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September 30, 2003

Playoff Health Report

American League

by Will Carroll

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If you're reading this, you're smart enough to go Premium, and therefore smart enough to figure things out on your own, or at least look back to yesterday's article for the breakdown. I'll be back tomorrow, keeping tabs on injuries and the behind-the-scenes happenings of the Division Series. The Knife has agents running everywhere and not even Robert Novak can keep them from reporting back.

Red Sox

    Starters
    Bullpen
    Players
    Bench

It strikes me as mildly amusing that while three other playoff teams could use the parts they so willingly cast off before the season started, Theo Epstein scooped them up for next to nothing and created an offensive juggernaut. The only minor injury they'll deal with for a positional player is the calf injury to Trot Nixon, but the Sox can adjust quickly--even in-game--and not suffer a terrible dropoff, offensively or defensively.

When it comes to pitching there are two significant conditions that place both groups (rotation and pen) in yellow status. Pedro Martinez is both great and fragile, and down the stretch, he wasn't handled with his typical kid gloves. Grady Little stated that this was part of the plan that Pedro, Dave Wallace, and Chris Correnti formulated at the start of the season. It's either a big line of BS or a brilliant plan. Martinez has gone deeper and shown no ill effects, but history overrules hints of brilliance, so I'm still watching him closely. Scott Williamson has been ineffective, despite only a diagnosis of tendinitis and his presence in the bullpen only serves to confuse. The pitching worries force a bit more pressure onto Wallace and Grady Little, a role they've excelled in all year long with vastly differing personnel and talent. While most teams have injury problems, the Red Sox have only injury concerns and that might be just enough this year.

Athletics

    Starters
    Bullpen
    Players
    Bench

Green and Yellow. That probably works pretty well for most A's fans, especially when, like the uniforms, they see more green than gold. It's that red light on the players' section that doesn't fit in with the official color scheme, and probably has Billy Beane hurling a chair my way. The starters have some issues, starting with their outfield. Jermaine Dye is still not 100% and may never be the player he was before he shattered his leg. Jose Guillen is playing through pain, and while he's been moderately effective in the short term, there's also nothing stopping a small change that would increase his pain or decrease his effectiveness. Chris Singleton has some back issues, Billy McMillon has some leg issues, and Eric Byrnes is still trying to figure out what happened to his bat after the All-Star break.

The pitching staff is yellow on some whispers about Tim Hudson's back and the missing presence of Mark Mulder. Peter Gammons broke the story about the use of Forteo, a recombinant form of parathyroid hormone manufactured by Eli Lilly, on Mark Mulder. The use of Forteo in men is poorly tested, and in fact, an "off-label" usage of the drug. Mulder remains a possibility, but neither myself nor anyone who I spoke to regarding this would even venture a guess on Mulder's availability. The A's haven't officially given any comment on Hudson's back, but this is nothing unusual. It could be nothing, but then again, I'd rather warn you of unconfirmed talk and let you make your own decision.

The rest of the team is relatively healthy, and the roster is both deep and flexible. Now, it's time to watch two of the smartest teams in baseball take each other on in what can only be called the Moneyball Series.

Twins

    Starters
    Bullpen
    Players
    Bench

The Twins bring much of the same team to this year's playoffs as they did to last year. Last year, they were mostly healthy and mostly in the midst of what looked to be career or breakout years. This season, the Twins made it through with a second-half surge. Jacque Jones has muddled through with a groin strain, Torii Hunter has fought through back problems, and Doug Mientkiewicz has shown up in the pages of UTK so many times that I no longer have to spell-check his name. Mintkiewicz's wrist is the biggest concern, especially with the episode last weekend where he fought back into the lineup in order to break .300. It didn't go over well with his team or with Ron Gardenhire, so the wrist could be a reason to keep him on the bench and slot in one of the other 1B/OF/DH types they have. Much of this, mind you, depends on what sort of roster Terry Ryan turns in on Tuesday.

The pitching side of the ledger looks fine. Johan Santana is deeper into a season that he's used to, and while there are arguments defending why he wasn't in the rotation earlier, his innings aren't a concern at this point. With Eric Milton moving to the pen, that situation becomes less concerning. In the bullpen, only J.C. Romero is an injury concern, and he should be fine. The Twins shouldn't be terribly concerned about injuries of the foreseeable type, but a traumatic injury--especially on turf that has been problematic according to many players--has to be a concern. The biggest concern is mental: the Yankees are in the Twins' heads, and only an early win can cure that.

Yankees

    Starters
    Bullpen
    Players
    Bench

George Steinbrenner is probably on the phone right now, calling someone to try and figure out why there's a red light on his players' section. George isn't one to read the explanation before calling, but hopefully you've stuck around. New York is essentially healthy with two small-but-significant problems: Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams. Giambi has battled injuries all season long, and his fine season totals speak to his amazing ability. Over the last couple months, his knee has been a major problem while running and fielding, but it's at the plate where it most affects him--breaking down his foundation and causing his hitting to go from all-fields to dead-pull. Bernie has knee and shoulder problems that have not significantly impacted his ability, but if he comes up a step short of a sinking liner or a ball into the gap, just nod your head knowingly. Two other players may affect the series, which factors slightly into the players' red light. Jorge Posada has been great this season, but has had a major workload, and there is no adequate replacement. Even a small injury--quite possible for a catcher--would significantly impact the Bombers' chances. The second player is where I'll stretch way out on a limb: Derek Jeter. Jeter famously overcame a shoulder injury that he suffered on the first day of the season, and has done well without surgery. And yet, I think the playoffs will be a problem for him. I can see Jeter diving for a ball on turf in Minnesota and popping the shoulder just enough to keep him out. Sure, I could be wrong, but it's been a possibility all season. It's just as likely that Jeter won't dive, knowing the risk as he has all season, letting one squeak through.

The pitching questions all center around the usage pattern of Mariano Rivera. Rivera does best in one-inning situations, but with the question marks in the pen, Joe Torre has shown a willingness to overuse Rivera that he has not shown in the past. If the starters can go deep enough to make the middle of the pen irrelevant, the questions--as Jesse Jackson once said--will be moot. Jose Contreras has been healthy since returning, so he offers little concern, as do the starters, despite age and past problems.

It comes down to game play for the Yanks. If they can play games the way they like, they're fine; if not, their age and infirmities could close the door on the most recent Bronx dynasty.

Related Content:  Year Of The Injury

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