Red Sox vs Yankees

It would seem that injury will be overshadowed by the hype that seemingly must surround a Yankees-Sox series. Instead, it may be the factor that decides such a closely matched series. Whether it is Curt Schilling and his injured ankle, Pedro Martinez and his questionable shoulder, or Gary Sheffield and his torn shoulder muscle, the slightest disadvantage may turn the series.

The Yankees’ pitching is a question mark, both from a performance standpoint and from the medhead perspective. Kevin Brown has been well covered. His performance in Game Three showed that he doesn’t need all his physical gifts intact to win. Javier Vazquez is still far from what the Yankees expected yet was enough to keep the Yankees in the game. Even Mike Mussina has been lessened by his elbow to the point where his ability does not match his playoff ace role. The Yankees are left in the same position as the Cardinals; they have a rotation of roughly equivalent parts, able to go far enough to get to the bullpen if given enough run support.

The pen, then, is forced to be perhaps more than it has been throughout this version of the Yankees dynasty. At full strength, it could be what the team needs, but Joe Torre has used only the top of this bullpen with any trust. The change in usage during the playoffs shortens the pen and puts Mariano Rivera and Tom Gordon under even more stress. If others are placed into high-leverage innings, the Yankees’ weakness will be exposed quickly. Steve Karsay was held off the ALCS roster in favor of Orlando Hernandez, a possible Game Four starter. Gordon is still experiencing some vision problems as a result of being hit with a champagne cork during the celebration.

The lineup has fewer problems. Sheffield’s shoulder problem hasn’t affected his on-field performance. Jason Giambi again misses the roster, leaving only minor injuries like Bernie Williams and his arthritic shoulders and bad knees to concern.

Across the diamond, the Red Sox’ pitching depth is apparent in the rotation, but injuries have left the bullpen nearly as top-heavy as the Yankees. Scott Williamson just underwent elbow surgery while Ramiro Mendoza was added to the ALCS roster (in place of Kevin Youkilis.) Again, the closer will likely turn fireman, with Keith Foulke taking on the role.

The rotation’s questions have been addressed regularly and answers have come on the field. Schilling has had no problems pitching with a numbed ankle, though his use of the brace–discussed here yesterday–may be something of a wild card. Pedro Martinez faces his “daddy” with the same concerns he’s had all year. In other words, the Yanks expect to see these two a total of five times in a seven-game series.

In the lineup, the Sox have only minor concerns. Manny Ramirez has had little problem with his sore hamstrings and back. Running isn’t exactly a big part of his game anyway. Johnny Damon has been able to consult with his chiropractor, relieving some of the migraines he’s experienced as a result of last season’s collision during the playoffs. Orlando Cabrera‘s knees haven’t acted up during the last month, but he continues to undergo normal treatment. Bill Mueller has some residual soreness in his repaired knee, nothing that should limit him.

Cardinals vs Astros

The National League Central Championship Series is set to get underway Wednesday. The difference between going four games and five in round one is apparent, with the Cardinals’ four-man rotation set to play out just as it did against the Dodgers. Without Chris Carpenter, the parts are essentially interchangeable; a good pitching performance like Jeff Suppan Game 4 gem Sunday is a bonus. On the other side, the push of Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt to Games Three and Four gives each an extra day of rest initially, then forces them to short rest if they are needed for Games Six and Seven. Oswalt showed significant negative changes to his mechanics in both his starts, so don’t expect him to go much beyond six innings, short rest or not.

The Astros come in with no serious injury concerns. Carlos Beltran proved, with his two-homer game last night, that the rib injury will not affect his hitting. Adam Everett will remain on the bench for the NLCS, available as a pinch-runner or late-inning defensive replacement. Jeff Kent is said to be sore from the long season, but that should not slow him down significantly.

The Astros’ bullpen is well-rested, outside of Brad Lidge. Lidge’s prolonged use through the Division Series could be a factor. The Astros staff will watch him closely, though Phil Garner seems comfortable using him more in the two-inning pattern of Mariano Rivera. Lidge’s two-and-a-half seasons of set-up included more long outings, showing his ability to recover and maintain effectiveness.

The Cardinals only have minor concerns heading into the NLCS. Albert Pujols is banged up. He stiffened up considerably the day after clinching in Los Angeles with bruising on his lower left back, and his sore foot is more sore than normal. It is unlikely that it will affect his hitting significantly. Scott Rolen is a much bigger concern. His knee requires significant medical maintenance and his capabilities have been limited. Tony La Russa will continue to run Rolen out, knowing he is the best option, even with limitations, yet the risk of doing so remains that Rolen breaks down during the playoffs and cannot continue. Larry Walker played well during the Division Series despite painful shin splints. Expect him to do the same in the NLCS, but to be lifted in blowouts or late-inning defensive situations.

Matt Morris made some minor mechanical adjustments prior to the NLCS that appear to allow him to pitch through the shoulder pain he’s been experiencing all season. The Astros have better hitters than the Dodgers, calling Morris’ effectiveness into question. Jason Isringhausen showed significant loss of velocity in the Division Series. The cause is unknown; he shouldn’t be fatigued, but he also showed no sign of an injury. He could have just been coasting or the radar gun could be in error, but it’s worth monitoring.

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