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The All-Star break can't come soon enough for the New York Yankees. After a fantastic run throughout the first couple months of the 2017 campaign, it seems as if their good fortune has come to an end as injuries have begun to plague the ball club. Even after stringing together a number of losses recently, the Yankees still sit at a respectable 44-39 as they gear up for the second half of the season.
Long before their recent slide, Yankees 1B Greg Bird was the first to get bitten by the injury bug when he went down with a bruised right ankle. Initially thought of as a minor issue for the young slugger, the injury has continued to linger and is now a major cause for concern. Since going down on May 2nd, Bird has been transferred from the 10-day DL to the 60-day DL with surgery now being mentioned as a realistic option. After a stellar showing in Spring Training, this news is very disappointing for a player with as much potential as Bird.
With Bird out of the lineup, it has been no secret that the first base position has been a glaring hole for the team. For a good chunk of the year, the Yankees attempted to fill this hole with noted free-swinging Chris Carter. But the veteran has only managed to slash .201/.284/.370 with 8 homers to go along with a horrific 36.5% strikeout rate through 62 games. This lack of production resulted in the 30 year-old being designated for assignment (DFA) on two separate occasions.
Once fans got their long-standing wish of getting Carter out of New York, Tyler Austin was then looked to as being the answer at first base. Austin spent most of the first part of the season rehabbing from a fractured left ankle before making his way to the Yankees AAA affiliate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where he mashed his way to a .300 average to go along with 4 homers through 27 games. After being promoted to the Major League club, fans were hoping that Austin would duplicate the success he enjoyed in AAA. Sadly this wasn't the case as Austin hit only .154 through 4 games before straining his right hamstring and making his way to the 10-day DL.
While first base has seen its struggles, quite possibly the biggest blow to New York came when outfielder Aaron Hicks went down with a right oblique strain. At this time last season it would have been weird to say losing Hicks to the DL was a "big blow," but after a disappointing 2016 season where he was used mainly as a fourth outfielder, Hicks has exceeded everyone's expectations in 2017. With fellow outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury being sidelined for an extended period of time due to a concussion suffered early in the year, Hicks made the most out of increased playing time by hitting .290, driving in 37 runs, and blasting 10 homers in 60 games before the injury. This high level of play resulted in Hicks being considered for the All-Star team, but obviously that's off the table now as he hopes to make his way back to the team in 3 to 4 weeks.
The most recent player to go down with an injury was OF Dustin Fowler. In his very first MLB game, starting in right field, the rookie attempted to make a tough play on a ball hit towards the stands when he crashed into the wall and immediately went down clutching his right knee. Before even getting a Major League at-bat, Fowler's season came to an end when he was diagnosed with a ruptured right patellar tendon. Fowler had his knee operated on later that night and is currently on track to be back on the field for Spring Training next year.
Other notable Yankees that are currently sidelined include the recently named All-Star second baseman Starlin Castro, who is dealing with a strained right hamstring, and DH Matt Holliday, who has been recovering from a mysterious viral infection. But positive news for these two players is that they are both hopeful to return to the field soon. One other player who is worth mentioning is the team's No. 1 prospect, infielder Gleyber Torres. The electrifying young player was shooting through the team's farm system and was being mentioned as a call-up candidate to replace the dreadful Chase Headley at third base before he suffered an injury to his non-throwing arm on a headfirst slide into home plate. After the injury it was decided that he would undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery and hopefully be ready for Spring Training in 2018.
With all of this talk of injuries, it is a miracle that the club is only four games out of first place in the usually tough AL East and still sits in the driver's seat of the first AL Wildcard spot. Obviously a large portion of the team's success can be attributed to the team's Rookie sensation and MVP candidate OF Aaron Judge, who has taken both the Bronx and the league as a whole by storm this season. Judge has been the anchor for an offense that has consistently produced runs in bunches. But as previously mentioned, the Yanks have been racking up the losses as of late and while the injuries discussed throughout this article obviously play a major part in that, the pitching deserves the bulk of the blame.
Aside from Masahiro Tanaka, the starting rotation had surprisingly been a strong spot for the team for most of the year. Michael Pineda was turning in quality start after quality start, Luis Severino was seemingly turning into the ace pitcher many envisioned him to be, CC Sabathia was having a respectable year at 36 years old, and rookie Jordan Montgomery was exceeding expectations. But as many predicted before the year, the rotation has begun to come down to Earth with Sabathia joining many of his teammates for a stint on the DL and the remainder of the starters being blown up on a regular basis. But to make matters worse, the bullpen has been unreliable late in games. Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman have been unable to hold leads and this has become very frustrating for Yankee fans, as many of their recent losses have been by only one run.
One positive thing that has come from the injury woes is the fact that the Yankees have been forced to dip into their farm system to plug holes at the Major League level. This has resulted in the debuts for a number of exciting top tier prospects that have been referred to as the "Baby Bombers." The list includes INF Tyler Wade, OF Clint Frazier, 3B Miguel Andujar, previously mentioned OF Dustin Fowler, 1B Ji Man Choi, and reliever Domingo German among others.
While there is still plenty of baseball to be played, the New York Yankees have to be happy that they are in a position to make the playoffs, considering the low expectations many had for the club entering the season. There is hope that when these players eventually make their way off of the DL they will pick up where they left off and get the club back to their winning ways. But one thing that will surely help these players is the fact that they will get a much-needed rest during the upcoming All-Star break.