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So we have three out of four. Fox is happy with the best matchup possible (in terms of audience) in the ALCS, while the NLCS might match the best team (in terms of record) with the best story (if the Astros can pull it out). Baseball fans haven’t done too poorly, either. There’s been plenty of drama, mostly good baseball, and plenty of water cooler fodder. Team health has factored in big in each series, so let’s get right to the discussion.

In memory of Ken Caminiti, on to the injuries…

  • Let me go on record here: Pitch counts had nothing to do with Ron Gardenhire’s decision to pull Johan Santana. Three of my best sources in Minnesota concurred that the manager’s decision was not made using any objective measure, and instead was a pure judgment call. It’s sure to be second-guessed during the offseason, but since I liked the usage in Game One, it’s hard for me to come back and criticize what Gardenhire did in Game Four. However, some are using this decision as a chance to tee off on topics as varied as pitch counts, sabermetrics and pitcher development. Since the Twins are one of the least research-friendly organizations (and no less successful for it), it’s hard to see the connection.
  • I’ve gotten lots of e-mail this week asking about how short rest affects pitchers. Much of it referenced Rany Jazayerli’s work on the four-man rotation. There’s a major difference between being conditioned in a four-man and being used on short rest.

    Most pitchers work on a five-day cycle. The chart below shows the “normal” rest cycle, something I call a quick recovery. It shows how a pitcher can throw “to failure”–the inability to effectively perform a task–and recover to restart the task.

    If the pitcher is not given adequate rest or is unable to adequately recover from the fatigue in the given period, he’ll go into a declining recovery cycle.

    A declining cycle will eventually place the player into the lower percentages, putting him at severe risk for injury and reducing his overall effectiveness. Managers in the postseason are forced to judge whether a pitcher at a reduced level of effectiveness are able to perform a task adequately. As well, they must decide if that reduced level gives his team a better chance of winning than the other available options. In other words, is 80% of Roger Clemens better than 100% of Peter Munro? Is Johan Santana for five innings better than Kyle Lohse for seven? There’s a reason managers are paid well; there’s also a lot of reason to do more research on fatigue cycles.

  • One final topic is an ongoing exchange I’m have with a team official. He insists that the psychological impact of “must-win” games, such as those that Houston and Anaheim played over the last few weeks of the season, not to mention playoff games, adds a significant stressor to pitchers. I’ve responded that yes, it probably has some effect, but for the most part it’s an immeasurable one. It’s something our brain wants to see. I’m waiting on UTK’s favorite sports psychologist to get back to me on this one.
  • Albert Pujols dished some pain and took some pain in the Cards’ Game Four win. His homer was the decisive blow, but Cesar Izturis gave a little back, running into his lower back during a close play at first base. Pujols will be wearing some ice there, a location that can stiffen noticeably when not in use, such as, say, a long flight from L.A. to St. Louis. Add in the sharp foul off his instep–yes, the same one with the plantar fascitis–and Pujols may not have the same spring in his step come Wednesday. I’d still love to have half a Pujols in my lineup.
  • Even the Cards’ press is starting to acknowledge that Scott Rolen is dealing with a more serious knee injury that the team is letting on. His awkward swings and ginger running style, avoiding the stops and lateral moves that cause him pain, are becoming apparent. This isn’t going to get better, given the few off days that the Cards have. In fact, this is one of the more major weaknesses of the team. The Cards have enough to play without Rolen and in the right situation, Tony La Russa may try to find a day preceding an off day to give Rolen some rest. He could use John Mabry at third base for a game.
  • Curt Schilling re-injured his damaged ankle during his ALDS Game One start. He’ll not only have his normal shot of painkiller Marcaine, he’ll be wearing a small, lace-up style ankle brace. While it is not expected to be any more of a problem than it has been for most of the season, the brace is something new and anything new has a chance to throw things off, even if it’s a slight change. Schilling has previously had his ankle taped, something that can be much more effective than a brace, but which tends to lose effectiveness over the course of a game due to sweat and stretching of the fabric. Watch Schilling closely in warm-ups. Worst-case scenario, he’ll remove the brace.
  • Johnny Damon was able to use his off day productively. Damon has been seeing a chiropractor regularly to obtain relief from migraine headaches. The headaches have been a “regular problem,” one team source told me, but “never changed how he was used.” Red Sox reliever Scott Williamson will have a much less productive day on Monday. He’ll have elbow surgery under the direction of Tim Kremchek. While the nature of the surgery is undetermined, it is likely to be Tommy John surgery. The same source has told me that Williamson had to talk with his family before deciding if he would have the surgery. Had he retired, the surgery would not have been performed.
  • Is there any advantage in the bullpen for Game Five of the Astros/Braves series? Brad Lidge was used hard earlier in the series, but faced only a couple batters in Game Four. John Smoltz had similar hard use, but is more accustomed to this type of workload. Smoltz is probably slightly less effective due to the problems he’s had with his elbow, though he would never admit this. Both are unlikely to be effective for more than an inning according to team sources, though both are the type that would throw a hundred innings if it meant advancing to face the Cardinals.
  • With John Thomson out for the season–however much or little that is–with his oblique strain, Mike Hampton becomes even more important to the Braves. Battling an ongoing knee injury and now a “tight forearm,” likely a strained flexor tendon caused by his altered, slingshot motion, Hampton is likely to be limited both in effectiveness and stamina. The Braves will be shorthanded for Game Five and are considering their options for the NLCS, assuming they can beat the Astros. Jose Capellan is the most likely candidate for that open slot.

  • Quick Cuts: The Marlins are expected to name Greg Booker their next pitching coach during the next week, though the timing of the announcement may be altered due to the ban on major announcements during the playoffs. Booker is a former Padres coach and the son-in-law of Jack McKeon … Daisuke Matsuzaka is expected to post–the complicated process of bringing a Japanese player who isn’t a free agent to the U.S.–once the process begins, leading a large class. The uncertainty of the Japanese professional leagues and the hoopla surrounding Ichiro Suzuki could lead to teams trying to “cash in” with posted players. Matsuzaka is Japan’s Olympic hero and throws the famous gyroball. Whatever team gets him should write in 15 wins … I used anonymous sources nine times in this UTK. I didn’t do so without thinking it through.

Back tomorrow with the League Championship Series Health Reports.

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