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April 13, 2000

NL West Notebook

Injuries Happen

by Dave Pease

It's tough for me to believe that there will be a runaway winner in the division this year. The Diamondbacks, so good last season, still feature an old offense that may not play up to last year's standards. The Dodgers, despite quite a bit of individual talent, sport the worst pitching staff I've seen in Dodger blue in quite a while. The Giants offense will do its usual good work, and the Rockies have an entirely revamped team. That leaves the Padres, and looking over this year's roster, they're better off left.

Last year, the Diamondbacks rode several career performances to the title. This season, the division winner might just be the team that has to endure the fewest injuries.

How important is Matt Williams to the Diamondbacks? A cynic says his age makes him as likely to be part of the problem as the solution, but he had a fine year last season and didn't show his age in spring training. Williams provides a reliable power bat in the middle of an order that is depending heavily on Travis Lee and Erubiel Durazo, two promising but unknown quantities.

Williams's broken foot will keep him out for two months or so. To make matters worse, infielder Andy Fox, the logical replacement, broke his arm in spring training. He's beginning a rehab assignment, but until he's ready to play, the Snakes are making due with Lenny Harris at the hot corner. Harris, predictably, has hit .194/.259 so far, and made a critical throwing error that cost the Diamondbacks the game Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers have lost ace Kevin Brown to a broken pinkie finger. What happens with this injury depends on how much Brown dictates things: if left up to him, he's probably pitching as you read this, but Davey Johnson and company will probably sit him down at least three starts while he heals.

Brown broke his finger on a bunt attempt, which brings to mind the good reasons not to bunt with someone like Kevin Brown:

  • he's your ace, and one of the best pitchers in the league.

  • he's paid $15 million per season for 30+ starts, not for his bat.

  • he actually had a season (1998, when he hit .244/.244) in which he hit like Rey Ordonez; he doesn't do much with the bat, but at least he isn't Joey Hamilton up there.

  • your sixth starter, Carlos Perez, has been pitching like Rosie Perez and isn't likely to give the team a good effort in Brown's absence.

In a close race (we almost couldn't decide between the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks in our National League predictions), injuries to core players can mean the difference between a playoff berth and bupkus. Of course, if the Diamondbacks keep playing like they are now, the race is already over.

Notes

It took six games for the Padres' Opening Day outfield of Al Martin, Ruben Rivera and Tony Gwynn to miss a start. Gwynn has well-documented health problems, Rivera hit .195 last season and Martin, who threatened to "OJ" his reserve wife, has some extracurricular problems to sort out. Spring-training hero John Roskos, who hit .400 with two bombs in four games with the Las Vegas Stars and was called up on April 11, must be licking his lips.... Colorado's power problems have carried from spring training over to the regular season. The team has seven home runs in its first eight games, half of division-leading Arizona's total.

Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Dave's other articles. You can contact Dave by clicking here

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