The Kansas City Royals beat the Tampa Bay Rays 9-7 on Wednesday, extending their AL Central Division lead over the Minnesota Twins to 4 1/2 games. However, the mood in the Royals clubhouse afterward was quite somber. Alex Gordon, their All-Star left fielder, buckled and crashed into the outfield wall while chasing a fly ball, and was eventually carted off the field.
The Royals diagnosed him with a grade two-plus groin strain, which is (a) apparently a thing, and (b) not exactly consistent with what the play looked like. But who am I, a guy on the internet, to judge the training and expertise of medical professionals? Gordon's injury will not require surgery, the club announced, but he will miss at least eight weeks of action.
Naturally, Royals players took the news very hard. Gordon is one of the club's veteran leaders, and is arguably the best player on their roster. His 2.9 WAR in 2015 ranks second to Lorenzo Cain at 3.7, and Gordon led the Royals with 6.6 WAR last year. Since moving to left field in 2011, Gordon has accumulated 25.3 WAR in a Royals uniform. He's good.
But what kind of impact will his injury have on the AL Central playoff race? Gordon is the best hitter in the Royals' lineup, with a .394 on-base percentage, .370 wOBA, and 138 wRC+. His 11 home runs are second only to Salvador Perez, and Gordon is the only Royal drawing walks at a 10 percent clip. Defensively, Gordon is a key component of the most efficient defense in baseball. Small sample alert, but he has a 7.9 UZR and has been worth +4 defensive runs saved (DRS) in 668 outfield innings this season. These are well in line with his numbers and accolades -- he's a four-time Gold Glove winner -- since his move to the outfield.
Gordon's replacement on the Royals' 25-man roster has yet to be announced, but he will likely be replaced in their lineup by a trio of players. Jarrod Dyson, Alex Rios, and Paulo Orlando have all split time in the outfield this year, and each player brings a unique skill set to the table. We are familiar with Dyson's incredible speed and glove, which have helped him accumulate 1.1 WAR already this season. He is batting .273 with a .321 on-base percentage and a career-best .434 slugging percentage, a figure that should decline once he gets more plate appearances under his belt. Dyson has been worth +4 DRS in just 262 innings, which matches up with his gaudy career totals. He has 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts.
Rios is batting just .221/.248/.262 with one home run and 12 RBI in 153 plate appearances. He missed time with a hand injury earlier this season, and that is the type of ailment that can sap power for months on end afterward. He has a .439 OPS since returning to action on May 31, and has been worth -0.5 WAR this season. Orlando, a 29-year-old Brazilian who has toiled around the Royals' minor league system since 2008, is hitting .242/.278/.400 with two home runs and five triples in 126 plate appearances this year. All five of his triples came before April 20, and he has a .588 OPS since then.
Losing Gordon's bat will be a significant detriment to a Royals lineup that ranks 10th in the American League in runs scored, and they will also miss his glove in left. However, the Royals have built their 49-33 record largely thanks to a pitching staff that ranks second in the American League with a 3.53 team ERA. Their lights-out bullpen has an MLB-best 2.09 ERA, and they rank first in the AL with a 3.14 FIP. While Gordon's defense plays a role in their excellent run prevention, the rest of the team is still quite adept defensively.
Lest we forget, the Tigers have their own injury issues to worry about. Their offense has scored 44 runs in six games since Miguel Cabrera went down with a calf injury, but it's tough to see them maintaining that seven-run-per-game pace for too much longer. The fall from Gordon to Dyson/Rios/Orlando is not as far as the fall from Cabrera to a Marc Krauss-Jefry Marte platoon, and the Kansas City pitching staff is far superior to Detroit's.
While losing Gordon for eight-plus weeks is a huge blow, the Royals should be able to stay afloat during his time on the disabled list. They have a talented roster that has figured out a way to win games, and have built up a decent cushion in the standings already. This should help the Tigers and Twins close the gap in the AL Central race, but until teams figure out a way to solve the Royals' sharp pitching, Kansas City still likely has the edge.