Usually at this time of year, I’m prepping the Playoff Health Reports and coasting through my last couple columns. For those of you new to BP-and there’s a lot of you-UTK essentially goes into hibernation for the winter, largely because the volume of injuries to report on goes to nil. I’ll be watching the playoffs and posting on BP Unfiltered, so you’re not rid of me yet. But instead of coasting, I’m facing three more columns this weekend, watching how injuries will affect the playoff races, with all four slots in the NL as unsettled as can be. I’ll head down to Cincy to watch the Cubs and the Reds. We’ll see things we don’t normally see. Instead of extensive shutdown lists, we’ll see kitchen-sink bullpens and aces coming in on short rest looking to lock down or save playoff hopes. We’ll see aces like Jake Peavy and Brandon Webb more focused on winning one game than winning a Cy Young. At this stage of the season, I’m less concerned by things like an ace on short rest or Scott Kazmir going over his hard limit to get the K title (though he didn’t). You take some risk for the reward and hope you balanced it correctly. Context, especially at this time of year, is everything.

Powered by a 2001 Rioja, on to the injuries:

  • The Brewers don’t think that Ben Sheets gives them the best chance of winning if he starts. The tight hamstring is simply too tight to last through several innings and to give the team any sort of confidence that he could go even three or four innings. Instead, he’ll be shifted to the pen. Yes, there’s a bit of a disconnect here-if he can’t get loose on a normal starter’s schedule, how is he going to do it popping up in the bullpen? I don’t think he’ll be treated as a normal reliever, so if anything, he’ll be used as a ‘kitchen sink’ reliever in one of the weekend games. If he reinjures himself, he has four months before spring training and even if it’s a bad strain, it’s not like he doesn’t have other chronic problems to deal with anyway. If the Brewers and Padres are still both in contention on Sunday, things could get really interesting.
  • The Angels limp into the playoffs with more injuries than any other contending team thought there is a silver lining in their outfield situation. Vladimir Guerrero is suddenly throwing without pain, tossing 100 feet in the outfield and showing no signs of problem. The quick cure smells like a cortisone injection, something that’s been mentioned before but never confirmed by the team. No one is willing to give even the slightest hint publicly about when Guerrero will return to the outfield, but there’s some talk that they think there could be an experiment this weekend to determine the viability of him playing there in the playoffs. The bad news is that Gary Matthews Jr. is still hobbled by a swollen and painful knee, putting his status for the playoffs in doubt. The Angels have a couple of different rosters worked up for the first round, depending on who’s available and who they’ll face, so they won’t be caught off guard by this.
  • Milton Bradley had his knee surgery, repairing the ACL torn in the strangest manner I’ve ever seen as well as some associated meniscal problems. Bradley likely won’t be ready for spring training, and even then will have another chronic problem to deal with on top of his leg, back, and oblique problems, as well as any attempt to rehabilitate the reputation he carries. Bradley had Tim Kremchek do the surgery since Kremchek repaired his knee back in 2005 when Bradley was dealing with a patellar tendon problem. Bradley was able to return quickly from that, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t be able to do the same here, once he finds a team that needs his bat.
  • The Twins are dealing with a plethora of problems at the end of the season. Joe Mauer‘s season is done after catching Johan Santana. Mauer will have offseason surgery to repair a hernia, but will be ready for spring training. The Twins are hoping a new conditioning regimen will help Mauer’s legs stay fresh next season, but the bigger question is how they’ll use him. New GM Bill Smith has sounded more open-minded to shifting Mauer from behind the plate. Beyond Mauer, the Twins also have to deal with Nick Punto‘s oblique strain, and some whispers that Pat Neshek may have a significant elbow problem.
  • The Dodgers will have a lot of offseason decisions to make, but they’re making the offseason arrive a little more quickly for a couple of their players. Jeff Kent and Brad Penny have been shut down with injuries. Kent has a hamstring injury, while Penny has a mild abdominal strain, and it’s not worth risking him in a start when there are other options and no real objective beyond finishing out the schedule. Penny has another year plus an option left on his current contract and is a long way from the near-giveaway level he was at back in the spring. I fully expect the Dodgers to be one of the most active teams this winter, though they’ll need to figure out who’s really at the wheel beforehand.
  • Quick Cuts: My Facebook friend Micah Owings gave himself a pretty nice birthday present, doing it all himself. Now someone explain to me why pitchers like Owings shouldn’t be used and valued as pinch-hitters? … The Astros have shut down Roy Oswalt. The biggest consequence is that Oswalt won’t get to throw to Craig Biggio, who wants to catch in his final game. … Bruce Springsteen’s “Magic” is aptly named. … Paul Maholm has been shut down, finally. He hasn’t been right since missing time with a back problem.

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