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October 19, 2004

Under The Knife

Playoff Notes

by Will Carroll

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There's a point where even my baseball-saturated brain begins to overload. Wasn't it just a couple days ago that both League Championship Series looked like nothing less than blowouts? Instead of sweeps, we're discussing the mythmaking capabilities of this greatest game, adding names like David Ortiz, Albert Pujols and Tim Wakefield to the lists of those who excel in the playoffs. We've poked holes in an unhittable closer, tested every player in a crucible of cold New England air and never-ending extra inning games, seen a great series in the NL all but ignored, and with both series at 3-2, we know about as much as we did at the start. We have four evenly matched teams and games where anything can happen.

Powered by Kind of Blue, on to the injuries...

  • Will special shoes, more injections, and enough adrenaline to fill Yankee Stadium be enough to get Curt Schilling through more than an ineffectual three innings in Game Six? Schilling has been seen throwing in the bullpen several times, so we have some idea on what's going on. Schilling is wearing both an Aircast brace and a custom Reebok hightop cleat. Despite the additional support, Schilling is still not getting the same push.

    As a classic power pitcher, Schilling relies on his legs more than most. He cannot be expected to have his normal velocity, though he could still be effective. In his bullpen sessions, Schilling has been pitching with a "soft front leg," meaning he's not getting a solid plant, allowing his injured push ankle to come up quickly and not take any more stress than necessary. It's a natural reaction and one that could be overcome with his normal painkiller injection. Once he takes the mound, we'll know almost instantly how Schilling will pitch, but until then, we don't know whether to anticipate what we saw last week in Game One or the next Willis Reed.

  • John Olerud was a great pickup by Brian Cashman after the Mariners cut bait on him. Olerud isn't anything like he used to be, but finding replacements that are above replacement level is always a plus for a team; his skill at doing so is one way to evaluate a general manager. Olerud has missed the last two games with a bruised foot, though the birth of his child in New York had more to do with his absence in Game Five. He is expected to be available for both games in New York, though his starting status is a field-level decision.

  • Is Mariano Rivera losing it? With three blown saves in this postseason, Rivera is certainly not the bulletproof closer the Yankees have had over nearly the last decade. Fox's unique "flight of the ball" camera shows that Rivera's cutter is still difficult for any hitter to get make solid contact with, yet it seems that more hits are falling in. Call it luck, call it regression, call it what you want, but the fact is that even the vaunted BABIP doesn't help elucidate this. The myth of the closer comes and goes quickly; it may be almost purely psychological above a certain talent threshold.

  • Julian Tavarez will likely be linked with Kevin Brown after breaking two bones in his non-pitching hand after a poor playoff outing. Where Brown punched a wall in the dugout, sources tell me that Tavarez's injury was incurred performing something approximating a karate chop. The injury will likely keep Tavarez off the mound, though Tavarez is telling the team he's available. With Steve Kline fighting a torn tendon and gout in his pitching hand, this puts the Cardinals at a distinct disadvantage in the bullpen.

  • I feel a more personal connection to Curtis Leskanic than to most of the players I cover here. In one of the first stories I wrote, way back in the independent days of UTK, Leskanic was in Indianapolis rehabbing his shoulder after his latest round of surgery. As Paul Anderson (now the assistant trainer in Milwaukee) worked with him, Leskanic talked with me for roughly an hour about what he'd gone through, the problems of owning a condo in Hawaii, and theories of pitching as a closer.

    I've always tried to remain objective here, but it's difficult not to root for the players that you genuinely like. and Leskanic is one of those. Pitching with a shoulder literally held together by a thread, Leskanic is working against medical advice. Each pitch he makes is painful and potentially his last as a major leaguer. Any effectiveness he has is a shell of his talent, and a testament to the art of pitching over the physical talent of throwing.

  • Paul Quantrill left Game Five with a recurrence of pain in his injured right knee. Quantrill was not wearing his brace when, on a pop-up to Jorge Posada, he ducked to get out of the way of a possible throw. (Posada didn't make the throw, not dropping the ball to make for a near sure twin killing.) Quantrill felt the knee "lock" and let Joe Torre know he couldn't continue. He will be available for Game Six, though he will certainly be avoided if possible. Speaking of availability, all Yankees pitchers save Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina will be available. Across the diamond, only Pedro Martinez and Bronson Arroyo will not be at Francona's disposal.

  • In both series, the stress placed on bullpens (and in some cases, the starting rotations) may end up deciding the series. All four teams have had to use every one of the pitchers in the bullpen and, in the ALCS, the starters have been pressed into action at times. Starters on short rest also factor in, not only in their own game strength, but in the additional stress they'll inevitably put on the pen. The Astros may use Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt on short rest for Games Six and Seven, but Phil Garner is also the manager most reluctant to go deep into his bullpen. Not only is conditioning going to be a major factor in the effectiveness, we'll also learn quite a bit about fatigue management, regenerative therapies, and comparative effectiveness. The latter is an almost Strat-O-Matic concept of probabilities, attempting to find the advantages and disadvantages that can be exploited up and down a lineup.

  • Both Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez had the cold spray used on contact injuries in Game Five. Rodriguez took a Pedro Martinez pitch off his elbow while Posada, once again leaving his right hand exposed, took a foul tip off it. Cold spray is certainly effective at removing the initial sting of pain; for fans, seeing cold spray used is a positive sign. Cold spray is almost never used for a serious injury and is just a tool that trainers have on hand to make a player more comfortable.

  • Quick Cuts: Sources with medical knowledge of the Magglio Ordonez situation tell me that Ordonez's knee is neither as bad nor as good as current news would have you believe. The problem was finally given a solid diagnosis, which includes a second meniscal tear and a reason for the bone edema, giving him a good treatment plan. Ordonez won't be 100% in December as suggested, though there's reason to believe that he could be ready for spring training without restriction Joe Mauer had yet another setback with his knee. There was no major problem, but it points once again to Mauer likely not being able to physically withstand a full load of catching next season. Some are beginning to question his pain tolerance Juan Encarnacion had surgery to repair his torn left labrum. He should be ready sometime during spring training The Reds' first-round pick, Homer Bailey, had minor knee surgery to remove some meniscal tearing. The Reds are also encouraged by progress from Wily Mo Pena It's been lost in the ALCS, but Jason Giambi received a thumbs-up from his physician in regards to his pituitary tumor Mike Cameron won't need surgery on his injured hand, something of a surprise after the problem affected his batting nearly all season.

Back as needed throughout the playoffs and on radio every day at ESPN950.com.

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