Monday, June 4, 2007

Injuries Shaping Both New York Baseball Teams:

This was initially intended as an audition for the yet-to-be-created job of sports writer at, but they haven’t gotten back to me and it is getting less topical by the minute:

The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. This is one of those things that players, coaches, and sports writers like to say until they are blue in the face—but fans and the press persist in acting like the Yankees, at twelve games out of the lead in the AL East, are in significantly better position than they were at thirteen.

Due to the length of the season, the frequency of games, and the nature of the game itself injuries are a more integral part of the baseball season than they are for other sports. Particularly, baseball teams have to be able to weather injuries to multiple players— good GM’s build them that way.

At the same time, no team could be expected to weather the injuries that have faced the Yankees. Initially it was their pitching, as first Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina went to the DL, followed shortly by Jeff Krastens, Phil Hughes, and Darrell Rastner. Even Karl Pavano bravely overcame his brief bout of health, and is now scheduled for Tommy John surgery, which should end his Yankee career. However, they eventually reached a point of equilibrium with their pitching when Wang and Mussina returned, and now Roger Clemmens is expected momentarily to provide even more help on that front, but only in time for the injury bug to transfer itself to the offense. Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, and Johnny Dammon have been dealing with nagging injuries, hampering their games. Now Giambi is out for the rest of the season, just in time to avoid being suspended for admitting to doing steroids. At this point their ability to score runs seems to come and go with the pain in Dammon’s calf.

The Mets got beat the first time that they played with their entire opening day outfield injured, but all-star third basemen David Wright was joining them on the bench due to back-spasms. In fact, the Met’s starting second basemen, Jose Valentin, has been on the DL since April, and they played almost all of May without their number two starting pitcher, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, and half of it without Moises Alou. The club is still waiting for Alou’s return; although Shawn Greene and Carlos Beltran, the other two outfielders, should be out for significantly less time.

But the injuries have not slowed the Mets down much, largely because, outside of El Duque (who is at best “pre-injured,” rather than healthy), they have been lucky enough avoid injuries to pitching. The Spring Training line-up that barely lost to Brandon Webb, might have beaten a less dominant pitcher. Indeed, many of the changes that the Mets have gone through as an organization are seen in their personnel at second base. In 2005 they had poor old Kaz Matsui— the most laughable and doomed of the Mets efforts to emulate the Yankees. In 2006, injuries to Anderson Hernandez and the continued awfulness of Kaz, forced them to experiment with Jose Valentin, a veteran form whom they had hoped for little more than the occasional pinch-hit. Valentin, however, played the position admirably, won the job of every-day second basemen, and became a valuable member of the ’06 Mets. He had continued to contribute for them into 2007, until he went down with injury—but he was replaced by Damion Easley who has also stepped up, fielding well and hitting seven home runs. Ruben Gotay has been filling in as Easely’s back-up, and he hasn’t been awful either.

To those of us out of the loop, it is impossible to tell weather the fact that the Mets have been regularly able to come up with a completely decent back-up option for second base and most other temporary needs is a result of managerial brilliance or dumb luck—but it is a huge part of why the Mets are holding onto a (admittedly not very impressive) lead in their division and the Yankees are hoping that a magnificent run of dominance and luck will have them in the Wild Card race sometime in August.

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