If you notice a lot of players gone, it’s because there are seven days left in the season. If managers seem a bit more on edge, it’s because there are seven days left. If a pitcher stays in a game a bit longer than normal, knowing he might have all winter to rest, it’s because there are seven days left. Players are playing who shouldn’t be, and sitting when they wouldn’t be, all because there’s seven days left. Series next weekend might not matter if teams don’t make it through the next couple days, and when it comes to the playoffs, most teams don’t have seven days left. The best thing though? Once those seven days are up, we can start up October and as good as September baseball has been, October might be even better. There may be no red ivy this season, but there is great baseball, all too often decided by team health.

Powered by a season of baseball on XM, on to the injuries …

  • The Braves will clinch their 94th division title in a row sometime this week. If they do it before Wednesday, John Smoltz won’t start. His shoulder is sore and the rest would help get him ready for the playoffs, where he’ll be the linchpin of the Braves hopes, matching up against Roger Clemens or Jake Peavy in Game One of the Division Series. Some might panic when Smoltz isn’t out there on Wednesday, but it’s a smart move. When hurt, Smoltz’s “warrior” mentality is often the biggest thing working against his return to health.
  • Chris Carpenter will likely win the NL Cy Young Award. (No, I’m not interested in hearing from you on why he shouldn’t, I’m just saying he likely will.) However, has the increase in his workload left anything in the tank for October? The Cardinals have used Carpenter sparingly of late, both by design and by demand. His ineffectiveness, lack of velocity and lack of “bite” in his last start raised a lot of questions that filled my inbox. Carpenter isn’t significantly ahead of the pace he was on last season prior to the shoulder injury, and he’s not reliant on velocity, so any normal fatigue doesn’t cost him as much as long as his mechanics hold up. Dave Duncan will be earning his money over the next few weeks.
  • Roger Clemens sat out his weekend start, allowing his hamstring to rest a bit more in hopes that it will calm down. According to an Astros source, Clemens could have pitched if needed, but the team decided that not only was it smarter to err on the side of caution, it was also a good strategic move. Clemens could be slotted back in at any point in the rotation if the team feels it gives them the best chance of winning the game or clinching the wild card. That clinch has serious value for the Astros; any rest their big three pitchers can get will make them even more dangerous in the playoffs.
  • Jason Giambi returned to the field over the weekend, testing his back and going hitless. The upside is that there were no problems with the back, leaving hope that the hits will come. Giambi is still undergoing “intense” therapy and treatments in hopes of keeping him available throughout the week, though it’s expected that he’ll DH in at least a couple of those games.

    Jaret Wright must feel like he has a target on his uniform instead of pinstripes. Wright was hit by a comebacker for the third time this season. While he’s escaped serious injury, he’s also been ineffective when on the mound apart from a few starts. The soreness and swelling on his chest give Joe Torre as much excuse as he needs to return Aaron Small to the rotation.

  • At what point will David Wells be unable to pitch? If you listen to the media, he’s fat, injured, and has a mouth that won’t close. If you look at his performance, you’ll see a guy very similar in some ways to Warren Spahn, his #2 PECOTA comp. He’s Jamie Moyer with a better fastball, and likely to be the type of player who leaves the game because he wants to, not because he has to. Wells is facing offseason knee surgery, but it’s nothing that would affect his return next season or his ability to pitch. Something tells me that Wells could stick around until he’s 50 if he wants, shifting to the bullpen and annoying managers and left-handed batters alike.
  • I’ve received no less than three e-mails from people purporting to be third-base coaches. One has been confirmed and I’m working on the other two. The interesting part is that they all said nearly identical things regarding Johnny Damon. To paraphrase, they think that Damon’s weakened throwing really damages the Red Sox pitching. First, they believe that Damon will be tested at nearly every opportunity. It’s the second point that intrigues me. They told me that pitchers will be affected nearly as much. At key points, they believe that pitchers will nibble, trying to keep the ball from going to Damon, which will affect pitch selections, pitch counts and corner defense. The Sox would be well served if they used groundball pitchers more, especially in pressure situations.

    Keith Foulke is not going to be in those pressure situations. He’ll have surgery sometime next week, probably on both knees. If the Sox end up watching October rather than playing, it will be interesting to see how many old-schoolers come out raving about the importance of the closer, a position that didn’t exist in its current form when most of them played.

  • The Angels make for a nice test case. How much does one team rely on any one player? In 2004, Tom Gorman did some great work on how players are replaced when out with injuries and how much a team lost (or gained in some cases) in terms of production and wins during injuries. While he’s still hard at work on perfecting the system and figuring out the pitching side of the equation, we can still take a look at Garret Anderson and note just what effect his back problems might have on the team. By shifting to DH, Anderson pushes Juan Rivera into the lineup, which isn’t bad–Rivera has a materially similar MLVr. Where it gets costly is when Anderson cannot DH, forcing Steve Finley back onto the field with his negative VORP. Anderson’s availability in some capacity allows the Angels to keep their best lineup going. Even with expanded rosters, teams still need their best players actually playing. Anderson will be spending a lot of time with Ned Bergert this week and into the playoffs.
  • If Rich Harden can throw 98 mph, how can he be hurt? You might ask Kerry Wood the same question. Wood, you might remember, threw his last pitch of the year at that speed, then was on the operating table the very next day. Harden doesn’t face surgery; it’s Curt Young and Ken Macha who face tough decisions about how to use Harden. The A’s will actually make the decision on the field. If the team can close the gap on Monday, Harden will likely get the start on Tuesday, shadowed by another starter, likely to be Joe Kennedy. Even with a simulated game and a reduced arsenal–Harden isn’t throwing change-ups, which raises some interesting questions about his mechanics–no one seems to know long Harden can go or how effective he can be.

  • Quick Cuts: Lots of seasons ending as teams fall out of the race or at least come to terms with it. Jeff Weaver, Pedro Martinez, Brad Penny, Chad Orvella, Todd Walker, great story Rick Short, Sean Casey, Magglio Ordonez, Florida’s Alex Gonzalez, Chris Young, Orlando Hudson, and a few others are likely done for 2005 … No more knee surgery, says Barry Bonds. He hasn’t lied to us yet, has he? … Have an idea for an award? I’ll be giving out my traditional and non-traditional end-of-season awards tomorrow on the “Will Carroll Baseball Hour” (3 p.m. Central on ESPN 950, Indianapolis).

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