TORONTO – The question has been asked before, and it was asked again Tuesday, when all-stars Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Cecil became the 21st and 22nd different victims of the ongoing Toronto Blue Jays pandemic this season.
Why are players on this team injured so often?
“Not enough milk or something? No more breastfeeding? I don’t know,” manager John Gibbons quipped in a rare moment of levity. “Global warming?”
Silly stuff, of course, but phone calls to Al Gore and David Suzuki really couldn’t hurt, just in case the Rogers Centre’s dreadful artificial turf is emitting greenhouse gases that are eroding players’ health while also melting the ice caps.
At this point, the Blue Jays can't dismiss even the most ludicrous of possibilities, not after following up last year's injury-riddled mess - 18 disabled list stints and 1,278 games missed - with 26 trips to the DL and 1,237 games lost before Tuesday night's 2-0 victory over the New York Yankees. Solo shots by Colby Rasmus and Rajai Davis backed, R.A. Dickey who threw seven shutout innings in his 13th win.
Alex Anthopoulos has already said the glut of injuries is something the club must examine during the off-season, and given his nature, the review should be thorough. Hiring a medical director or someone to fill a similar role has been discussed internally.
Those are good things.
The problem, however, in examining the why is that the Blue Jays may very well end up chasing their tails by trying to answer a question for which there is no actual answer, a problem with no all-encompassing solution.
Take for example the cases of Encarnacion and Cecil.
Encarnacion tore cartilage in his left wrist while sliding over his hand into third base about a month ago, and tried to play through it before the pain became unbearable and surgery to repair the problem was scheduled.
"It's not a good feeling," he said of having his season cut short. "I'm happy I'm going to get it done, it bugs me a lot every swing I make."
Probably not much different could have been done there, and the same goes for Cecil, who had his workload cut last month because of nerve pain in his elbow, recovered briefly but again experienced pain leading to his shutdown. An MRI is planned, but there are no thoughts of surgery.
"Nope, it's just precautionary right now," he said. "I'm about 90 per cent sure that's what it is, (the MRI) is just for precautionary reasons. It's a matter of getting rest the whole off-season and the little bit extra that we have here, and probably doing some extra things to strengthen the muscles around the nerve."
So barring some unforeseen developments, there doesn't appear to be anything systemic that can be pointed to in either case to raise any white flags.
Really, beyond the four oblique injuries suffered by Blue Jays players this year (plus two last year), there isn't anything especially unusual in their injury patterns other than the volume. And while that's the crux of the matter, what if this is simply randomness wreaking havoc, if there's no panacea to be found?
As Gibbons put it, "You look all over baseball and injuries are common-place now. Pitchers nowadays, they get hurt more often than they ever do. That's everywhere."
Still, Encarnacion's early exit leaves J.P. Arencibia and Adam Lind as the only regular position players to avoid the DL this season, while Cecil's injury makes starters R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, relievers Casey Janssen and Aaron Loup plus swingman Esmil Rogers the only pitchers to go wire-to-wire.
Or, if you prefer, only 28 per cent of the roster has managed to stay on the field all season long - an attrition rate that isn't very conducive to winning.
Of course the fate of this miserable season for the Blue Jays was sealed long before the body count got so out of hand, and there are other much deeper issues for Anthopoulos to wrestle with this off-season.
The shutdowns of Encarnacion and Cecil have no bigger-picture implications on that front, instead marking disappointing ends to two of the better stories the Blue Jays have enjoyed this season.
Encarnacion was undoubtedly the club's MVP with a .272 average, 36 homers and 104 RBIs, following up his breakout 2012 with an even better performance.
"My goal, I tried to finish with the team playing all season and tried to make it to 40 home runs, to do it two years in a row, but the way I'm feeling I couldn't make it," he said. "I feel good with my season, and I hope next year I'll come back playing better, and at this time next year be in the playoffs."
Cecil finished 5-1 with a 2.82 ERA in 60 games out of the bullpen, developing into a trusted set-up man alongside Steve Delabar in bridging the gap to Janssen. He's a big reason why the bullpen was such a strength for the club this year.
"I'm not satisfied with how it ended, I would love to be able to pitch as much as possible and finish out the year strong and be with teammates, but I want to be there for my teammates next year, as well," Cecil said. "The mindset I had earlier in the season and throughout the whole season was that I had something to prove. I love being in the 'pen, I love the burst of energy and burst of adrenaline that gives me, and I look forward to doing it again next year."
The Blue Jays, too, are looking forward to next year trying to find ways to fill it with both a lot more health, and a lot more happiness.