MLB Teams That Are 1 Injury Away from Falling Apart

Benjamin Klein@BenjaminJKleinContributor IIIMay 7, 2013

MLB Teams That Are 1 Injury Away from Falling Apart

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    It can take just one injury to turn a contending Major League Baseball team into a non-factor for the remainder of the season.

    There have already been a large number of impact players going down with injuries this season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see more land on the 15- or 60-day disabled list.

    The Los Angeles Angels, for example, have had their offensive struggles, but having a healthy Jered Weaver would boost their contending hopes. But with Weaver sidelined with a broken left elbow, the Angels aren’t really in the AL West picture right now, despite it only being just over a month into the 2013 season.

    A handful of other teams could find themselves in a similar position to the Angels should something happen to one of their key players. What’s essential is having depth and being able to survive through a star’s injury, like the Texas Rangers have while Matt Harrison is out for an extended period of time after undergoing back surgery.

    While some teams could survive a big injury, here are the teams that cannot at this point in the season.

    *All statistics in this article were obtained via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. All contract information was obtained via Cot’s Contracts. All injury information was obtained via Baseball Prospectus.

Colorado Rockies

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    Somehow, the Colorado Rockies have stayed afloat through the first month-plus of the regular season. Great hitting and pitching have led Colorado to an 18-13 record, the second best in the NL West; just half a game behind the San Francisco Giants.

    Colorado’s four offensive stars, Dexter Fowler, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer, have all been very impressive this season, each with a WAR over 1.0. The starting rotation has been solid, with Jhoulys Chacin leading the way at 3-1 with a 2.56 ERA in five starts.

    How long the Rockies can stay in contention is up for debate, but it’d definitely be over in the blink of an eye if Tulowitzki were to get injured again. He’s arguably the most injury-prone player on Colorado’s active roster.

    Tulowitzki only played in 47 games last season because of a groin injury that required surgery. He’s also dealt with hip and wrist issues previously in his career and has battled a rotator cuff strain already this season.

    The Rockies, who haven’t made the postseason since 2009, need all of their best players healthy all year long if they’re going to make any noise. If Tulowitzki can play in 150 games, anything is possible. If not, well, then, there’s always 2014.

Atlanta Braves

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    The Atlanta Braves have been one of baseball’s best teams to start the season, and it appears that Justin Upton is an obvious MVP candidate already. The Braves currently sit atop the NL East by 2.5 games with a 19-12 record.

    Upton is off to a fantastic start, as I just mentioned. Through 31 games, he’s hitting .286/.388/.652 with 12 home runs, 21 RBI and 25 runs. He’s played exceptionally in the outfield and hasn’t made any mistakes on the basepaths.

    But without Upton, are the Braves really that scary? No, they aren’t. Although some of the other pieces are clicking, it appears that Atlanta is going to live or die with Upton.

    Keep in mind that the Braves’ most talented players outside of Upton are Jason Heyward and Justin's brother, B.J. Upton. Heyward has been hurt, but in 17 games is hitting .121/.261/.259 with a pair of home runs and five RBI. B.J. Upton is hitting .148/.231/.269 with three home runs and five RBI in 29 games.

    Even if the pitching staff dominates, the Braves are going to have a tough time competing in the NL East without Justin Upton, should he fall to injury. He’s stayed relatively healthy throughout the bulk of his career, but injuries tend to pop up out of nowhere.

New York Yankees

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    It’s crazy to think how long the New York Yankees have had the injury bug this season. It seems like every week, the Bronx Bombers are placing another player on the disabled list.

    At the moment, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, Curtis Granderson, Joba Chamberlain and Ivan Nova are all on the DL, among a couple other less important players.

    What’s impressive is how well the Yankees have played this season while nearly all of the aforementioned stars have yet to even take the field. New York is currently just two games back of the Boston Red Sox for the AL East lead.

    But if one more domino falls, it’s all over for the Yankees. If there’s one player on New York who has to stay healthy as his teammates work their way back to the lineup, starting rotation and bullpen, it’s Robinson Cano. If Cano goes down, the Yankees are in serious trouble.

    There’s no one who can replace Cano’s bat in the lineup or his defense at second base. He’s currently leading the Yankees in WAR and would be extremely difficult to replace considering the lack of infield depth that New York has.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates have gotten off to another good start this season, currently sitting in second place in the NL Central, three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. To potentially catch the Cardinals, the Pirates need healthy arms.

    Pittsburgh currently has the 27th-best pitching staff in baseball in terms of WAR. That’s mainly because, outside of A.J. Burnett in the starting rotation and the combination of Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon in the bullpen, not many of Pittsburgh’s pitchers have been all that great.

    It is important to take into consideration that the Pirates are missing a couple of starting pitchers already due to injuries. Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton and Francisco Liriano are all on the 15-day disabled list with various expected return dates.

    In the meantime—and really throughout the entire season—Pittsburgh needs a healthy Burnett. He’s been a leader since coming over from the New York Yankees, winning 16 games last season and posting a 3.51 ERA across 202.1 innings of work.

    Without Burnett, the starting rotation would be in shambles, and Pittsburgh would either need to hope that the rest of the staff could pick up the slack or it’d have to make a move to acquire someone to replace him. Simply put, Pittsburgh will not make the playoffs if Burnett goes down with an injury.

Cleveland Indians

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    The Cleveland Indians are still in the mix in the AL Central, despite being just a game above .500. Cleveland has a fair shot at making the postseason, but it certainly won’t be easy top the Kansas City Royals or Detroit Tigers to win the division crown.

    The Cleveland offense has really led the way for the club this season, currently leading all other teams in WAR. The pitching staff, on the other hand, has left something to be desired, as it’s currently ranked No. 25 in baseball in WAR.

    So what does that mean? Well, it means that either the pitching staff is going to have to step it up or that the Indians have to hope that none of their offensive stars get hurt. The most important player on the team that Cleveland needs healthy is Carlos Santana.

    Through 25 games, Santana is hitting .367/.462/.667 with six home runs, 14 RBI and 18 runs. Although he hits toward the lower half of the lineup, he’s arguably made the biggest impact this season. He leads the team in WAR, for what it’s worth.

    Santana has done a good job of staying healthy throughout the course of his young career—and Cleveland has to hope that things stay that way. The Indians would lose a dynamic aspect of their offense if Santana were to get hurt. And it could even lead to the Indians falling out of contention.