Josh Beckett (10/2)
Dave Cokin nailed the problem when we talked on his new Las Vegas show Tuesday night. Beckett’s back problem causes him to not finish his pitches, leaving them up and taking the bite and velocity off. Beckett is a thrower more than a pitcher, with his secondary pitches all being solid, but all of them succeed off of his plus fastball. Without it he’s average, and worse, he gets frustrated on the mound rather than adjusting. Beckett could be at that place where Roger Clemens found himself in and at the same age. That age-30 to -34 season dip in Clemens’ career was solved as much by a change in style and adding the splitter as it was by steroids, so Beckett will need to get the kind of focus on conditioning that Clemens had, or some approximation, if he hopes to make it very long in baseball. Beckett’s heroes are supposedly Clemens and Nolan Ryan. We’ll see if he has their work ethic or just their fastballs. He’s expected back on Saturday, but if he heads into the playoffs as anything other than the team’s ace, the Sox’s chances go way down. We’ll see if the cortisone he got on Monday works.
Mike Lowell (9/30)
The Sox aren’t as flexible as they once were, that despite the adjustments to the roster made at mid-season. Kevin Youkilis is still the linchpin, not quite a Chone Figgins, but his flexibility is the key. If Lowell needs time off, so the Sox will quickly shift Youkilis over to third; given that Lowell just needed another draining of his surgically repaired hip followed by a Synvisc injection, he may well need some of that time during the playoffs as well. Terry Francona can do his best to play matchups in the meantime, but the fact is that the team’s dealt with so many injuries that it simply doesn’t have that much depth. Nick Green would have been the next third baseman on the depth chart, but Jed Lowrie‘s still out, making Green tough to shift. They don’t have someone in the Mark Kotsay role of last year, available to play first or the outfield as needed, instead swapping in first base-only Casey Kotchman. In other words, when Lowell is inevitably rested or out, the Sox have the same problem as any other team when it comes to being a man down when a man’s down.
Manny Ramirez (10/1)
Casey Blake (10/3)
The Dodgers are coasting into the playoffs, but the injuries and fatigue seem to be hitting them all at once. We’ve dealt with the pitching problems in this space virtually on a daily basis, but there’s been some hitter injuries as well. Ramirez has been battling a hamstring strain for “a while”, but has missed two games resting it. This isn’t too serious and it’s not like running is a big part of Ramirez’s game, but they do want to have his as close to 100 percent for next week as possible. Expect him to get a bit more rest, but to be back out there for at least a game or two to get him comfortable. The situation is a bit more serious for Blake, who has missed nearly a week with a hamstring strain. If this was August, Blake would be on the DL, but the key now is getting him ready for the playoffs. That goal looks possible, but it’s unclear if Blake will make it back before the season ends. The Dodgers are confident he’ll be ready to play next week, but there’s going to be a bit of rust and a bit of risk.
Pedro Martinez (9/30)
Jamie Moyer (TBD)
The Phillies and Martinez still kind of laugh off the 130-pitch outing, but that was the last time we saw an effective Pedro on a mound. Despite the visit to the chiropractor after his last 56-pitch start, Martinez’s neck still required more rest. With 11 days off, we’ll see if the effects of that one outing are going to foreshorten a great comeback. Martinez is expected to start tonight, but no one seems confident that he’s back to 100 percent, or whatever Pedro’s normal level is at this stage. The Phils’ problems with pitching got worse when Moyer injured his groin in Tuesday’s game. He’d pitched well prior to the injury, and there was no word on the severity. Moyer was already in danger of not making the playoff rotation, but a severe strain might knock him off the roster for the first round of the playoffs.
Josh Hamilton (10/4)
The Rangers had a great season, but fell short. I’m sure that doesn’t lessen the disappointment they feel, but they’ll build off this-or at least they should. The biggest question they have to answer this off-season is “Who is Josh Hamilton, the baseball player?” So much of the focus on Hamilton has been on his personal demons, but while it’s impossible to disentangle the two narratives completely, the Rangers have to either get some expectation that the 2008 version will return, or spend money to make sure they have a solid backup for the 2009 version. If Hamilton ends up another iteration of J.D. Drew, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but a far different thing than many thought Hamilton might become last year. The back is going to have to be addressed either by rehab and treatment, or by surgery.
Aramis Ramirez (10/4)
Kevin Gregg (10/4)
The Cubs seem to have shut down Ramirez after he came up with a sore shoulder. His season and perhaps the Cubs’ as well was defined by Ramirez’s shoulder injury, but it was expected that he would have surgery to fix the chronic problem this offseason. Lou Piniella indicated, however, that Ramirez wasn’t scheduled for surgery despite the recurrence. Ramirez has played pretty well when active, and though one report reminded us that his batting average has slipped 50 points since coming back from the injury, I don’t think the .364 average was sustainable. If Ramirez doesn’t have the problem corrected, he’s at further risk for another recurrence, but he’s shown both that recurrence is uncommon and that he can play through soreness. The Cubs also lost Gregg for the remainder of the season after an MRI showed damage to the cartilage of his ribs, which has been causing him pain over the last few days.
Quick Cuts: Marco Scutaro may come back for the final weekend, just to show his heel’s healed. … Michael Young won’t shut it down once the Rangers are eliminated. It’s not how he’s wired. … J.C. Romero may be back, but he can’t go back to back days and won’t be able to through the playoffs. … Scott Kazmir was scratched from his Tuesday start, but it was just to get him extra rest before the playoffs. … Bobby Seay is dealing with a strained chest. … Marlon Byrd is dealing with a “hip capsule strain” according to Evan Grant. The nomenclature is a little odd, making me think it’s probably a “rider’s strain,” but we’ll have to watch this one. … Ozzie Guillen pushed for Gavin Floyd to be shut down, and now that’s what’s happened; Floyd’s hip has been an issue over the last month. … David DeJesus could return this weekend after dealing with a nasty case of flu. … Chris Davis might miss the rest of the season after straining his hamstring on Monday. It’s not considered serious, but there’s no reason to risk it. … Carlos Ruiz is expected to catch Pedro Martinez tonight; the recovery from his wrist injury has made progress, but he’s still not 100 percent.