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September 22, 2004

Under The Knife

Everything Counts in Large Amounts

by Will Carroll

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So there I am on the radio today when a caller asks me, "Will, are injuries really that important? I mean, every team has injuries and they either collapse or don't!" Injuries often do "just happen" but the vast majority of injuries--well over two-thirds--are classified as preventable by no less an authority than MLB. Take a look at the races and tell me that preventing an injury might not be worth a win or two, a handful of runs, that game by the rookie down the stretch. They not only affect the teams competing, but the teams out of it, putting guys out there that really belong on the buses of the Eastern League. Yes, it matters. It's just one of many many things that add up or subtract out from a baseball season. As I heard in my youth, "everything counts in large amounts."

On to the injuries...

  • ACL injuries are all the rage in baseball these days. Carlos Guillen, Adam Kennedy, and Jody Gerut have each gone on the shelf this week with the injury more often seen in football. You might notice that the injuries seem to all have widely varying prognoses, something we have to look closely at to understand. On the surface, the same injury should not have one player looking at a June return and the other coming back for spring training. What is different is the grade of the injury. Pointing you back to the above link, the ACL tear is being described without the additional information of grade. A complete tear, as Gerut suffered, takes nine to 12 months to return to activity and longer to return to full function. For lesser grades, such as what Kennedy suffered (even with MCL, another ligament, being involved), surgery could even be avoided. Guillen is somewhere between Gerut and Kennedy; he'll need surgery, but it will be relatively minor in comparison to the open procedure Gerut will undergo. Knee injuries are never good; knowing more information lets us truly understand how bad it is.

  • The Cardinals' depth will be tested down the stretch--the hope is they won't need it as much in the playoffs. They've lost Chris Carpenter for all but one more regular-season start, assuming he can return healthy for the playoffs, and all indications are that his strained biceps is manageable. Likewise, losing Larry Walker to shin splints, an injury that is both painful and lingering if not serious, doesn't kill them if Walker can return healthy for the playoffs. Same situation with Scott Rolen and his ongoing "calf strain." These situations will bear watching, though, because even with their depth, the Cards will need those three in the postseason.

  • It's evidently a long walk from the on-deck circle to shortstop. Nomar Garciaparra was available both Monday and Tuesday, stepping out to the circle in the second game of Monday's doubleheader. Dusty Baker will have him back in the lineup for Wednesday's game, though the day-after-night-game Thursday will push him back to the bench. More Neifi Perez? Yes, please, may I have another? Garciaparra's groin isn't going to be back to 100% this season, just as his Achilles has been an ongoing problem. It will take a smart touch and some luck to get his full value.

  • Gary Sheffield has made his case as an MVP candidate all season long. Still, missing time down the stretch is going to hurt him. I doubt the voters will give him the credit he deserves for fighting through pain all season and still putting up numbers--though it's even more doubtful they'll give the award to the most deserving candidate, Johan Santana. After making it through the important Red Sox series, Sheffield relented and took a pair of cortisone injections. He'll sit for a few days as they take effect, then get back to punishing opposing pitchers.

  • Jim Tracy has often been accused (or is it complimented?) as being a Strat-O-Matic manager in charge of a real team. Some of those roster construction skills from the game are coming in handy as Tracy juggles the rotation and preps his team for the playoffs, all while keeping an eye on the Giants just over his shoulder. Out go Hideo Nomo and, for now, Edwin Jackson stays in. Brad Penny is back, but Wilson Alvarez is a question mark. Jose Lima will miss at least one start with his thumb fracture. In other words, Eric Gagne might be largely irrelevant for the next two weeks if no one can get the ball to him with a lead. In the field, Jayson Werth is playing despite two broken ribs. That will surely affect him, forcing some more lineup juggling in the hope that he'll be not only available but effective for the playoffs.

  • Roy Halladay completed his comeback by making it back to the mound. Really, "completed" isn't the right word. It's just a milestone, showing how much progress he's made in returning to form after a shoulder injury that nearly ended his season. The Jays have been conservative in getting him back, knowing how important he is to any hopes they have in the next couple years. Halladay may not be back to his 2003 Cy Young form, but he'll shoot for getting 12 outs this time, then coming back at full strength next season.

  • Quick Cuts: Wily Mo Pena left Tuesday's game with a strained hamstring. He's headed back to Cincinnati for an examination...Mike Sweeney is calling it a season. He'll start on a new program this off-season in hopes of keeping the back from derailing his career...Roberto Alomar is also done, but leaving the door open to coming back next season...It's never too early to begin the off-season for the Mets. Mike Piazza is going to be shopped heavily. The Angels, Mariners, and Rockies are likely to be getting calls...Mike Cuddyer was unavailable Tuesday due to neck problems. He'll have an MRI soon. With Corey Koskie returning to the lineup, the Twins have dodged a bullet...Word from Seattle looks bleak for Edgar Martinez. His toe may not be broken, but my sources say he may not make it back in time to get the goodbye he deserves. Derek, raise a glass to Edgar for me.

I'm excited about Saturday's Ballpark Feed. If you don't already have your tickets, click here to sign up. I know several BP authors will be there and several special guests (including a Sox official) will join us. Heck, it's the Sox and Royals, so Nate Silver might get to pinch-hit late in the game. That's worth seeing, folks.

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