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October 3, 2007

Under The Knife

Playoff Health Report, NL

by Will Carroll

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Let's start with a clarification. My explanation of the colors yesterday was lacking; rather than being as long-winded as usual, this time I was unclear. Instead of saying that "red" means that the player will be a "non-factor," I should have said it means the injury could prevent that player from occupying his normal role, reducing his impact on the series. Clearly, if a player like Gary Matthews Jr. can't play, that's a big factor in the Angels' chances. If a player like Roger Clemens pitches but isn't his usual self, or creates roster issues, that earns a red. I apologize for any confusion.

The fatigue factor is something that most pundits don't take into account. It seems that once the calendar flips to October, most think that the strains (and sprains) of a marathon season suddenly fall away with the autumn leaves. If you wonder why there's only been one playoff no-hitter, look no further than the pitchers' fatigue level. Almost by definition, playoff games feature pitchers who have made a significant number of starts and put significant innings on their arm. These pitchers are then asked to go further, often further than they ever have, and are asked to pitch to better hitters, in high-leverage situations. It's the time when legends are made and labrums are shredded. We could be looking at the next Whitey Ford or the next Jaret Wright this October, so let's hope for the former. Now, on to the injuries:

Diamondbacks

Aside from the bruised wrist of Justin Upton and some inflammation in the shoulder of Juan Cruz, the Diamondbacks have already dealt with all their injuries. Randy Johnson made an early exit on the season, but Micah Owings has more than made up for those lost innings with his arm and his bat. Chad Tracy couldn't come back from knee problems, but Mark Reynolds and Conor Jackson made Tracy's absence more a problem of depth than a loss of production. The bigger issue is their losing Orlando Hudson, the cornerstone of their infield defense. However, Augie Ojeda has lived up to his rep as a fielder and been as good with the glove as Hudson according to FRAA, albeit in much less playing time. Credit Ken Crenshaw, a former Dick Martin Award winner, for rebuilding the Diamondbacks, taking them from one of the most injured teams to one heading into the playoffs with no significant health concerns.

Cubs

Carlos Zambrano: Green  light His cramps seem to no longer be an issue, his mechanics have been cleaned up since the beginning of the season, and while his pockets are full now, Big Z says he's still hungry. (Which I guess means "slightly smaller than Heath Bell.")

Ted Lilly: Green  light Fine for the playoffs, but last time he threw this many innings, he spent the next year fighting shoulder problems. He's bumping against the "rule of 30" line, but I'm not sure whether return trips to the 200-inning threshold should count.

Rich Hill: Green  light Actually has pitched fewer innings this year than last, but all of them were in the majors. His mechanics aren't perfect, but he should be fine for the next month.

Carlos Marmol: Yellow  light An advance scout told me that Marmol's velocity has been dropping over the second half of the season. As he's still relatively new to relief pitching, that could be an indicator of fatigue.

Alfonso Soriano: Green  light The Cubs medical staff deserves credit for getting Soriano back safely from two leg injuries that could have killed his season. He's always a risk for recurrence with his tightly bundled muscles, but Cubs fans won't care about whatever happens in the next six years of his deal if this one ends with a pennant.

Cliff Floyd: Red light This season, he's had a sore back, sore neck, sore shoulder, and still seems a bit hobbled by his Achilles injury. Which, for him, is a pretty healthy year.

Ryan Theriot: Green  light This year's inexplicable fan favorite a la David Eckstein, there were more Theriot jerseys in Cincy over the weekend than Lee and Ramirez combined. Back spasms shouldn't be much of an issue with the rest he's picked up.

Derrek Lee: Green  light Just a chance for me to mention his foundation.

Phillies

Cole Hamels: Green  light The elbow sprain is more worrisome for next year than for the playoffs. Hamels showed that he'd found his release point again down the stretch, and is now back to being the dominant starter that the Phillies need.

Kyle Lohse: Green  light Here's what might seem to be an odd one--Lohse is a little bit past the "rule of 30," but he's thrown 200 innings in the past, and had five straight seasons throwing 175 before last year's drop to ~150 total innings across two organizations and two levels; his lower totals have been the product of a lack of effectiveness, not injury. As a result, he's very likely an exception to the rule, and if he pitches well in the playoffs, he stands to be very rich very soon.

Kyle Kendrick: Yellow  light A 22-year-old pitcher who's thrown over 200 innings heading into the playoffs? Wow, that sounds familiar.

Tom Gordon: Red light Steven King could write a horror story about Gordon's arm. Shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand--he's a walking orthopedic nightmare. But he's still got that snapping curve when Ol' Cholly isn't using him in three, four, or even five straight games, as he did in September. It's for a playoff berth, I realize, but there's an effectiveness penalty to be paid at some point.

Brett Myers: Green  light Someday, we'll understand the multiplier for relief innings. For now, all we know is that Myers has stayed healthy and effective since coming back from injury at midseason. Whether that has anything to do with his role is a mystery.

Chase Utley: Green  light The broken hand might still be sapping a bit of power, but that should be offset by the offensive environments this series will be played in.

Carlos Ruiz: Yellow  light This is more a precaution than a de facto yellow. Ruiz was hit on the elbow by a pitch during the last game, and there have been no updates on his status since. Sources tell me that he's still sore but that he'll be ready to play; the injury will be more a factor for his hitting than his work behind the plate.

Shane Victorino: Yellow  light He can get around, but his stolen base numbers and visual checks of his range indicate that the calf injury that hampered him for the better part of two months is still affecting him.

Rockies

The bullpen looks like the island of misfit relievers, and they'll have the first "Ubaldo" in playoff history. They actually have Kazuo Matsui in the lineup, much to the chagrin of Mets fans everywhere. Is there anything to learn about the Rockies from a health standpoint? Not really. Aside from Matt Holliday's new scab on his face, there's not a lot going on here healthwise, a credit to Keith Dugger and his staff. They'll miss Aaron Cook, but he wasn't there for their stretch run either. The only question mark is whether Willy Taveras can make the postseason roster in time for the NLCS. If there's any active concern here about the players on the LDS roster, it's fatigue, especially at the front of their rotation. Ubaldo Jimenez is nearing 200 innings, a big step up for him. If Jeff Francis gets a couple starts in the playoffs, he'll cross the "rule of 30" hurdle as well. Still, these are more long-term concerns, and there's no doubt that the Rockies are staying in the moment.

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