The impossible dream: To see Hawks, Braves whole and healthy

Each time the Hawks Trae Young goes down is a painful experience for all. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Each time the Hawks Trae Young goes down is a painful experience for all. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Credit: Lynne Sladky

Credit: Lynne Sladky

The collective body of Atlanta sports is a mess.

We ache from ankle (Trae Young, Tony Snell) to Achilles (Cam Reddish), to knee (De’Andre Hunter) to hamstring (Max Fried, Ender Inciarte), to shoulder (Mike Soroka, Chris Martin), to sprained COVID protocol (Sean Newcomb). It’s a regular VFW hall-full of medical complaints around here.

And, now, my head hurts, too.

It never seems to get better and stay that way. On one hand, Kris Dunn has come out of injury witness protection to play an actual game for the Hawks, Clint Capela’s back is again strong enough to perform the hard work within the paint and Drew Smyly’s forearm, if not his ERA, is reportedly feeling better. Then on the other, bandaged one, both Kevin Huerter (shoulder) and Brandon Goodwin (ankle impingement — a term that’s so fashionable these days) go out during the Hawks game Monday.

Injuries have forever been the most maddening variable in sports and will continue to be until our games go full bionic. But they seem particularly intent upon shaping some current seasons around here.

Leaving fans to pace the big virtual waiting room for word on how their favorite patient is doing today. The Braves and Hawks are only as promising as their next injury report.

Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna is hit by a pitch from Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zac Gallen during the first inning of the first game of a doubleheader Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna is hit by a pitch from Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zac Gallen during the first inning of the first game of a doubleheader Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Leaving those teams to wonder if they’ll ever be able to show the best versions of themselves.

Can Dansby Swanson fire up a little more sage for the halt and lame of Atlanta sports?

All these maladies inevitably lead to yet another syndrome. Call it Injury Fatigue (IF). With symptoms that range from weariness to wariness to a powerful longing to enjoy just one whole and healthy lineup before a season is done, IF has gripped multiple Atlanta fan bases.

Thus, we wonder: IF only the Braves had an intact starting rotation.

And think about where the Hawks — as surprisingly well off as they are — would be IF only they weren’t seemingly always operating at half strength. They are the watered-down drink, the children’s dose aspirin that is somehow still getting the job done.

Such a storm tide of injuries can lead to this constant kind of anxiousness. Like Sunday, when Braves manager Brian Snitker took out Swanson during the first game of a doubleheader. Due to injury fatigue, admit it, your mind turned immediately to worst case imaginings. Had he torn or ripped something? Had he been stricken by scurvy? Or brought low by some treasonous tendon? No, in fact, he was lifted only to accommodate a double switch. Deep exhale everyone.

You know your team has suffered way too many injuries when you’re hearing the phrase “next man up” in your sleep. That bedrock coaching cliché is also at the core of one of the biggest lies in sports. If the next man up was just as capable as the player he was replacing, he wouldn’t be somebody’s next man up.

Enough of that. We want to see the existing man up.

Injuries have become far too much the theme for the Hawks this season, and with only 10 games left after Monday, time does not favor them being whole for the postseason. It is a race between the athletic trainer and the first round — and it’s so hard to run with an armful of tape and ice packs.

They’ve had six players miss at least double-digit games due to injury. You can find more continuity in a Walmart checkout line. Oh, but if — there is that word again — they could just get even marginally healthy, the Hawks might be a legitimate handful very soon.

It becomes especially difficult watching a game in split screen in your head: On one side the actual action; on the other what could be going on if Hunter was building onto a breakout season, if the vague rumor that was Dunn had some real time to impose his defensive will or if Snell could come in and transfuse the offense with a few more made 3s.

Pistons guard Killian Hayes (7) is fouled by Hawks guard Kris Dunn (32) during the fourth quarter Monday, April 26, 2021, in Detroit. (Duane Burleson/AP)
Pistons guard Killian Hayes (7) is fouled by Hawks guard Kris Dunn (32) during the fourth quarter Monday, April 26, 2021, in Detroit. (Duane Burleson/AP)

Credit: Duane Burleson

Credit: Duane Burleson

Perhaps the most remarkable number attaching itself to the Hawks is an injury-related one. They are 5-3 without Trae Young in the lineup, pointing to some very nice depth in the backcourt and a growing confidence among the healthy few. Young is coming back soon, but, honestly, it’s a wonder that a player so slight as he — a silk thread among bridge cables — isn’t in recovery more often. With his every drive, you hold your breath until he comes out the other side without a limp.

As for the Braves, Fried hurt himself running the bases against the Marlins during a game in which he was getting shelled and might have been better off in a quiet room icing something at the time. There could not have been a more awkward set of circumstances in which to lose a front-line pitcher. He’ll be fine, though, as soon as he comes to grips with the fact that he is a pitcher, not a five-tool wonder.

Soroka was overcoming the torn Achilles when his shoulder decided to bark. He has been a cruel tease of excellence between injuries. We impatiently wait for that storyline to heal.

Meanwhile, we have yet to get any real read on the Braves starting rotation. And their offense continues to hang by the already strained threads of Ronald Acuna’s abdomen muscles.

True, injuries have taught most fans everything they know about the human body. Who would have realized any of us had an oblique muscle were it not for baseball? But the educational value of the injury report has long since been lapped by the many frustrations it contains.

We are all day to day. But why do those who are in so much better shape have to be even more so?

Get well soon Hawks and Braves. In the meantime, we’ll cling to the fantasy of one day seeing you at something close to full strength.

About the Author

ajc.com

In Other News