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Key injuries impact playoff races

Injuries in spring training are bad, injuries in June are worse, and injuries at this time of the year -- especially to teams that fancy themselves playoff contenders -- can be absolute season killers.

Remember last season? The Padres lost Mike Cameron and Milton Bradley to freakish injuries with a week left and -- ooof! -- they missed the playoffs. By a single game. And the 163rd game at that.

The White Sox and the Diamondbacks aren't going through anything quite that dramatic. And neither are the Yankees. But all three teams are scrambling after severe injuries last week put a hurting on their playoff runs.

Here's a look at a week of ailing and wailing for those three contenders:

• Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees' young pitching hope, had to leave a game last Monday with a sore shoulder and was put on the disabled list on Wednesday with rotator cuff tendinitis. Though Chamberlain vows to pitch again in '08, a lot of questions surround his ailing right shoulder. As the New York Times' Tyler Kepner points out, catcher Jorge Posada claimed tendinitis in his shoulder earlier this year and he eventually had to undergo season-ending surgery.

Chamberlain made a visit to Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday and later said he'll be back in the rotation "way before" Sept. 1. For the Yankees' sake, he'd better be. New York is 23-9 in games in which Chamberlain appears. He's 3-1 as a starter, with a 2.76 ERA, in 12 starts. (The Yankees are 8-4 in those starts.) Since he started his last game the Yankees are 2-5.

New York begins the week four games behind Boston in the American League wild-card race.

• After nearly a month off because of elbow tendinitis Jose Contreras returned to the White Sox' rotation on Saturday and was throwing in the mid-90s when, 34 pitches into the game, he tried to outrun Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury to the first-base bag. He never made it.

A couple of steps from first, Contreras landed awkwardly on his left foot, rupturing his Achilles tendon. The injury is expected to knock him out of the rotation for the better part of a year. Considering he'll be 37 years old in December, Contreras may have thrown his last pitch.

The White Sox are one of the highest-scoring teams in the AL, putting up just under five runs per game. But their pitching is middle-of-the-pack, and without Contreras it threatens to fall a lot lower than that. As it is the Sox are on a terrible pitching streak. The rotation has a 6.41 ERA in its last nine games. What's worse: Starters have thrown only 46 1/3 innings. No team in the league has had fewer innings from its rotation over that span.

D.J. Carrasco, a 31-year-old right-hander who has pitched for six different franchises and in Japan, is Contreras' replacement unless the Sox can pull off a trade for someone like Seattle's Jarrod Washburn. The Sox start the week a half-game ahead of Minnesota in the AL Central.

• It has taken everything that the Diamondbacks have to keep their heads above .500 this season and maintain a hold on the National League West lead. Without Orlando Hudson, their veteran second baseman, that grip is suddenly more slippery than ever.

Hudson dislocated a bone in his left wrist on Saturday night in lunging to tag Atlanta's Brian McCann at second base. Doctors performed surgery that night, but the season is over for Hudson, who was hitting .305 with a .367 on-base percentage. He'll be replaced by light-hitting Augie Ojeda, who will get the bulk of the work, and Chris Burke.

Hudson, 30, has been one of the steadiest players on one of the most unsteady teams in the majors. Once 12 games over .500, in mid-May, the Diamondbacks slipped two games under in late July. They begin the week two games over .500, and 1 1/2 games ahead of the Dodgers, in first place in the West.

For a good stretch there, after his 9-0 start, Brandon Webb was not much more than just another guy. In seven mostly forgettable starts after his sizzling burst out of the gate, Webb was a No. 5-like 2-4, giving up 46 hits in 42 2/3 innings with a 4.22 ERA. Since then, though, the sinkerball specialist has been just what the D'backs have needed. He's 6-0 in nine starts with a 2.29 ERA. Two of those wins came last week in a complete game over the Pirates and a six-inning outing against the Braves on Sunday that snapped Arizona's four-game losing streak. Webb is now 17-4 with a 2.88 ERA, the definition of an ace. Can you say National League Cy Young winner?

From now on, you're liable to see some repeat winners under this headline. I don't care, for example, if the A's run off seven straight wins. They're not getting in here. Instead, say hello again to the Rays, who have won three straight, eight of their last 10, notched a franchise-record 71st win of the season on Sunday and opened up a 4 1/2 game lead over the Red Sox in the AL East. The Rays haven't exactly been bringing down Goliaths lately -- Detroit, Cleveland, Seattle -- but, heck, they didn't make the schedule. (If they had, they'd be on their 50th game with the Mariners right about now.) Here's what's huge for Tampa Bay: The Rays are 7-4 in their last 11 road games. That's a big turnaround for them, and critical considering that September road gauntlet (17 games away from the Trop) that everybody's been talking about.

Raul Ibanez, SEA vs. MIN, Aug. 4

3 for 5, 2 R, 1 HR, 6 RBIs

Ibanez is hitting .341 since not being traded by the sinking Mariners at the deadline. In one four-game stretch, Aug. 2-5, he had 15 RBIs.

Jeff Karstens, PIT at ARI, Aug. 6

9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 4 K, 1 BB

Karstens, in his second appearance with the Bucs, had a perfect game until Chris Young doubled with two outs in the eighth.

"Maybe 'Chief' has to go and grab somebody from his neck and throw him into the wall and something's going to change. I'm very close to doing that, so write that down."

-- Seattle pitcher Carlos "Chief" Silva, on the moribund Mariners

It's not a great week for playoff-possible showdowns. I kind of like Cardinals-Marlins (Tuesday-Thursday, in Miami) for its pennant race implications. Those two teams have hung around all year. They're just trying to do it for six more weeks or so, hoping that a hot streak puts them over the top. The Yankees travel to Minnesota early in the week in an important series for the Joba-less New Yorkers, who are coming off a sweep by the Angels. Still, I'm gonna put all my viewing loyalties into the Brewers at Dodgers next weekend (Friday-Sunday). There'll be a good bit of desperation in that one, as well. The Brewers are good (having won five in a row), but they can't make up any ground on the Cubs. And the Dodgers, now 1 1/2 games behind Arizona ... well, they need to do something. And now.

• Despite their win over Oakland on Sunday, I'm ready to call a time of death on the Tigers. I realize a lot of others put the toe tag on them weeks ago. And, yeah, they have looked relatively lifeless all season long. I guess what finally convinced me was Tuesday's game, when they blew a 6-1 lead over the White Sox, scored two in the 14th inning to take the lead, then lost it in the bottom of the inning. You just can't do that. Detroit was three games over .500 the day before the trade deadline. Now they're a game under, and 7 1/2 out of first place in the AL Central. They're just not good enough to catch either the White Sox or the Twins.

• And speaking of Oakland ... Billy Beane was right. The A's (3-19 since the All-Star break), or what's left of them, aren't good enough. Not nearly good enough.

• Pitcher Brett Myers and manager Charlie Manuel argued Saturday in the Phillies' dugout after the skipper yanked Myers from the game in a tight spot in the eighth inning. The spat didn't descend into the Prince Fielder realm, or even C.J. Wilson territory (see below). But it was fun in its own harmless way, a snapshot of two guys wanting to win and stating their arguments. And Manuel was right.

• OK, onto Fielder. His dugout shove of Brewers pitcher Manny Parra last week was inexcusable. One of the lamest, weakest, no-account excuses I hear in these altercations is the "heat of the moment" defense. You know it. "Fielder is a competitor. He wants to win. He's passionate. You want guys like that on your team, right?" Well ... no. I don't. I want passionate guys WHO ARE UNDER CONTROL. (Sorry for getting all wanky there with the caps key. I'm passionate about this.) The heat of the moment thing is a lame argument because you're saying, in effect, that any player who doesn't take a swipe at a teammate or lose it once in a while just doesn't care as much. I mean, really, it's a slap in the face -- no pun intended -- to all the players who keep those emotions under wraps, or at least out of the public eye. I now wonder how Fielder will react in the heat of a pennant race, or in a tough spot in a game. And his teammates have to be a little leery, too.

• Finally, on the subject of smackdowns, is the one that Texas manager Ron Washington put on Wilson last week. After Wilson stunk up the joint, giving up a grand slam to -- of all people -- Richie Sexson, Washington came to pull his erstwhile closer. Wilson, clearly disgusted, flipped the ball to his skipper and began to leave the mound. This is, under widely accepted baseball etiquette, akin to flipping off your manager on the JumboTron. It's very bad form. Washington, to his everlasting credit, snagged Wilson by the arm, pulled him back up on the mound, gave him the ball and told him to hand it back to him. He did. Here's the video. This is the coolest part: After Wilson finally got it right, Washington patted him on the butt on the way out. Classic. Wilson was put on the DL the next day, probably never to close for the Rangers again. And everyone learned a lesson.

• Barry Bonds says he's not retired. Is it me, or is he starting to sound more and more like Rickey Henderson?

• I am not ready to pull the plug on the Cardinals. I may not do that until Sept. 30, if then. (I learn lessons, too.) But I will say that losing two of three against the Cubs last weekend at Wrigley did not help their life expectancy any.

• Padres outfielder Brian Giles turned down a chance to leave San Diego for Boston, reportedly vetoing a trade that the Padres and Red Sox had worked out. If you're simply talking places to live, this is entirely understandable. Especially in January. If you're talking teams to play for, it's completely baffling. It just goes to show you that ballplayers are human, too, and balancing personal life and professional life is not any easier for them than it is for the rest of us. Seems to me that Giles is going to regret passing up the chance to play for a great organization that has a good chance at the World Series. But he won't regret the pain of moving and leaving his family behind for a stretch of time and getting used to new teammates and all that.

• Watch out, AL. Here comes Ichiro. In his last 15 games, he's hitting .409 with 12 runs, a double, three triples and a home run. He's upped his average to .310 in his bid for his eighth straight .300-plus season. He needs 47 hits in the Mariners' final 44 games for 200 hits, another mark he's never failed to reach in America.

• As well as Manny Ramirez is hitting with the Dodgers (.459, four homers, 11 RBIs in nine games), and Xavier Nady with the Yankees (.365), and Jason Bay with the Red Sox (.333, eight RBIs in nine games) ... Ken Griffey Jr. is not so good with the White Sox. He has four hits in 20 at-bats (.200) with no extra-base hits and didn't play Saturday or Sunday against the Red Sox.

I'm a Braves fan and if anything your column was a lot kinder than I would have been. The whole organization has been delusional for about a decade now. They've tried to win with offense and no pitching, all pitching and no offense, offense and starting pitching but no bullpen and maybe even another one I am forgetting.

The current owners are better than AOL/Time Warner, but still it costs money to win and the owners aren't willing to spend enough. So we get an endless parade of rental players (Gary Sheffield, J.D. Drew, Mark Teixeira) with no real plan to build for the future, just a hope that player X will put the team back into the playoff now because they are going to lose him to free agency in the offseason. I think GM Frank Wren is OK (frankly, Schuerholz was getting old and he had lost a LOT of his "magic"), but I still think that rather than understanding that they are in serious rebuilding mode that they think that they are another Mark Kotsay away from going back to the playoffs and I just don't see that happening.

-- Jason Shumate, Atlanta

It was an Atlanta kind of week in the inbox, and you speak for a lot of Braves' fans, Jason, who see some hard times ahead. I think the one thing that the Braves have going for them -- their saving grace, if they have one -- is their scouting and player development. The Braves realize that it all starts there. Unfortunately, it may take some time for whatever talent they have, and whatever talent they'll find, to rise to the major-league level (more on that below). But the Braves have the infrastructure in place. So a complete rebuilding is probably not necessary.

I'd like to understand more about how you came to the conclusion that the Braves aren't likely to re-sign Mike Hampton. Seems to me, given the investment made so far, and Hampton's good nature, there's a real chance for a considerable hometown discount, and a real possibility Hampton might put together a quality season or two. Dude's certainly well rested.

-- Mike Mitchell, Tallahassee

Just a gut feeling, talking to people around the team, and some common sense, Mike. The team has sunk a lot of money into Hampton and realized next to nothing for it. Even if he lasts the rest of the year -- and you have to admit, his history kind of suggests that's not happening -- I think the Braves are done with him. No team, certainly not Atlanta, sees a "real possibility" that he can put together much of anything at this point, let alone a couple of good years. And no one pays for "good nature," either. Will he pitch somewhere next year? Yeah, maybe someone takes a chance and signs him to a cheap deal. I'd almost bet on that. And, who knows, maybe it will work out. I just don't think the Braves will be that team.

I think your assessment of the Braves franchise is a little harsh. Most regard the Braves' farm system as very strong. Jordan Schafer is in AA Mississippi (not "low minors"), and Heyward appears to be the real deal (he has crushed class A pitching in Rome). You wrongly assert that we have traded prospects to get big league talent in the past. With the exception of the Teixeira deal, prospects were not involved in the trades you mention. In fact, the opposite is true: We landed Jair Jurrjens from Detroit in exchange for Edgar Renteria, and John Smoltz came to Atlanta from Detroit in a famous swap for Doyle Alexander. Kotsay came in exchange for Joey Devine -- hardly a "prospect," as he already had logged quite a bit of time in the bigs.

-- Gordon, Atlanta

Gordon, I need to straighten out the trading prospects thing. That was pretty poorly done on my part. You're right. Smoltz shouldn't have been included in that list, and the Braves actually got a prospect with Jurrjens for Renteria. Still, the fact is that the Braves view prospects as ways to build their big-league club, either on their own merits or through trades for other prospects or established players. In short, they rely on the depth of their system, as they should.

The Teixeira trade was the latest example, but don't forget, they threw Adam Wainwright into the J.D. Drew trade, and Dan Meyer into the trade for Tim Hudson, and Andrew Brown into the Gary Sheffield trade. Dan Kolb came at the cost of some young players. Russ Ortiz, too. And that's just going back a few years.

Some of the trades worked out better than others. It's a testament to their scouting that they have prospects other teams want. But I wonder if they haven't tapped that well too often lately. We'll see how the farm system ranks next year. Baseball Prospectus had it eighth going into this season. I can't think it's going to rank any higher than that in '09.

When my family moved to Savannah in '91, I was 7, and was learning baseball through the Braves and Skip Caray's voice. I'll never forget sitting in my 1991 Atlanta Braves NLCS Champions beanbag, while Sid Bream was rounding third against the Pirates I jumped up with my heart in my throat until Skip called the two sweetest words (BRAVES WIN!!! BRAVES WIN!!!!) in my pro baseball memory. That memory would be nothing without Skip's voice calling exactly what he saw. I still root for and watch the Braves, but watching just isn't the same without hearing Skip's droll sarcasm. Then again, neither are the Braves. Thanks Skip for calling it like you saw it.

-- Mike M., Trumbull, Conn.

Skip's call of Sid Bream's slide in the '92 NLCS is a classic. What I want to know, Mike, is whatever happened to that beanbag?

Thanks for the piece on Skip Caray. I'm 60 and I cried when I heard he died because it was like part of me was gone. He did a good job and that says a lot.

-- John Dobbs, Atlanta

It says a ton, John.

Do we have a race for the AL Rookie of the Year? It has to be a close battle now between Evan Longoria and Mike Aviles. Sure Longoria has the better team record, but Aviles leads in most other stat categories. Now at 53 games, he's proved he's no fluke either.

-- David, Kansas City

We absolutely have a race, David. And we all know it. I will say this, though. Fifty-something games does not make a player. Heck, a whole good year doesn't make a player. You're from K.C. You don't remember Angel Berroa?

A.J. Burnett currently leads the Jays in wins and the league in strikeouts. Will there be teams interested in his services at season's end? His opt out clause allows him to walk but he'll come at a hefty price tag.

-- Ryan, Toronto

He'll opt out, is my guess, and a lot of teams will throw a lot of money at him, the same way the Jays did back in '05. Hard throwers, strikeout guys, are always at a premium.

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