September 22, 2008
Under The Knife
Carlos Zambrano (0 DXL)
If you buy what Bob Brenly said during Friday's game, that Zambrano was losing velocity without having anything physically wrong, then there's still the question of what Zambrano gave up in pursuit of a no-hitter. If you don't buy into Brenly's logic and you worry, like me, that Zambrano's return was just the start of a downward slope that might have been accelerated by 110 pitches at high adrenaline, then you end up at the same place. Zambrano has one start, maybe, before the playoffs, and in that start the Cubs will have to make a lot of decisions. With the division clinched and Zambrano's scheduled Thursday start putting him in position to lead off the Cubs' Division Series, they almost have to see him go the normal distance, hopefully with the same higher elbow at ball release like he had during the no-hitter, before they can write his name into their playoff rotation in ink. If he has another poor performance and looks bad physically, the Cubs do have options, but not nearly as good.
Ben Sheets (5 DXL)
Sheets won't make his Tuesday start, and depending on the state of the race, he may never start for the Brewers again. It's kind of symbolic of his Milwaukee career in general, marked as it was more by the missed time than by the success he had when he was on the mound. Sheets' arm is still tender, making it very unlikely he'd be able to go deeper into the game than he did last time out. While he was effective-and could be used in an emergency situation as needed over the last week-he's just not able to go deep enough to use him normally. Long term, this is going to be a big issue for the teams looking to sign him. In the meantime, the Brewers' rotation is undecided past Tuesday, with Seth McClung and David Bush, essentially the team's sixth- and seventh-best starters, carrying the team's hopes forward. The most likely scenario is that CC Sabathia starts on short rest Wednesday, followed by Sheets (if available) or Yovani Gallardo to lead off a "bullpen start." That leaves Friday and Saturday as all-hands games against a resting Cubs team, with Sabathia going Sunday on short rest again if needed.
Joe Saunders (5 DXL)
Kidney stones hurt. If you've never had one, you have no idea of the pain as that stone does its evil. Joe Saunders is dealing with that now, but because of their already clinching the Angels didn't have to think twice about passing over him for his scheduled Tuesday start. He should still be able to make a start before the end of the season, and then be part of what will be an interesting decision about the team's playoff rotation. While painful, this shouldn't have anything beyond short-term implications for Saunders, though with John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, and Jon Garland also all available, how Mike Scioscia makes out his playoff roster might be the next interesting Angels story, especially if he decides to go with five starters.
Greg Dobbs (1 DXL)
The Phillies are fighting for a division title and a playoff spot, so a seemingly small thing like a leg injury to a player that most outside Philly don't even know could end up being a difference-maker. Dobbs left Sunday's game after making a diving stop, but came up hobbled. Dobbs thinks it's just a severe cramp, one so bad that he had to eat the ball rather than trying to make a throw with his leg in pain. It ended up working out for the Phillies; his replacement, Pedro Feliz, made the next play and hit a homer. Dobbs isn't expected to miss time, but sources are saying that Dobbs' status will be evaluated and that he was quite sore after the game, indicating it may be a strained calf rather than just a cramp.
J.D. Drew (45 DXL)
Mike Lowell (0 DXL)
The Sox clinched a playoff berth, but they're still fighting for the AL East title with the Rays. They'll have to continue that fight without two key cogs in the last week. Drew had another setback over the weekend and might be done for the season. He'll have an examination today, but he simply can't swing a bat without causing spasms. His availability for the playoffs is in serious jeopardy, and even if he was physically fine, having not played since mid-August makes it tough to put him on the post-season roster. Without Drew, the Sox have been using Mark Kotsay, but they'd hoped to avoid having to start him given his anemic offense since coming to Boston. The Sox will also try to keep resting Mike Lowell to make sure his hip doesn't flare up heading into the playoffs. Kevin Youkilis can cover third-base duties, but the effective swap of Mike Lowell for Sean Casey doesn't help the cause of defending their title.
Jeff Kent (30 DXL)
Rafael Furcal (120 DXL)
Brad Penny (10 DXL)
The Dodgers seem ready to slide into the playoffs, but there's as much work to be done by Stan Conte and his staff as there is for Joe Torre and his field staff. The Dodgers are waiting to see if they'll have Kent and Furcal back, but putting either on the playoff roster would be a real gamble. Kent still can't run, but can hit, giving LA scribes an easy comparison to Kirk Gibson. Torre, for his part, won't commit to having Kent on the roster for the Division Series, with most indications being that Kent would be left off while continuing to rehab. The news isn't as good with Furcal, who still has back problems, including pain shooting into his leg, after his back surgery. His addition to the lineup looks extremely unlikely, though he too will continue to rehab. A Kent/Furcal keystone combo is certainly better than what they had out there on Sunday (Blake DeWitt and Angel Berroa). The news is clearer on Penny-he's done for the season after another cortisone injection in his pitching shoulder, and will be shut down.
Chris Iannetta (0 DXL)
Todd Helton (90 DXL)
The Rockies have a lot of questions heading into the offseason. Ianetta is one of few Rockies with a solid hold on a job for next year, but he left Sunday's game with what looked to many like an arm injury. After the game, however, sources insisted that there was no arm problem, stating that Ianetta was merely cramping up; we'll have to see if he's in the lineup on Tuesday. The Rockies will also have to wait to see what Dr. Robert Watkins has to say about Helton's back after the first baseman had a setback. Many expect that surgery will be necessary, and the extent of that surgery will determine if Helton will be available for the start of the '09 season.
Quick Cuts: Ever think you'd see a Derek Jeter injury down this low in the last week of September? Nothing was going to keep him out of the Stadium finale, but he was clearly bothered after being hit on the hand. Don't be surprised if he sits this week. ... As expected, Hanley Ramirez didn't play this weekend, but insiders say he has not yet been shut down. ... Images on Jay Bruce's wrist came back negative, but the Reds will be very conservative with him over the next week. ... Though thought to be done for the season, Michael Young is going to try to play through his injured finger this week. ... The Tigers have finally shut down Carlos Guillen for the season. ... Mark Ellis had surgery on his shoulder to repair labrum damage. ... Chipper Jones has not been shut down yet, though it looks like his sore shoulder and other assorted ailments will limit his playing time in the last week. ... I'm going to try something tomorrow-I've never done a mailbag column, but I'm going to give you a chance in this final week to tell me what should be covered.