September 30, 2011
Playoff Preview Edition
With a couple of historic collapses behind us, it’s time to look toward the teams that are in the playoffs and enumerate both the injuries that have made the biggest impacts on their seasons and those that threaten to affect their October play. Starting off in the NL, we have:
As the only team to top 100 wins in the regular season, one would think that they had it easy on the injury front. One would also be sorely mistaken, since the fightin’ Phillies battled injuries the entire season. Tied for the sixth-most DL trips, the Phillies saw Chase Utley lose 68 days over the course of the season because of his knee, while across the diamond third baseman Placido Polanco missed a quarter of the season with back and hernia issues. Over 1000 player-days were lost in total, and the outfield wasn’t safe either, collectively missing over 70 games. Phillies pitchers alone have missed 697 days collectively so far, with Brad Lidge, Joe Blanton, and Jose Contreras leading the way. By far the vast majority of the games missed were attributable to relievers, but Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and Blanton missed over 200 days by themselves.
Going into the playoffs, the Phillies appear to be in the excellent shape. While everyone has aches and pains at this stage of the season, Shane Victorino is the only player with anything serious enough to keep him out of the lineup over the past week (a balky back). Ryan Howard is still battling his foot issues but seems to have a good handle on them at this point. Manager Charlie Manuel used his team’s comfortable lead to its advantage to get Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, et al. in the best shape for the playoff run.
The National League’s second-best team also had its fair share of injuries throughout the 2011 season. So far in 2011, the Brewers have lost over 900 days due to injuries, with over 75 percent of them involving pitchers (708 out of 912). Two starting pitchers they were counting on—Zack Greinke and Manny Parra—missed the first month of the season, and Parra ended up missing the entire season because of a back condition followed by Tommy John surgery. Rickie Weeks (ankle), Carlos Gomez (collarbone), and Erick Almonte (Concussion) missed the majority of the time among the position players.
Heading into the playoffs, the Brewers are healthy as well. Rickie Weeks is continuing to battle soreness in his severely sprained ankle. Both Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are healthy, and the pitching staff has come into its own.
Like the teams mentioned above, the Diamondbacks also had to contend with injuries throughout the year, but in a different way. Hampered most seriously by a season-ending ankle injury to Stephen Drew, the Diamondbacks also faced major injuries to Juan Gutierrez, Xavier Nady, and J.J. Putz in 2011 yet have the lowest number of days missed among the National League playoff teams at 699 (so far). They also had the third-lowest DL total with only 12 trips to the disabled list on the books all year.
As the playoffs begin, the Snakes are no different shape than they were several weeks ago. Stephen Drew will not be able to play in the postseason, but Ian Kennedy certainly will. Already at his career-high in innings pitched, he has yet to throw over 116 pitches in a single game over the course of the season and reached over 110 only a handful of times. He is unlikely to break down at this point of the season given his manageable workload. Xavier Nady is rushing his rehabilitation to try to get back during the playoffs and give manager Kirk Gibson another option.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals got the worst news of all the National League playoffs teams during spring training when they learned that Adam Wainwright needed Tommy John surgery. With over 930 days missed, the Cardinals are in the middle of the pack among the playoff teams. Their injured players tended to miss a lot of time when they did get hurt. In addition to Wainwright, Allen Craig, Nick Punto, and David Freese all missed significant chunks of time. Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols both made quick trips to the disabled list, while Lance Berkman battled minor injuries throughout the season.
After a wild Wednesday night, the Cardinals appear to be in good shape going into the playoffs with the exception of Matt Holliday. Holliday is continuing to battle inflammation surrounding the flexor tendon in his middle finger, and he received a cortisone injection in hopes of being able to play. The Cardinals have already ruled Holliday out for game 1 of the NLDS and are keeping their fingers crossed that he will be available for game 2.
Continuing on to the American League:
New York Yankees
The Yankees have overcome by far the most days lost among playoff teams. Some of their wounded were unlikely to provide major contributions in 2011, but the Yankees still lost Joba Chamberlain (Tommy John), Alex Rodriguez (knee surgery), Rafael Soriano (Elbow) and more important players to injuries throughout the year. Derek Jeter and Francisco Cervelli also made appearances on the disabled list before the season was through.Regardless, the Yankees still managed to run up the best record in the American League during the regular season.
Cervelli will be unavailable during the first round of the playoffs due to his continued recovery from a concussion. The same knee that Alex Rodriguez had surgery on earlier in the year is starting to become sore again. The extra days off built into this year’s schedule will probably help him the most. Wednesday’s injury to Jesus Montero (bruised fingers) may limit the team’s flexibility off the bench in the short term but is unlikely to have a major impact.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the Yankees are the Tigers, who suffered the second-least injury days at a shade over 700. There were some semi-serious injuries along the way, including Magglio Ordonez missing a month, Victor Martinez being banged up throughout the season, and Brennan Boesch’s thumb surgery.
Detroit may have the biggest question marks heading into the postseason, however. Victor Martinez suffered a sprained knee in August that limited his catching capabilities for the rest of the year. On top of that, he fouled a ball off his right big toe and had blood collect underneath his toenail in a condition called a subungual hematoma in which the pressure builds and can be very painful with each step, often leading to the nail eventually falling off. In order to remedy this, a small hole was drilled into the toenail to drain the blood from underneath. Carlos Guillen’s strained calf could also limit the team’s flexibility throughout the playoffs.
The Rangers have had to overcome injuries from the start of the year ,when Brandon Webb and Omar Beltre both underwent surgery. Josh Hamilton was down for almost 40 days with a broken arm, and Adrian Beltre missed about the same amount of time with a strained hamstring. Tommy Hunter missed the majority of the first half with a strained groin, and closer Neftali Feliz missed time with shoulder inflammation. Despite all of these injuries, the Rangers still managed the second-best record in the American League.
On Friday, the Rangers will be facing a new question. Will the blister on C.J. Wilson’s middle finger pop up again? The Rangers had the luxury of not having to force him to pitch an entire game his last time out, and that plays in their favor. However, that’s the only issue currently facing the team from Texas. Sure, there’s the risk that Adrian Beltre or Nelson Cruz will pull another hammy, but that kind of risk is common to everyone else in the playoffs. As October begins, it looks like Texas may have an edge in the health department.
Tampa Bay Rays
And then there are the Rays. Tampa Bay made the playoffs with an amazing run in September based on starting pitching, timely hitting, staying healthy, and a little bit of the Red Sox shooting themselves in the foot—okay, maybe a lot of that last one. In all seriousness, the Rays were by far the healthiest of the teams in the playoffs this year, and that was both by design and necessity. The Rays do not have a collection of over-30 players who are slowly breaking down. The older players they do have don’t come with extensive injury histories, and it shows in our database, as the team’s older players mostly stayed healthy and avoided major injuries. Even the younger players avoided major injuries, as Evan Longoria (oblique) and Jeff Niemann(back) missed some time but not a lot in the grand scheme of things. Only Alex Cobb is done for the year as he comes back from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery.
In the playoffs, the Rays can use that health to their advantage. They have the most flexibility and need only worry about Kyle Farnsworth and his inflamed elbow down the stretch. The remainder of the players do not appear to be injured, other than the normal bumps and bruises at this time of year.
Flesh Wounds: Nick Blackburn will have nerve decompression surgery in his forearm today… Chris Davis will have sports hernia surgery… Dustin Pedroia will have surgery to remove the screw in his foot from his previous surgery.
Corey Dawkins is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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