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October 1, 2004

Under The Knife

Down to the Wire

by Will Carroll

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There's no debate today: baseball is the winner. The Cubs and Angels lost important games while the A's and Giants won big ones. Fans around the country are winning because of great baseball, great baseball players and a great end to the season. There are just three days left in these races, assuming the NL wild-card showdown doesn't end in a tie. The A's and Angels essentially start the playoffs today. I've paced holes in the carpet and typed the letters off my Sidekick. At the risk of sounding like a shill, it's October and I live for this.

Powered by Magic Numbers, on to the injuries

  • The Dodgers wore the label of flip-floppers on Thursday when it came to Eric Gagne. First, he had an MRI which showed no structural damage. The diagnosis of tendonitis and bursitis may be accurate, though it has the same ring as "sore shoulder." While the medical staff was declaring him out, however, Gagne was saying he was in. "Dead arm," he called it. His name was on the roster card, a meaningless symbolic move at this stage of the season. Then, in a close game, on came the guy with the goggles. He certainly didn't look like the Gagne we're used to seeing, as his velocity was down. He did get the job done, though, and the Dodgers got the big win.

    As for Gagne, I imagine the standings will have more to do with his usage than his shoulder. His problem might be helped by the extra off-days built into the playoff schedule. Without Gagne and Brad Penny, the Dodgers pitching is ordinary.

  • The Yankees continue to test their rotation more than set it. Orlando Hernandez will step to the mound on Friday in Toronto. He's expected to be in the rotation behind Mike Mussina and perhaps Jon Lieber if he makes it through the start bearing any resemblance to the El Duque who reappeared this season in the Bronx. At his age, whatever it is, tired shoulders need more rest. Hernandez and his brother, Livan, remain anomalies in pitching analysis, so nothing from those two would surprise me.

  • All eyes--well, most eyes--will be focused on Oakland this weekend. Injuries will play their part in deciding the best-of-three series for the division title. Mark Mulder's struggles are well-documented here. Now, Octavio Dotel has new limitations and Erubiel Durazo has wrist pain. Dotel is limited to one-inning appearances. It's not the pitching that hurts his elbow, but the cooling down between innings. I'd say he could just throw in the bullpen while his teammates are batting, but this is no time for experimentation.

  • The Angels also have problems. Garret Anderson has had worse maladies this season, though the timing of his patellar tendonitis is bad. It's hard for the Angels to adjust their roster to accommodate him. Troy Glaus is locked in the DH slot. Moving Darin Erstad back to center field and Anderson to first base is reportedly not under consideration. We'll see how both teams deal with these adversities soon enough.

  • I recently mentioned some of the odd patterns that Brian Gunn has noticed in Matt Morris' stat line. Normally, he does well after long rest or low-pitch-count outings. On Thursday, not so much. Despite the rough outing and his low velocity, he's the likely Game One starter for the Cards in the Division Series. At least he'll be at home.

  • Injuries matter. The team with the most DL days in the National League is also the team with the worst record. The Diamondbacks lost an astounding 1,871 days to injuries, dooming any hopes they may have carried into the season. Two other teams, the Mets and Rockies, were over 1,000 days lost. At the other end of the scale, the Asros lost just 281 day. The Cardinals and Brewers were the only other teams below 500 days, though the Giants and Padres were just above that mark.

  • The news was split on the Giants after Wednesday night's tough loss. Ray Durham had a mild quad strain and was able to return quickly. Dustan Mohr's situation, however, looks more serious. He was in significant pain and had the type of muscular guarding that makes a hands-on diagnosis nearly impossible. Mohr will be sent back for imaging and consultation with the Giants' ortho. Even the best-case scenario will have him out through the end of the season and likely well into the playoffs.

  • One of the major projects I'm working on for the offseason is an offshoot of "Saving The Pitcher." Many people think I know how a minor-league system should be run. I don't. I don't think anyone knows. It's reasonable to take a look at best practices, just like any business. Paul DePodesta calls it the "nave question": would we do it this way if we weren't already doing it this way? In there, there will be something on the path to closer. No one develops a closer, yet there's still some discernible patterns to the ones that succeed. I'll leave the discussion for later and note that Chin-Hui Tsao fits the pattern. The Rockies will try him as their closer against the Astros and perhaps next season.

  • A couple of years ago in the pages of Baseball Prospectus 2001, we praised Bryan Price as something near a savior to the young arms of Seattle. Mt. Piniella was in full effect in the days before the pitch-count police and Price's reining in of Piniella seemed worthy of praise. Perhaps Price has never had the control of the organization's pitching prospects in the way that Rick Peterson or Bob Cluck has. Perhaps Pat Gillick or Benny Looper deserve some blame as well. I can run through the list of names--Ryan Anderson, Gil Meche, Matt Thornton, Rafael Soriano and, now, Cha Seung Baek--who have been chewed up in the Mariners system. Instead of developing pitchers, they seem more inclined to send their arms through a woodchipper. I can't pinpoint the cause from my perch outside the system, but it's apparent that no one inside has much more of a clue.

  • Quick Cuts: The Astros activated Adam Everett. He's not expected to play this weekend outside of something like a pinch-running cameo Mark Prior was happy after yesterday's 16-strikeout performance, tempered of course by the loss. "That's where I should have been all year," he told a source Jimmy Gobble is headed to the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic for tests on a back problem I never thought I'd write that a cheerleader outfit saved a player. For Kyle Denney, those go-go boots kept a bullet from going in deeper. Who knew Lonnie Soloff could remove bullets, too? THAT'S a full-service trainer.

Have a great weekend. As a baseball fan, it will be tough not to. I'll be back as news warrants.

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