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September 8, 2004

Under The Knife

Not By the Numbers

by Will Carroll

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If things are supposed to happen in threes, baseball didn't get the message. There are tons of doubleheaders, Barry Bonds is two away from a milestone, Ichiro Suzuki seems to get four hits a night, and the Astros have won 11 in a row. Around here, players are getting injured in bunches. There's no math involved, thankfully, so powered by The Flaming Lips, let's get to the injuries...

  • The Red Sox keep getting a little bit better and a little bit healthier every day. Two teams, the Red Sox and the Angels, have lost a bunch of time to the DL yet stayed in the thick of the chase. I'm not sure where the credit goes--the manager, the front office, the roster construction, something else--but someone deserves some kudos.

    Johnny Damon is having a great season, keying the defense and leading off the offense. His right pinky finger injury kept him out over the weekend, during which the Sox plugged in Dave Roberts, and Damon was back in the lineup on Tuesday. He'll get some spot rest over the next couple weeks. With Trot Nixon activated, Terry Francona can now cycle through Damon, Roberts, Nixon, Gabe Kapler and Kevin Millar to play matchups and figure out a playoff set. In the infield, Pokey Reese is back, giving the same type of flexibility there.

    The bullpen may be the weak point of the team. Outside of Keith Foulke, no one has established themselves, making the return of Scott Williamson something everyone is watching in Red Sox Nation. Williamson isn't going to be what he was, especially with his splitter still on the shelf, but he could contribute. This team looks really good on paper.

  • The Cubs are facing a long stretch of games after their weekend off, but they look to be better equipped for this than most. The bench is…well, it's a typical Dusty Baker bench, kept sharp with regular use if dubious value. The rotation is deep enough to take doubleheaders in stride, subbing in Glendon Rusch or Ryan Dempster if need be. The ongoing neck injury to Matt Clement throws a wrench into that plan. Clement left his last start with spasms at the base of his neck and lasted only two-plus innings on Tuesday against the Expos. He'll get plenty of treatment and tests between now and his next start. The Cubs can't afford to lose the pending free agent for much time. The Cubs are without Sammy Sosa for a couple games as he deals with bursitis in his hip. It's painful, but not considered serious. Ben Grieve bounced his head off the bricks on Monday, but he remains available. The Cubs are more disappointed to learn that Joe Borowski won't be a contributor down the stretch. He never put it together at Iowa, but he will join the Cubs to keep his arm ready. The Cubs always have hope in their arsenal. Sadly, hope doesn't pitch well in late innings.

  • The Astros have to be glad that they weren't able to deal Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran, going all Oakland on us for an 11-game winning streak. Beltran has been everything Houston could have hoped for since coming over, so losing him for any period of time would be costly. Beltran was plunked on the right elbow and will be taken for precautionary X-rays if there is any undue pain or swelling. Perhaps he'll borrow some of Craig Biggio's body armor. Sources tell me that Beltran shouldn't miss much, if any, time.

  • The Cardinals can be patient and conservative with Larry Walker because, well, they could rest their entire starting lineup for a week and still have an eight-game lead. Heck, they could put Joe Sheehan and I in the outfield corners and still not worry too much. (We've got range, baby.) Walker's knee is variously described as sprained and bruised with the best sources saying it's actually a bit of both: a mild sprain and a painful bone bruise. Expect Walker back in the lineup later this week, assuming everyone just feels like it. Like I said, there's no rush.

  • While the Devil Rays were coming into the Bronx, Jason Giambi was heading west. Giambi looked good enough for Don Mattingly to declare him ready to play. The Yankees wanted to see more and so Giambi is headed to Columbus, surely making him the highest-paid player in the Triple-A playoffs. Giambi is still a bit weaker than he'd like, but all reports have had him ahead of expectations since leaving Tampa about a week ago. It seems everyone is reading Joe Torre's "we're preparing to play without him" as a sentence rather than a strategy; Giambi should be back. What he does once he is, well, that much I don't know.

  • September roster rules create as many debates as the wild card does, but only among those who look at baseball in far too much detail. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I'd say. The positives and negatives are all over the place, but it's a rule and you play with it, exploiting the loopholes where they lie. The A's are able to create a "hot hand" platoon of Nick Swisher, Bobby Kielty and Billy McMillon while Jermaine Dye rests his injured thumb. (It's official; that's the first use of "hot hand" and "Kielty" together in a sentence this season.) Dye is expected to be out at least a week. He's a slow healer; according to several who saw him play last week, it could be longer. In football, there are teams that fade down the stretch due to hard practices and strict coaches, but I don't have any similar explanation for why the A's always seem to have a key injury going into the playoffs.

  • It's official. Maybe the Pirates should pay more attention to UTK. Kip Wells came off the DL on Sunday, lasting only an inning. He won't go on the list--it's September, remember?--but I'm told he's done for the season. Results of a Monday examination by team doctors remain unknown and Lloyd McClendon made hints that he expects Wells back, but there's simply no point to pitching him again.

  • The Reds are still playing baseball. In fact, they still have enough healthy players to fill up a lineup card. Dave Miley and his staff will be back next season for more of the same unless Dan O'Brien and his staff can have a near-magical offseason. Danny Graves and Jason LaRue are both back in the lineup, for what that's worth, while Wily Mo Pena is still unable to swing a bat full-force.

  • Quick Cuts: Remember where I said Jesse Foppert wouldn't be back with the Giants this season? Umm, not so much. What I meant to say was that he won't start for the Giants. Yeah, that's the ticket … The Rangers are fading slightly, mostly because their pitching has finally worn down. With a losing record from their starters, the bullpen is visibly gassed and Ryan Drese looks overextended … Scott McCauley spent half the day insulting me and the other half arguing for Randy Johnson as NL Cy Young winner. I couldn't argue, but think he'll finish behind at least three others. You can e-mail him at igc@espn950.com with your opinions.

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