Injuries Strike Back, Take Two

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

In a game against the Cardinals on June 28, Lorenzo Cain injured his hamstring attempting to leg out an infield single. It was a last-ditch push for the bag where he landed awkwardly, causing a grade one strain of his hamstring. In sum, he missed 25 games, a stretch where the Royals went 9-16. It was a time the offense scored just 86 runs, averaging 3.4 runs per game. For an easier point of reference, just look to the month of July. You know what I’m writing about.

At the time we wrote about needing Cain to return to the lineup with haste in mid-July, said he was at 75 or so percent with his strained hamstring. He ended up missing around another 10 games. On Tuesday, Cain stated his injured wrist – the latest malady to hold him out of the lineup – is at 50 percent. Despite that, the Royals say he could return to action by Friday.

That may sound optimistic, but the Royals are going to need him if they’re going to make noise in the stretch run. But here’s the caveat: He’s going to need to be healthy.

Cain’s overall offensive performance has dropped from his third place MVP finish output from a year ago. He’s hitting .287/.366/.409 which isn’t particularly impressive compared to his output from a year ago and his TAv has dropped from .301 in 2015 to .263 this year. Some of that is due to regression. Some due to a slump just ahead of his injury in June. And some is certainly due to his injury. Still, his current 2.4 WARP is the highest among offensive performers on the team. He’s hit third more than any other Royal this season, starting 71 games in that spot in the order. You don’t simply remove a player like Cain from a lineup like the Royals and expect that everything will be fine.

Now, since going down with a wrist injury, Cain has missed the Royals last seven games. In this current stretch, the Royals have gone 3-4, betrayed more by a balky bullpen and some poor luck rather than going on an offensive walkabout. It also helps when you’re playing the Twins. Still, the fact remains that the Royals are a better team with Cain in the lineup.

Cain received an injection in his wrist a week ago Tuesday. He said his “grip strength” has been slow to return and he will likely need the offseason to fully recover. This is not good news for the Royals thin playoff hopes.

Ned Yost’s go-to replacement for Cain in the order is Eric Hosmer, sliding up from the cleanup spot. In the third spot in the order, Hosmer isn’t doing too shabby, hitting .259/.332/.466. He’s hit 11 home runs in 51 starts from this position in the batting order. In the small sample covering Cain’s latest injury, Hosmer has been on quite an little offensive run, hitting .286/.382/.607 with three of his now career-best 21 home runs.

With Cain out, everyone slides forward, which means behind Hosmer at number three, Kendrys Morales hits fourth followed by Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon. It can still be a formidable (as far as the Royals offense goes) middle of the order, but it looks to be further decimated with the fresh wrist injury to Perez who was plunked by a pitch in Tuesday’s game in Minneapolis. Perez is having his typical offensive year where he’s struggling to get his on base percentage above .300, but he is one of three Royals (along with Hosmer and Morales) who have hit at least 20 home runs. His .456 slugging percentage is tops on the team. His .265 TAv is a couple ticks above Cain’s and his 1.3 BWARP is tied for second best on the club.

The club said Perez underwent a fluroscan after the game, a look that is similar to an x-ray. The diagnosis at the moment is a wrist contusion, but we know the Royals track record with dealing with injuries. (See above.) Although in the issue of fairness, they are no different than any other major league club. Plus, it’s unfair to expect a diagnosis and timetable for return just an hour or so after the Perez injury occurred. What we do know is like Cain, Perez is an integral part of this offense and defense. It may be possible for the team to survive a short-term absence of one. Both? We don’t need to ponder that because we will end up with sleepless nights and unpleasant thoughts.

When we construct a postmortem on the 2016 Royals, injuries will loom large. Why should we have expected September to go any differently?

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