Wild day of injury comings and goings likely to impact races
One of the biggest stories of the first half of the 2012 baseball season was the impact of injuries, many of them to some of the game's biggest stars, including Matt Kemp, Evan Longoria, Roy Halladay and Troy Tulowitzki. That set up an equal and opposite reaction in which one of the biggest stories of the second half would be impact players returning from injury (including, over the last five days, Kemp, Halladay, Lance Berkman and Jacoby Ellsbury).
However, injuries to Joey Votto and Jose Bautista on Monday night have guaranteed that the second half will be just as much about who got hurt as who got healthy. Here, then, is a quick look at the impact of the players coming back from and going on to the disabled list between Monday and Tuesday night's games.
Halladay, the best pitcher in baseball the past four seasons, has been on the disabled list since the end of May, and his return may be coming too late for the Phillies, who are 13 games behind it the NL East and 10 games out in the Wild Card race. Still, with Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back in the fold after combining for just 11 appearances (all Halladay's) prior to Utley's return on June 27, the Phillies have some small hope of recapturing their playoff form from a year ago. The catch is that they'll have to show that form quickly to keep the team from trading pending free agents Shane Victorino, who is having a career-worst season in his walk year, and Cole Hamels.
That makes each Holliday start over the next two weeks a must-win for Philadelphia. His return on Tuesday night will come in Los Angeles against the Dodgers and their newly-healthy stars Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, but likely won't come against Chad Billingsley, who was scratched from his scheduled start on Sunday by flexor tendon inflammation in his pitching elbow and subsequently put in consideration for Tuesday night's start.
The impact of Sabathia's injury, suffered in late June, was minimal. The Yankees only had to use a spot-starter for Sabathia twice during his absence and split those two games, losing Adam Warren's start on June 29 and winning David Phelps' outing against the AL East-rival Rays on July 4. In total, Sabathia only missed three starts, and the Yankees were able to push the third of them into the All-Star break and have gone 7-2 dating back to Phelps' start, widening their lead in the division to a season-high nine games entering Sabathia's return start on Tuesday.
Cueto was scratched from Sunday's start, but is scheduled to pitch against Trevor Bauer and the Diamondbacks Tuesday night. If all's well the blister will have had no impact at all, but Cueto has been one of the best pitchers in the league over the last two years and the Reds cannot afford to have his blister become a chronic problem. Having just lost Joey Votto (more on him below), Cincinnati will be leaning on its pitching staff even more than usual to keep it in first place in the NL Central.
Which Carl Crawford returned to the Red Sox last night? The one who was a star in Tampa Bay for most of the last decade, or the one who was a replacement level player for Boston last year? He looked good on Monday night, delivering a single and a walk in four trips and scoring two runs, but he had just two extra-base hits and two stolen bases (in three attempts) in his 44 plate appearances during his rehab assignment and the injuries he's coming off are of a kind that can be detrimental to a hitter's swing.
Crawford will be 31 on August 5, an age when speedy players tend to slow down, he missed the entire first half and he hasn't been a (positive) impact player since 2010. What are the chances that he out-hits the .265/.384/.425 line that replacement leftfielder Daniel Nava put up over his last 56 games? I think they're slim.
Votto hit the disabled list on Monday night as the major league leader in on-base percentage with a .342/.465/.604 line. He has arguably been the most valuable player in the league this year, particularly when you add his Gold Glove quality defense to the equation. The Reds have rookie Todd Frazier available to take Votto's place at first base, which is significant as Frazier's .278/.346/.567 line makes him the second most productive hitter on the team behind Votto.
However, Frazier is only available because Dusty Baker has been giving the majority of the starts at third base to the struggling Scott Rolen (.199/.260/.312) since Rolen's late-June return from yet another injury to the left shoulder which derailed his Hall of Fame pace back in 2005 when it required labrum surgery. So, really, it's Rolen, not Frazier, who is replacing Votto, and that's a potential disaster for the Reds, who hold a slim one-game lead over the Pirates in the Central and are just three games ahead of the third-place team in the wild card race. Rolen is 5-for-12 over his last three games and delivered the game-winning single on Sunday night, but he has just two extra-base hits and three walks in 53 plate appearances since returning from the disabled list.
Bautista hurt his wrist fouling off a pitch in the eighth inning of Monday night's game against the Yankees and came out of the game mid-at-bat in a significant amount of pain. X-rays taken Monday night were negative, but a complete diagnosis has not yet been announced as Bautista, who said he felt a pop in the wrist, is undergoing further tests on Tuesday. The Blue Jays are in last place in the AL East, 10 1/2 games behind New York, but they're just two games behind the Tigers for the second Wild Card spot. Bautista hit the disabled list with a .244/.360/.534 line, 27 home runs (tied for second in the majors) and 65 RBIs (tied for third).
The Jays' wild card hopes were slim to begin with given that there are five other teams between them and the Tigers, but the injury to Bautista could extinguish them completely.
Bautista will be replaced by centerfield prospect Anthony Gose, who has hit .292/.375/.432 with 29 stolen bases for Triple-A Las Vegas this season. Gose will effectively give Toronto three centerfielders in the outfield alongside Colby Rasmus and Rajai Davis, but he has no major league experience and his numbers in Las Vegas and the Pacific Coast League are clearly inflated by an extremely favorable hitting environment. His career batting line in the minors prior to this year was .258/.334/.386.
Ortiz hurt his right Achilles rounding second on Adrian Gonzalez's home run in the eighth inning of Monday night's game, but the injury appears to be minor. The injury came when Ortiz tried to slow up suddenly when Gonzalez's ball cleared the wall, but he was able to finish his journey home and was still walking around unassisted after the game.
He's likely to miss a few games, but shouldn't require a disabled list stay, which is good news for the Red Sox as his .316/.414/.609 line (good for an AL-leading 1.024 OPS) has made him their best hitter all season. Losing Ortiz for an extended period would go a long way to negate the recent returns of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford. Boston enters Tuesday's action just a game out of the Wild Card picture, albeit with three other teams standing in its way.