Aug 27, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Bruce Rondon (43) pitches in the sixth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Injuries are a part of any sport. Of course, some injuries matter more than others – an injury to a replaceable part of the bench is not nearly as major as an injury to a key starter. In fact, a major reason why the Royals were able to compete last season was due to their extraordinary health, not losing a major piece to the disabled list once the season started.
That health could once again be a major factor in the American League Central this season. The Detroit Tigers are already without their starting shortstop, Jose Iglesias, who is expected to be out for the season with stress fractures in both legs. Now, Bruce Rondon, who was expected to be a key part of their setup crew, is going to miss the entire 2014 season with Tommy John surgery.
While the Royals lost Luke Hochevar to Tommy John as well, there is a difference between the Royals and the Tigers. Kansas City has an incredible amount of bullpen depth, enough where it was thought that they may be able to trade excess pieces. Meanwhile, the Tigers did shore up their closer spot by signing Joe Nathan, but there are still questions as to how they will bridge the gap between the starters and Nathan.
Iglesias is not just the Tigers best defensive player, but he is also a key piece for a starting rotation that is littered with groundball pitchers. While the Tigers overall infield defense improved by moving Miguel Cabrera to first, they are still not exactly a great defensive ballclub. Add in the element of speed that Iglesias provided, and the Tigers have a major hole to fill there as well.
Heading into the season, it appeared as though the Tigers had come a bit closer to the Royals in the standings. While the Royals made moves to solidify their lineup, the Tigers traded away a solid starting pitcher in Doug Fister and Cabrera’s lineup protection in Prince Fielder. Now, with these injuries, what was expected to be a tight battle between the Tigers, Royals and the Cleveland Indians seems to have gotten even closer.
With the injuries sustained by the Tigers, the window of opportunity in the Central is getting wider. Should the Royals continue to enjoy the type of health they had last season, they may be able to push their way through.