The Yankees have endured their share of injuries to key players this season, but the latest to Didi Gregorius could throw the team over the edge in terms of testing depth and the impact it will have on the club's ability to maintain their position as the league's top wild card team.
Gregorius was diagnosed with a deep bruise on his left heel after a collision at first base Sunday, with the team placing him on the 10-day DL on Tuesday. With Gregorius out, Gleyber Torres will likely take over shortstop responsibilities while Neil Walker heads back to a much more familiar spot at second base.
Removing Gregorius, who is hitting .270 with a .333 OBP and .482 slugging percentage along with 22 home runs and 74 RBI, from the lineup will have an adverse affect on a squad already missing Aaron Judge (with Giancarlo Stanton hobbled enough to keep him from playing right field) and Gary Sanchez. Gregorius is also the glue that keeps this team together in the infield, and his absence from the game will have as much of an impact as Judge's in terms of cohesiveness of the group.
Even if Gregorius finds himself able to return in a short period of time, the lingering effects of such an injury could cause issues that might make it difficult for him to adequately produce down the stretch. There isn't a good time for extended absences for any starting player, but Gregorius was once again beginning to roll, hitting .303 with four home runs and 14 RBI in August.
Two months ago, the thought of losing Gregorius might have hurt, but that version of Torres would have been more than capable of handling shortstop. However, Torres has been a shell of himself at the plate since returning from his injury. And Walker, while coming along offensively after receiving more playing time of late, is far from a defensive wizard. Gregorius and Torres formed a solid combination up the middle, while Torres and Walker have seldom worked together.
Removing a run-producer down the stretch -- one that hits left-handed and also provides solid defense at a key position -- will be a huge test for the Yankees especially if the injury lingers. Keep in mind that Judge's injury has already shelved him longer than expected and his getting to full strength soon is far from certain.
Meanwhile, Sanchez has been on the disabled list with the same injury twice already, so the chances that he simply takes off when he returns is suspect. The type of injury Gregorius has will take time to fully heal. And like Judge's wrist, will be difficult to ascertain exactly when full strength is reached.
Finally, the longer Judge and Sanchez are out, the bigger the absence of Gregorius will be. The Yankees shortstop seems like a gamer, so the question becomes how hard he'll push himself to get back on the field. Further, will Gregorius feel pressured to play through pain as the injury heals if Torres and Walker cannot keep the club afloat?
These questions will take time to be answered, but one thing is certain -- the Yankees' health issues are popping up at the wrong time and none of them -- especially Gregorius' -- have simple fixes or ensure complete health upon return.