It is every fan’s god-given right to second guess. Half the fun of the game is the “Why is he bunting?” or “He has Dunston pinch-hitting?” chatter. BP is built on the idea that baseball can be made better by looking at it from a different perspective, which is an academic slant on second-guessing. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say “Just because it worked doesn’t mean it was smart” when it comes to a Dusty Baker move–especially if this includes my own utterances on that theme–I’d be able to afford one of those cool Segways.

At some point, however, there has to be something more to it than mere luck. While it’s tough–if not impossible–to isolate managerial performance, Baker is demonstrating that he more-or-less knows what he’s doing in the face of so much evidence to the contrary. At some point, Baker ceases to be a fluke like the 2002 Angels–a house built on sand–and becomes, well, something else entirely.

Powered by a software update to my Nokia 3650 and Apple’s iSync, on to the injuries…

  • Now that John Smoltz is back, the debate shifts to how injured he is, and how effectively he can he pitch at less than 100%. Smoltz has said that he’s still experiencing some soreness, but is he any different than Scott Sauerbeck? Smoltz has tendinitis in his forearm, and is, in fact, less than 100%. As with any injury, however, context must be taken into account. The Braves are clearly a better team with a partially effective Smoltz than they are with Ray King or Darren Holmes at the end of games. If Smoltz is able to pitch without damaging himself in a way that would limit his usefulness next season, there’s no reason that–within reasonable limits and pain tolerance–Smoltz cannot and should not be used. He’s not going to be the same Smoltz you saw in the first half, but we’ll know quickly if he can help the Braves look for another pennant.
  • The A’s got a bit of a scare when Rich Harden started having back spasms, but this is something that Harden has dealt with since coming into pro baseball. Harden should be ready to go, and reports from A’s trainer Larry Davis makes it sound as if this was more a precautionary move with Ted Lilly available than anything serious for Harden’s playoff availability. The A’s do look like they’ll get Jose Guillen back at some point after an excellent batting practice session. Guillen not only looked good, but flashed some power with a couple balls going into the bleachers. Mark Mulder may have played catch in the outfield, but that’s as close as it gets. I think. I like to think I’m seeing an “October Surprise” of Willis Reed proportions coming, but the objective side of me knows that the chance of that happening is remote.
  • Both Vinny Castilla and Greg Maddux left Sunday’s game with injuries that looked minor, but could affect them next week. Castilla was hit on the hand and left the game. The Braves aren’t commenting and sources are reporting mixed things. Since Castilla left the game at the same time that Bobby Cox was scrubbing in his bench, it’s tough to tell if he could have continued. Maddux was hit in the ankle by a batted ball. X-rays were negative and he shouldn’t miss his next start on injury, but he may be delayed in order to set up for the playoffs.
  • As the Cardinals make a last gasp effort against the Astros–hoping to convince someone who’s not really paying attention that Tony LaRussa hasn’t lost the team–Jim Edmonds may be done. After missing the entire Astros series, Edmonds may simply shut it down and move on from a good-but-not-outstanding season. At age 33, and with a minimum of $34 million due him over the next four years, Edmonds’ contract could become a major problem for the team, going forward.
  • The Reds face an interesting dilemma. Barry Larkin has been a great player and cornerstone of the franchise for years, but he’s probably not going to be able to play before the end of the year. Trainer Mark Mann has been quoted as saying that normal daily activities cause Larkin’s finger to throb and swell. How then–and let’s ignore the possibility of Larkin re-signing with the Reds for 2004–would the Reds say goodbye to Larkin? Would it be enough to have him pinch hit, pinch run, or in some other fashion run out to the field and get the curtain call he deserves? Mark McGwire and Tony Gwynn were shells of their former selves at the end, but they were healthy enough to walk out on the field. It will be interesting to see how the Reds handle this; it could impact how fans treat them in what is sure to be a newsworthy off-season.
  • The Angels might shut down Brendan Donnelly a few days early. Donnelly is scheduled to have minor surgery to remove bone chips that have reduced his command and effectiveness over the last couple months of the season. With the Angels out of the race, only Mike Scioscia’s insistence on roster integrity as he plays the Mariners keeps Donnelly from hanging up the spikes now–so by Thursday, there might not be any reason not to. Prior to the condition setting in just after the ASG, Donnelly was historically good.
  • Quick Cuts: Johnny Damon and Bill Mueller were back in the lineup for the Red Sox on Sunday…Kurt Ainsworth made it back, pitching for Baltimore for the first time. He should be back completely from his shoulder fracture in 2004… Just a precautionary with Jerome Williams. Expect more moves like this by teams that clinch in order to rest their players and set up for the playoffs…After being hospitalized for dehydration, Jason Jennings was shelved. No need for him to come back in a weakened state… That 96 mph fastball into Nomar Garciaparra‘s ribs sure looked painful, but reports from Boston say that there’s no damage–just pain.

If you were at the Cleveland Feed, you got a bit of a preview of this–especially some discussion of DiamondView–but if not, here’s a phenomenal article about why Indians fans should be happy about their leadership.

Oh, and to answer an e-mail that’s fast becoming a FAQ: Yes, UTK will continue in its current format through the last out of the World Series. Besides the injuries that affect who wins (remember Scott Rolen and Luis Gonzalez last year?), I’ll also cover ‘surgery season’ and anything else that stays between the lines of my ballpark. Just because I’m writing a book doesn’t mean you get rid of me that easily.

Hopefully I’ll see some of you in Kokomo on Tuesday (yes, I know that the Web site has been around more than two years) for some fun talk. I know we’ll be seeing Leroy there, so come along.