August flew by. It seems like we should know more about how the season is going to end by now, but I know that I don’t. To me, that’s a good thing. I want classic chases, the kind that will fill It Ain’t Over 2: Electric Boogaloo some time down the road. I want to be on the edge of my seat, yelling at my computer screen. I want to love baseball so much over the next month that I’ll forgive Dane Cook coming on my screen every ten minutes. I want to scoreboard watch. I want to hit refresh. I want to call my friends so we can scream like we did back in 1984. And for once, I think I’ll get what I want, and so will you.
Powered by September, which is where we decide who gets to play in October, on to the injuries:
With Andrew Miller all the way back in Lakeland, the return of Kenny Rogers takes on new significance, at least on paper. Rogers will throw a simulated game today, and if all goes well, he’ll slot back into the rotation mid-week after Labor Day, likely on Wednesday. The Tigers are losing contact with the surging Indians and could use the boost of getting some stability back in their rotation. Like Pedro Martinez, Rogers isn’t someone that wins on pure stuff, so he doesn’t have to be all the way back with that. The bigger concern is that he can throw and recover, keeping Jim Leyland from having to juggle an already jumbled rotation. As a result, no matter what the results of the sim game are, it’s Rogers’ status recovering over the next couple days that will determine when he returns.
I realize that the Mets were fighting against a sweep by their division rivals. What I don’t understand is how the Mets allowed Billy Wagner to go out there for 45 pitches just days after he was unavailable with a dead arm. Did Willie Randolph think that the rest had magically made him fresh? Things went rapidly downhill, leaving Wagner with the blown save and the loss, the Mets with a tighter division race, and the confidence of Mets fans at low ebb. Wagner’s late-season arm troubles mirror last season’s, where he seemed spent in September. The Mets pen is thin, so they have to hope that Wagner has enough left to finish or that someone else steps up after roster expansion.
Chris Young‘s season appears to turning on his oblique strain from July. Before that, he was a solid number two behind ace Jake Peavy. Since then, he’s struggled in almost every way. There are really only two explanations. The first is that he never quite healed and has been gritting his way through it up to this point, making his back problem more of a cascading setback than a standalone injury. The other is that he’s relatively healthy with minor flareups, but that those problems have gotten his mechanics out of whack. Watching him try to find his release point last night doesn’t clear anything up. It could be either/or, it could even be both, but for the Padres, the course of action is the same. They need Young to figure things out mechanically in order to protect against any current or past injury. If the injury is preventing that, he needs to sit until he can, but again, that’s the delicate balance that trainers and managers have to find right now.
Chone Figgins is due to swing a bat on Friday, but the Angels don’t appear to be in any rush to get him back in the lineup. There are a number of reasons, all valid, for this course of action. First, with a lead in the division, they can afford to give Figgins more time, making sure he’s ready for October when they’ll definitely need his bat, speed, and his positional flexibility. Also, the team is using the George Brett method, hoping to protect his chance at a batting title by limiting his plate appearances and making sure that he’s healthy when he’s making them. He’s almost 25 points behind Magglio Ordonez, so the title might be unlikely now, but there’s still no reason to rush him back. If nothing else, the Angels have gotten some experience with hand injuries this season.
The Cardinals will also get a pitcher back, finally getting Mark Mulder after one final rehab start for Triple-A Memphis. Whichever way it goes, Mulder should slot right into the Cards’ rotation for their unbelievable streak of upcoming games. The rotation is going to be juggled regularly anyway, as Tony La Russa tries to find any way to buy the pitchers some rest while also trying to keep the team in the NL Central chase. Mulder has been effective if mundane in his rehab work, looking solid enough but not exciting anyone along the way. “He’ll chew some innings,” said one observer who saw one of Mulder’s previous starts, “but he’s got no out pitch right now.”
At the same time of the year that I have to start worrying how to spell “Houshmandzadeh” and “Lekkerkerker,” I’m also getting my ol’ pal Doug Mientkiewicz back. Mientkiewicz should be back with the rest of the roster expansion this weekend, just in time to help get Hideki Matsui some rest. Matsui has been DHing of late, and is notably hobbled. Some reports have it being not just one but both knees that Matsui is keeping iced down, suggesting that there’s a bit of a cascade, not an uncommon occurrence. No one thinks that this is a terribly serious problem; at worst the knees could need some offseason cleanup, but as with many players this time of year, the medical staff is working overtime trying to keep him available and productive.
Angel Pagan was finding a role with the Cubs before an attack of colitis sidelined him. Now that Jacque Jones is surging and finding some fans in Wrigleyville, Pagan’s return isn’t a key for the Cubs, leaving him to likely be a fourth outfielder, Alfonso Soriano‘s late-game replacement, and a guy who’ll take even more at-bats away from Matt Murton.
The Cubs have gotten a good bit out of Kerry Wood since his return. He’s pitched in nine games, all pretty easy settings, and he’s succeeded. Throwing in the mid-90’s, Wood’s only issue has been control. Lou Piniella seems poised to expand Wood’s role, seeing if he can be counted on for back-to-back days, something that foreshadows Piniella setting up his playoff pen.
If the Rockies were in the NL Central, they’d be a half-game back of the Cubs. If they had been healthy all year, they might be a half-game back in the West. Aaron Cook was one of the key injuries that held back the Rockies, with his oblique strain coming kist as the team had a small window to try and get back into the race. Cook will have one rehab outing at Triple-A Colorado Springs before slotting back into the Rockies rotation, and shouldn’t have too much trouble going forward.
Chris Duffy played in Indianapolis a couple years back, when Zach Duke was still a prospect. Even then Duffy would occasionally complain of shoulder problems. Two year hence, Duffy’s finally heading for shoulder surgery, yet another casualty in the Pirates‘ injury follies. Duffy’s had his share of issues with the franchise, and got several opinions on the shoulder over the years, while the Pirates insisted he should just play through it. A borderline starter, it would be interesting to know just how much that shoulder affected Duffy’s slash-and-burn style of offense.
Quick Cuts: As expected, Manny Ramirez will miss about a week, but won’t go on the DL. The Red Sox don’t just seem calm about this, they almost seem disinterested. … Freddy Garcia underwent shoulder surgery to fix a frayed cuff and torn labrum. No word on how significant the labrum tear was, but you can bet that teams thinking about signing him this offseason will know quickly. … Henry Owens is headed for shoulder surgery; it’s a Marlins injury that can’t be pinned on Joe Girardi. … Brandon Backe should slot back into the Astros rotation, though the team hasn’t figured out exactly where. He’ll get at least a couple starts to audition for the 2008 rotation.