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September 6, 2005

Under The Knife

The Intangibles of Maple Floors

by Will Carroll

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There's so much written about the subtleties of baseball at this time of year. In most places, fact is left behind for intangibles, as if writing about chemistry, mystique and destiny make them somehow tangible. It's the very illusory qualities that make them worthy of our dismissal. Good chemistry, bad clubhouse, dumb luck--it's really all the same: an attempt to explain the inexplicable and to pretend that some people know more than the rest of us.

Did it take a couple months for the Phillies to be rid of the tension that Larry Bowa inflicted or was his influence overstated? Are home runs down because of steroid testing? If so, how do you explain Albert Pujols? He has escaped steroid speculation, is certainly no smaller or less talented, plays in the same park, and probably will end the season with 40-45 homers. Heck, where's that young player we first heard was in the system a month ago? The reason intangibles stay intangibles is because the game resists our knowing. There's an endless combination of known, quantifiable things that happen and that cultivated randomness is a big part of its greatness.

Powered by maple floors, stainless appliances, soft new carpet on bare feet, and the Vegas-style sky above my head--yes, this is the first UTK from the new HQ--on to the injuries:

  • By the time you read this, Barry Bonds could be a Giant again. ESPN is reporting two stories about Bonds. First, Bonds could rejoin the team, eschewing a rehab assignment or much of anything beyond showing that his swing is still there in one BP session. Bonds apparently had no problems whatsoever once he resumed swinging a bat, easily convincing the Giants to activate him. With just five games separating them and the Padres in the standings, Bonds' addition could be a Willis Reed moment, assuming that he's still Barry Bonds. Calls to a couple teams on their upcoming schedule show that they're not entirely sure how they'll pitch to Bonds. "He goes yard a couple times and he's back to walking, especially if he can't stand up. Some guy will go all Trachsel on him and make him stand there at first base for a day." Indications are that Bonds will be used in as close to a normal pattern as possible, though they'll pull him at the first chance. The usage patterns for Bonds will be among the most important all season for the Giants' triumvirate of Felipe Alou, Brian Sabean and Stan Conte.

    The second story about Bonds involves an alleged fight with a teammate, which ESPN's Pedro Gomez stated that "caused Bonds' banishment to L.A." Sources tell us that Bonds' move to L.A. to finish his rehab was not the result of any altercation, but a change in strategy that focused on Clive Brewster, Bonds' physical therapist. Given the results since Brewster became involved, it's hard to argue. Drama or not, Bonds' move to L.A. worked.

  • It seems somehow just that Rafael Palmeiro's 10-game suspension has turned into what is quite possibly a career-ending situation. Bud Selig had argued, prior to his conversion in face of Congressional involvement, that the public shaming of a steroid offender would be as powerful as any suspension, be it 10 days or 50. The Orioles asked Palmeiro to leave the team over the weekend, though he will be paid. Team sources indicate that Palmeiro was simply unable to play at the level he had all season due to the mental stress of the suspension and then the reaction to it. Having watched a couple of the games where Palmeiro actually played, including the infamous earplug game, the reaction wasn't above and beyond the normal taunting that players receive about other types of things. Palmeiro's reaction to this is interesting, and perhaps proves that at least when it comes to stars, the public pillory works.

  • The Yankees anticipate going with a patchwork rotation for the rest of the season and are leaving any notions of setting a three- or four-man playoff rotation off the table. Mike Mussina was unable to throw lightly this week and won't try again until late this week. This isn't unexpected, but is certainly a disappointment to the Yankees. The team is still focused on catching the Red Sox rather than winning the wild card. Their ability to do that will be shown on Wednesday when Jaret Wright returns to the mound. Starts just after being hit by comebackers (and Andy Pettitte was hit, but uninjured by a comebacker Monday night) tend to show some problems as pitchers combat both their mechanics and the innate tendency to flinch.

  • Mike Piazza is feeling better about his chances for coming back, and the deep September rosters may help him. He has a better chance of hitting than he does of getting back behind the plate; without roster expansion, that's probably not a role that the Mets would have available. Piazza's broken pisiform (wrist) bone is still painful, but he's regaining range of motion and the pain is not affecting his grip strength quite as much. Piazza is hitting off a tee at less than full speed. As with Bonds, once he takes normal batting practice, he'll be back shortly in some role.

  • The Braves, like all teams, reserve the right to change their mind. Mike Hampton was scheduled to pitch on Monday. Instead, he pitched a simulated game after Leo Mazzone wasn't quite convinced that the lefty was ready to go out and give the Braves their best chance at winning. Hampton will likely get a start later in the week, and depending on how that goes, he could see some time in the bullpen to see if he could help the team during the playoffs in that role. Attempting to discern exactly what we'll see from Hampton in fantasy terms is near impossible. Consider anything a bonus.

  • Rich Harden was able to play catch at 90 feet, a positive step. It's not quite long-toss or an interval throwing session, but it's a positive step. Harden is still on track for a Sunday start, though even the A's medical staff acknowledges that's not the likeliest scenario. For it to happen, Harden will have to have a side session on Thursday, part of his normal routine heading into a start. The A's seem willing to start pushing Harden back on a game-by-game basis if need be, anything to maximize his availability down the stretch. The best guess based on available information is that Harden will not make it for Sunday, but will be available at some point early next week. With Harden back and effective and with Bobby Crosby starting to hit off a tee while his broken ankle continues to heal, the A's would certainly have more of a shot at either the division title or wild card. Their treatment of injuries over the last 45 days will go a long way in deciding which or neither of those the A's end up with.

  • Quick Cuts: Bobby Kielty may miss time with a strained oblique. The A's are saying a week, but this injury seldom heals that quickly Ryan Freel was activated from the DL after knee surgery and will play in his normal utility role, albeit somewhat reduced while the Reds look at some younger players. Ken Griffey Jr.'s strained "foot" will only keep him out a few days, according to the team Want a tough decision to make? How do you take your top two pitchers from last year and tell them they might not even be used in the playoffs? The Red Sox face that. Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke both pitched Monday and both showed major reductions in velocity compared to their norm.

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