91 games last year and didn’t do enough to answer questions in the rotation, outfield and behind the plate.

The Mariners may yet end up in fourth, especially with starters Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker aching, but look at what’s befallen their division rivals. Oakland lost Parker, is likely withoutA.J. Griffin until May, and now has to count on the fragile Scott Kazmir staying whole. Texas already lost Profar for three months, then announced its Opening Day rotation, and it’s almost hard to believe: Tanner ScheppersMartin PerezRobbie RossJoe Saunders and Nick Martinez. That’s three pitchers who have combined for zero major league starts (Scheppers, Ross, Martinez), one coming off a decent rookie season (Perez), and a 33-year-old coming off a 5.26 ERA who signed only weeks ago (Saunders). Yu Darvish, Holland and Matt Harrison will be back, but for now, it’s tough in Arlington.

Seattle is still flawed, but it has two of the top 10 players in the game, and it’s now in a division where both recent champions are hurting.

4. San Francisco Giants

In the world of two wild-card teams, a club doesn’t need to only focus on its division rivals for a path to October, and that’s good news for the Giants, since the Dodgers are the consensus pick to take the NL West. But behind the three generally-accepted favorites in Los Angeles, St. Louis and Washington, the NL couldn’t be more wide open.

Atlanta would have been in the conversation for being a favorite as well before its rotation completely imploded after injuries to Beachy, Medlen and Mike Minor; fellow competitors Arizona (Parker, Bronson Arroyo), Cincinnati (Homer BaileyMat Latos), Colorado (Jhoulys Chacin), and San Diego (Cameron MaybinJosh Johnson) are dealing with injuries of varying severity as well.

Those teams should still be in the race, but now that Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu are battling (reportedly minor) aches, the Giants are left with the NL West’s only fully healthy rotation at the moment — along with easily the best catcher in baseball (Buster Posey), Brandon Beltcoming off a 4-WAR season, and Pablo Sandoval in a contract year.

As we’ve seen every year, someone unexpected rises up to take a playoff spot. With NL contenders taking hits from all direction, the team led by Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain now has as good a shot as anyone else.

3. Kansas City Royals and 2. Cleveland Indians

Pick these two in any order you like, because they’re both teams with lots of young talent who have absolutely noticed what’s happened in Detroit. Not only has Iglesias’ injury left the Tigers without a decent shortstop, but Andy Dirks‘ back injury has ruined the Tigers’ planned left field platoon, and Rondon’s elbow surgery means that a bullpen already without Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly from last season now has to count on 39-year-old Joe Nathan‘s declining velocity and a cast of setup men potentially led by Joba Chamberlain.

That’s bad news for the Tigers, but very good news for the only two other teams in the division with a realistic chance to catch them. Cleveland tied for the fifth-most runs scored last year, and is gambling that the offensive upgrade the dangerous Carlos Santana will bring at third will overcome his defensive deficiencies there; on the pitching side, there may not be a pitching prospect people are more excited to see over a full season than Danny Salazar.

The Royals — who won more games than anyone other than the Dodgers in the second half — have their own highly-touted young pitcher in flamethrower Yordano Ventura, and hope they’ve plugged last season’s giant holes at second base and right field with Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki. With that starting rotation, the Tigers are still the favorite, but the door certainly looks a lot more open than it did a few weeks ago.

1. Los Angeles Angels

Take everything we said about the Mariners above — that the Athletics and Rangers are suddenly vulnerable — and amplify it for the Angels. Like Seattle, this is a team with issues, but not even Cano can match the impact that Mike Troutoffers as the best player in baseball, and while neither Albert Pujols nor Josh Hamilton are likely to ever live up to their contracts, their demises have been somewhat overstated.

Pujols in particular seems ripe for a rebound, because he was still a slightly above-average hitter playing on a painful foot last year, and with that trouble supposedly behind him — by most reports, he’s looked very good this spring — there’s a decent chance for him to be a 4-WAR player again.

What was a two-horse race in the AL West now has to admit the Angels back into the fray, with some projections actually favoring them over their rivals. Projections alone don’t win pennants, of course, and a lot is going to have to go right here — like Jered Weaver holding off his own decline, like Hamilton showing he’s more the player he was in the second half (122 wRC+) than in the first (92 wRC+), and like the newly-acquired back-of-the-rotation (Hector SantiagoTyler Skaggs) showing they are worth Mark Trumbo.

That Texas rotation will look a lot better later this season, and Oakland is still one of the game’s deeper teams, but the Angels have a chance now, where it looked like they probably didn’t before. Considering the amount of money Arte Moreno has put into this roster, it’s vital they take advantage of it.




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Mike Petriello used to write here, and now he does not. Find him at @mike_petriello or MLB.com.

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