The rest of the country is missing a great game. Sure, football has its place, but that place is after the Fall Classic. We’ve got a full month of baseball and another full of playoffs, so even if your team is out of it, it’s hardly reason to switch channels and call it a ballgame. Baseball seems to have saved the best for last with two real wild card chases, some interesting history chases, and some cameo appearances that could liven things up. You can turn away and no one would fault you for spending your Sundays watching the sumos and sprinters, but you’re going to kick yourself when your buddy calls you to say, “Did you see that?”

Powered by thoughts and prayers for those affected by Hurricane Katrina, on to the injuries:

  • Mark Mulder has always been a good pitcher, flirting with the ace status that so many have attributed to him. He’s also seldom made it down the stretch due to his back, hip, or arm. This season, Mulder is dealing with a “cervical-thoracic strain.” In other words, he’s got some soreness in one of the joints between vertebrae near the top of his shoulder blades. It not only pushed him back from two scheduled weekend starts, it could force him to miss a couple more. The Cardinals aren’t sure why it’s not responding to treatment and are worried that this may be in some way related to his lower back problems from last season. They’ll work on him for the next couple days before getting too worried. Again, the cushion they have allows them to be conservative and Anthony Reyes may get a spot start once rosters expand, if necessary. The Cards got Mark Grudzielanek back from a knee infection, though they’ll be very conservative with him to make sure he doesn’t have another setback.
  • Remember Rich Harden‘s lat strain? Well, here’s another–Ben Sheets figures to miss a couple of starts and perhaps the rest of the season with a more severe lat strain. He may avoid the DL due to the September 1 roster expansion, but Sheets himself questioned if he would back this season. It sounds more like the voice of frustration at the injury and the conservatism with their ace pitcher that the Brewers medical staff has shown. Sheets won’t be shut down, per se, but don’t expect to see him back. Anything he does from this point forward will be a bonus, though if the team could crack the .500 barrier, there may be some internal pressure to see if Sheets could get back on the mound.
  • It certainly wasn’t the violent collision that we saw between Carlos Beltran and Mike Cameron, but the consequences could be just as serious for the Padres as they head towards the playoffs. Brian Giles and Dave Roberts banged knee to knee, both ending up on the turf. Giles had a deep bruise on his right knee that was swelling and causing some range of motion problems, while Roberts not only had the knee problem, but somehow injured his thumb in the collision. Both will have MRIs and treatment to try and minimize symptoms. If the Padres get away with just minimal injuries here, they’re very lucky. This is the type of thing that could wipe out what hopes they have in a short series.
  • Let me give you a quick preview of Mind Game–pitching wins championships. Okay, there’s a lot more than that in the book, but the biggest difference between last year’s Sox team and this year’s is the pitching. Curt Schilling left an untold amount of himself on the operating table and mound last season and he’s still unable to push off, leaving him throwing “all arm” which wears him out quickly and leaves him reliant on his junk, which is not his strong suit. Wade Miller was a nice fill-in and a smart pickup on the cheap, but his shoulder wore out as predicted and, at best, he’ll be a couple inning fill in. Keith Foulke isn’t automatic and even after returning from his rehab assignment, no one will pretend to know what Foulke will do on or off the field. The team seems headed for the playoffs. Their health and ability to match up may not be much better than their rival–the one that’s patched together a rotation and bullpen that will look a lot better in a short series than a long regular season.
  • There are walls at 150 and 190 innings. There’s no really good reason for them. If it was round numbers, it would be more likely that 200 would challenge young pitchers rather than 190. As pitchers begin testing this mark, the smart teams will be watching their young pitchers more closely, looking to pull them early, get them extra rest, and possibly shut them down. Others might challenge them, see if they’re a real workhorse or throwback that “wants the ball.” You be the judge on which approach works. Noah Lowry, the innings leader for the Giants, was supposed to be watched closely after passing the 150 mark recently. Instead, he went 122 pitches on Sunday. Others to watch closely are John Smoltz in his first year back starting (198), Dan Haren (173), John Patterson (156), Jeff Francis (152), and Scott Kazmir (149).
  • We’ve looked at every other possible explanation for the White Sox’ success this season, so why not Herm Schneider? The long time trainer for the Sox kept the team intact for most of the season, rehabbed Frank Thomas and got something out of a player clearly on his last legs (literally), and has held the starting rotation together despite the manager’s clear intent to push them deep into games. The Sox only began to unravel when the injuries piled up. Dustin Hermanson‘s injured back forced Guillen to go deeper into his pen, putting players like Cliff Politte and Damaso Marte in spots they weren’t likely to succeed in. Scott Podsednik‘s groin strain weakened the offense and, more importantly, shuffled the outfield defensively. The health and availability of these key players will go a long way in determining if the Sox can hang on to the division and challenge in October. Podsednik will be back early this week, a good first step.
  • The ankle injury to Zach Duke is a good excuse to limit his late season innings while giving Paul Maholm a taste of the big leagues. The Pirates insist that this short-term exposure to the majors is a plus; having spoken to several of the players that have gone through this, they swear there’s something to it. They talk about getting a confidence boost, seeing that they can play at the next level, and seeing what the major leaguers do to stay there. Duke’s ankle isn’t considered serious and he’ll make at least one more start when he comes back. The hamstring injury to Chris Duffy is more serious. An MRI showed a Grade II tear, a major concern for a speed player. Duffy’s not as good as what he’s shown, but he’s not bad either. He’ll likely outperform Scott Podsednik over the next three seasons, assuming that his hamstring heals up. If not, he could be staring longingly at the career of Curtis Goodwin or Endy Chavez.
  • Sammy Sosa will end the season the way he started it–coming in way under even conservative expectations and having problems with his toe. Sosa had a growth removed from underneath one of his toenails and hits the DL. Sosa’s been a disappointment in almost every way, so even with the Cubs picking up the tab and trying to trade Jerry Hairston for half the season, the O’s still don’t feel like they came out ahead in the deal.
  • There’s scarcely been a moment this season when Brad Wilkerson was healthy. He’s had one injury after another, not quite enough to put him on the shelf, but certainly enough to explain the drop in his performance. There’s a fine line many players and medical staffs have to walk between keeping a player on the field and keeping them effective. It’s very tough when people like me measure days on DL to say that a couple weeks off might make a player perform better over the course of a season. It gets harder when a team outperforms expectations and captivates the country as the Nats have done. Wilkerson isn’t any less talented or valuable than he was last season, unless these injuries continue to mount up.
  • The Marlins are fighting to keep up in a division that’s essentially up for grabs. Paul Lo Duca‘s heart and soul might be fine; it’s his hamstring that’s the problem. Lo Duca has been limited over the past month by a discernible injury, something of a change in pattern from his normal fatigue and wear. The rest might do Lo Duca some good down the stretch, assuming he can heal up. The Marlins were expected to bring up Jeremy Hermida from the minors, much in the way they did with Miguel Cabrera a couple years back. Instead, Hermida is dealing with what one surgeon has termed “whip wrist,” the mysterious wrist ailment found in a lot of young sluggers. The injury could cost him a chance to contribute.
  • Anyone noticed that Kerry Wood hasn’t pitched in almost a week? Wood’s shoulder held up under a reliever’s normal workload. With that now proved, the fact is that the Cubs have the same record as the abysmal, no-plan Reds and it’s time to start work on waiting until next year. Wood is expected to be shut down and have that shoulder scoped sometime later this week. Dusty, it’s not too early any more and it’s never too late to learn.
  • Quick Cuts: I won’t restart ‘Will’s Mill‘ for the waiver trade deadline, but there are a couple of deals working. Watch for the Cubs to make at least one deal, the Cards to continue their pursuit of an “impact bat,” and for the Angels to make a move … Shawn Green is healthy. Unknown to the 35 emailers that asked, Green was expected to miss time to attend the birth of his child … David DeJesus left Sunday’s game. The preliminary diagnosis is an AC sprain in his right shoulder. More once we know more … Another one we’re waiting for more info on is Richie Sexson, who left Sunday’s game with “blurred vision” … Expect Khalil Greene back mid-week after a one or two game rehab stint … Cory Lidle heads to the DL with a strained oblique … If Jeff Francoeur might grow up to be Vladimir Guerrero, then The Click Five (named for James, of course) might end up being a good imitation of Fountains of Wayne … Cesar Izturis finally hits the DL with a retro move. The Dodgers hadn’t seen any progress with his back injury.
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