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October 7, 2009

Playoff Health Report

American League

by Will Carroll

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Now that we know the identity of the fourth team, we can jump into the AL's health. As I said yesterday, health isn't as big a factor in the postseason as it is in the 162-game marathon of the regular season. For these four teams, there are some mild concerns, but aside from the loss of Justin Morneau from the Twins' lineup, there are no other significant impacts from injury to the AL's final four. That leaves us with a quartet of talented teams ready to go, deciding it on the basis of talent, planning, and execution rather than luck and survival. While we don't have two Dick Martin Award finalists like we do in the NL, we do have teams that deserve a tip of the cap to all their respective medical staffs.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

CRUNCH TIME: Pressure doesn't seem to get to this Angels team, but late-inning situations might.
PLAYERS LOST: 2
While the most important player missing for the Angels might seem to be Nick Adenhart (who doesn't count in my tally above), it doesn't diminish Adenhart's memory to note that he's not the guy the team really misses most. That would be Scot Shields and-to some extent-Francisco Rodriguez. While Adenhart's passing might have indirectly led to the trade for Scott Kazmir, the depth of the rotation is more than adequate. It's in the pen where Brian Fuentes has been, well, Fuentes-esque, but the guys in front of him have been lacking as well. Where Shields used to lock things down to set up saves, there has been failure after failure. Jose Arredondo found himself back in Utah, Kevin Jepsen was tired by the time he came up, and the number-one option out of the pen is Darren Oliver, who wouldn't be described as dominant if he showed up in leather with a whip.

In the field, the Angels have almost no significant problems. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar have some minor problems that cropped up at the end of the season, though both are expected to play and be near full-go once the playoffs get started. A lot has been made of the effect of injuries on the outfield defense, but I'm not sure how much is there. Torii Hunter is a negative-rated outfielder by some advanced metrics, but a positive one under FRAA; scouts tend to side with FRAA on this one, though Hunter's negative FRAA in '08 was scoffed at by the same scouts. If Hunter or Gary Matthews Jr. did experience a defensive falloff, their minor injuries this season wouldn't seem to be the cause.

Boston Red Sox

CRUNCH TIME: Getting all of their starters into the sixth. After that, it's up to Terry Francona and who's healthy this year.
PLAYERS LOST: 2
It's a bit of a stretch to say that Rocco Baldelii is lost to this team, but it's not a stretch to say that getting about a half-season out of him was about all that anyone expected. The Red Sox staff did that while maintaining a team that's gotten creakier over the past couple of years, and resultantly has been tasked with more and more to do. Baldelli's acquisition compounded the time needed to keep J.D. Drew healthy, rehabbing Mike Lowell, watching Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield, oiling Jason Varitek's knees, and the assorted other things that keeps a medical staff working 20-hour days for most of the season. Drew alone is virtually the definition of fragile, but he's productive when he's in there, something the Red Sox understand. He's less Moises Alou than his own breed of problem for some random set of 20 games. As long as some of those games don't fall in October, it's not an issue, but the shoulder has been a late-season issue for him several times. Up the middle, there are some issues with all of their shortstops; with late news that Jed Lowrie is going to be on the roster, it will be interesting to see how Terry Francona mixes and matches.

For the first time in several Octobers, the Red Sox pitching is the biggest question mark. Josh Beckett's back has him leaving pitches up, though he looked better after skipping a turn. Jon Lester had no issues after the comebacker off his thigh. As for Daisuke Matsuzaka, a couple of good starts in October will make up for all the other months in the eyes of Sox fans and honestly, I expect him to do so.

New York Yankees

CRUNCH TIME: An expensive team in a gilded palace isn't going to have any excuses-not ones coming from the training room anyway.
PLAYERS LOST: 2
Lost in the talk about Derek Jeter's clutchiness, Alex Rodriguez's steroid usage, Brian Cashman's checkbook, and the rest of the swirling media memes around the Yankees is the fact that the Yankees are in the postseason again in large part due to health. Gene Monahan and his staff have had two ticks against them, and one of those is barely their issue. Xavier Nady blew out his elbow, while Chien-Ming Wang never seemed to make it back from last season's foot injury, swapping that for a variety of issues. Along the way, they've kept Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon healthy while resting Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. Some of the credit goes to Joe Girardi, but it was Girardi that pushed Rodriguez off of his rest schedule, something that might have risked a devastating loss for the team. Over the second half, the team has been remarkably healthy.

They even kept A.J. Burnett in working order, who's normally not so good in the non-contract years, but maybe he mistook the lights of Manhattan for the glare of impending lucre. CC Sabathia's shown no wear for all his mileage, while Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are timeless. With Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain in the pen, there should be both power and depth, though the middle could be exposed if the starters come up short. An interesting tactic might be to use Chamberlain there, especially behind the lefties, in a three- or even four-inning stint.

Minnesota Twins

CRUNCH TIME: Tuesday night in the top of the eighth. Everything after that is bonus time.
PLAYERS LOST: 5
We know they're all tired, but the way the playoff schedule is now set up, it's not that big a deal, especially for the bullpen. The Twins are missing more players than any of the other teams, including the one with the biggest impact-Justin Morneau. His stress fracture should have been the end of the team, but the roster's flexibility allowed the team to get just enough offense to catch the collapsing Tigers. Aside from Morneau, the team is mostly healthy. Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer always seem to have small issues throughout the season, but especially with Kubel, their injury histories are enough so that their production is surprising rather than their missed time being the disappointment.

The pitching staff is pretty solid, despite the loss of a couple key cogs in Francisco Liriano and Kevin Slowey. The re-establishment of Jesse Crain, coming back from labrum surgery, shows how much progress has been made with that repair over the years. Again, the Twins used the development of a bunch of similar players to fill in the gaps. They never seem to have one of something, but three or four of each, most exemplified by a starting rotation of strike-pounding third starters in the rotation. They'll need every bit of that flexibility to stay in a series against the Yankees, while we'll see whether Joe Mauer will continue to carry this team like the second coming Barry Bonds circa 2002.

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