On Tuesday evening, the injury bug hit the Kansas City Royals yet again. This time, it struck All-Star centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, as he pulled up lame running out a ground ball. As most know that follow the Royals, this is not the first time Cain has dealt with a leg injury. In fact, the Royals have spent the last few years trying to get him to kick the habit of lunging at the first base bag when running out grounders and for the most part he has been successful. Unfortunately, this time Cain is dealing with a strained left hamstring and was placed on the disabled list on Wednesday. So what effect will this have on Kansas City?
Let’s state the obvious first: it is never good to lose a player of Cain’s caliber, let alone the person who is probably the best player on the team. The Royals will obviously miss his stellar defense in center field, but this might turn out to be a nice break for Cain. Cain hasn’t been tearing it up offensively in June, hitting .280/..309/.333 with 6 RBI’s. He’s not hitting poorly, but he’s also not producing the way he was in May; .351/.387/.577 with 6 home runs and 25 RBI’s throughout the second month of the season. It is easy to see where some of the Royals struggles earlier this month can be traced back to Cain, as he has driven in about 20 runs less this month. I feel like I am dogging Cain for the past month, which I’m not; there is no way he would drive in 25 RBI’s every month. But with him batting in the middle of the Kansas City batting order, you would hope he would have contributed a bit more over the span of a full month. Sometimes a player needs to take a step back from the everyday grind of baseball to recharge and get back into a groove. Cain will be allotted that time for the next couple weeks.
So who will take Cain’s place in his absence? I would have to believe we will see more Jarrod Dyson, as he is a solid fit in center field. Dyson has had a rough June(.229/.357/.257 in only 43 plate appearances) as he has seen his playing time dwindle with Paulo Orlando seeing the majority of playing time in right field due to his hot hitting. Dyson will bring most of the same stellar defense that Cain brings to the table, but offensively he will be a few steps back. There’s also a chance that Brett Eibner, who was recalled again from Omaha once Cain went to the DL, could see some time in center, a position he has played in the minors. Playing Eibner in center field could be interesting, as he is a step back defensively but would add another power bat to the Royals lineup. The Royals tend to put an emphasis on defense the majority of the time, so Eibner would probably see less playing time but it might be a good litmus test to see how he does defensively for a couple of weeks until Cain is back.
Speaking of Cain coming back, you might be wondering about the timetable for his return. The word is that Cain has a Grade 1+ strained left hamstring, which is defined as follows:
With a grade 1 hamstring strain you may have tightness in back of the thigh but will be able to walk normally. You will be aware of some hamstring discomfort and unable to run at full speed. There will be mild swelling and spasm. Bend your knee against resistance is unlikely to reproduce much pain.
This would be why most didn’t notice a limp after Tuesday night’s game:
This would also explain why they are expecting him to return right after the All-Star break:
In other words, the injury came at an opportune time. With the All-Star break just a few weeks away, that gives the Royals just a tad over two weeks to let Cain rest and get healed without losing him for a long stretch of games. I would also say he will not be playing every single game upon his return, as they will want to monitor the hamstring and make sure not to re-aggravate it. The fact this isn’t Cain’s first leg injury is a concern, but an injury like this would be much more painful during the pennant stretch than it is in late June/early July.
An injury to an All-Star is never a good deal for any team, but the Royals should be able to hold the team together during Cain’s absence. Kendrys Morales is on a hot streak offensively and with Alex Gordon back in the fold the Royals offense isn’t as patched together as it was a month ago. If there is a real concern here, it is that Cain has had a myriad of leg injuries throughout his career, most notably back in 2012. You have to hope for the Royals sake that this is just a lone event and not a sign of things to come. Cain has stayed healthy for almost a two-year stretch(his last DL stint was in April of 2014) and the Royals need him healthy if they are going to make a return appearance in the playoffs. The Royals have the depth to wait out this injury and shouldn’t notice a big drop-off in his absence. If you really want a sign as to how the Royals have changed over the last 4-6 years, here it is. The Royals will be without their best player for a few weeks and there isn’t a giant alarm going off. This is progress, folks.