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August 26, 2004

Under The Knife

The First Falls

by Will Carroll

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The biggest non-story of the 2004 season has been the effects of expanded drug testing. Adrian Beltre is the only player over 40 homers at this late date, and there's little change in the power numbers across the league. ESPN instituted the tackily-named "Juice Box" on their stats page at the start of the season, expecting the story to be as big as people made Barry Bonds' physical changes out to be. Instead, every statistic they measured has gone up this year. I'd love to see one of BP's smart stats guys take a deeper look at better measures to see if there's anything.

On the medhead end of the story, there has been a near-complete lack of information about the testing. Some reports have the tests not even occurring until after the All-Star break. The minors had a brief, small outbreak of positive tests, including one for Armando Rios. I have spoken to a number of people with knowledge of the tests and the consensus is that most, if not all, of the positive results have been for one type of steroid, deca-durabolin. Rios was suspended for the normal 15 days and then released. The Cardinals refuse comment as a matter of policy, but Rios' connection to the ongoing BALCO case has been noted. If this is the sum of the new testing, it leaves much to be desired, though the control of information shows just how seriously baseball is taking the situation. I'd rather see a WADA-class testing program, but I'd settle for the marketing cover of the type that the NFL enjoys.

Powered by Bextra, on to the injuries

  • It's the time of the season when players stop going on the DL. The injuries don't stop, but the DL as a means of freeing up roster space becomes unnecessary with expansion to 40 men just a week away. Jose Vidro is a bit early to this, but he's out for the season due to impending knee surgery. The surgery is scheduled for the first week of September, but don't be fooled: Vidro is done. The surgery will be very similar to what J.D. Drew had last season, cleaning out the damage of patellar tendonitis. Like Drew was, Vidro is expected back for spring training.

  • There have been some rumors floating around the baseball world that Mark Prior had either re-aggravated his Achilles injury or had broken his foot compensating for the Achilles. Neither is true. While Prior did injure his foot slightly while making a play, precautionary MRI results were negative. Like most players, Prior is sore at this point in the season. While he hasn't played as much as he or the Cubs would have hoped, he has been doing full-time rehab. His elbow is still sore with the "shin splints"-type injury, but he's been finding his release point more consistently.

  • The Cubs bullpen remains their most glaring weakness. Dusty Baker has openly pined for his once and future closer, Joe Borowski. Borowski is coming along, pitching in the minors, but having only limited success. His biggest problem has been an inability to get back the velocity that allowed his average breaking ball to have some level of effectiveness. When Borowski went to the DL, his velocity was in the low 80s. In his last outing, his velocity was topping out at 88. The Cubs have another week to get Borowski back to a point where he can contribute, but at this stage, it's a coinflip if he'll be able to do more than be a live body in the pen.

  • The Angels haven't needed much help as of late, going off on a run that would put most teams ahead in a divisional race. The AL West isn't a normal race, though, with all three teams keeping pace and none looking to be weakening down the stretch. In situations like this, I say injuries--or health--will often be the difference. Getting an ace-level pitcher back would certainly help; the Angels figure to get Jarrod Washburn back next week. Washburn will head for a rehab start this weekend, then will return to the team for a start around September 1.

  • At what point does a comeback become a resurrection? I can't think of a comparable comeback to that being put together by Rick Ankiel, unless you look at the Cardinals where Chris Carpenter is doing nearly the same thing minus the Steve Blass drama. Ankiel continues to look like the prospect he once was as he gets closer to what surely will be a highlight of the season, one I will watch with joy and trepidation. Can Ankiel survive a late-season call-up? What does the future hold for this Scott Boras client? Is Ankiel the savior for a shaky Cards rotation in the late season? Somewhere, there's a Disney exec noting all this. On the field, Ankiel put up two strikeouts and only one walk in a one-hit, five inning-performance in what is expected to be his last Double-A start.

  • Quick Cuts: Doug Mientkiewicz injured his left shoulder during Wednesday's game. No word at deadline on severity Vernon Wells is still struggling somewhat with his strained calf. He'll continue to miss the occasional game, putting a strain on some fantasy teams, but the smart move for the Jays D-Backs catcher Koyie Hill will have surgery to repair his broken ankle after all. There's no change for his prognosis Chris Capuano heads to the DL with more shoulder pain. It frees up the "Brewer Idol" slot, where the Brewers audition pitchers in hopes of pairing someone up with last year's winner, Ben Sheets. If the Brewers had found a Kelly Clarkson rather than the series of William Hungs, they might have been able to hold on to their early season momentum.

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