Under The Knife: Vision problems obscure Hamilton's return to field
Like many of you, I used to play simulated baseball games, including Diamond Mind. Created by Tom Tippett, now of the Red Sox, Diamond Mind provided endless hours of baseball education. I played in a league with a number of other baseball obsessives and was always searching for an edge. One that occasionally worked was punting on defense. I used Dave Kingman and Dave Winfield up the middle, trading defense for offense, and paired them with high-strikeout, high-flyball pitchers to minimize the plays they'd have to make.
By fielding a team that has no fewer than four strong DH candidates, it's clear this is the strategy the Tigers are using to fuel their playoff run. While many are focusing on the poor defense as a contributing factor (one advanced measure shows them to be almost three percent worse than average at turning balls into outs -- which is a LOT when it comes to defensive efficiency) in the Tigers' inability to capture the AL Central lead yet, I think the Tigers didn't go far enough. Granted, Dave Dombrowski is building a real team, not a simulated one, but could he have pushed this further with worse defenders with more offensive upside? Could he have added a flyball pitcher like Andrew Oliver instead of going with Rick Porcello, who is admittedly a "better" pitcher?
There's not much innovation in baseball, not because there are not small advantages to be gained, but because there are jobs to be lost. Baseball needs a rebel.
Powered by the new iPhone 5, on to the injuries:
The issue with Hamilton is far more than a sinus or migraine headache. While that might be the root cause, the real issue is that Hamilton is having blurred vision. Complicating things is talk of Hamilton being "soft" and pictures of him at his daughter's softball game. Again, it's a situation that looks bad to fans, but it's far different to watch a softball game from the stands and another to try and track a 95 mph fastball. Hamilton has consulted doctors about the issue and the hope is that he'll be back mid-week. In the interim, Craig Gentry will get more playing time and Miguel Cabrera might lock down the Triple Crown.
Equally serious is the issue for Beltre. Beyond a shoulder injury that limited him, he's now having issues with scar tissue in his abdomen. It will require surgery, but not yet. The Rangers will try to buy him rest here and there, pulling him late in games, which will mean an increase in playing time for Jurickson Profar and Michael Young. Beltre's production shouldn't be an issue, but there is some concern that the physical problem will persist through the playoffs, where the margin for error is far smaller. Expect Profar to make the playoff roster because of this issue.
Kershaw returned to the mound Sunday after a couple of side sessions gave the Dodgers enough confidence that his painful hip wasn't going to cause any change in his mechanics. The hip isn't going to get worse due to pitching, but the risk to his arm is not insignificant. If the team weren't fighting for a playoff slot, Kershaw would not be pitching, but context counts. It was essentially a rehab start since the Reds clinched and were sending out the B Team. He went five innings and 92 pitches, showing shaky command and some tentativeness through his delivery. It was clear he was being watched by almost everyone in the dugout, but he didn't show any overt signs of problems or pain. Recovery will be the next key, seeing if Kershaw's hip is sore the day after and the day after that. Kershaw will be shut down the minute the Dodgers fall out of the race, which doesn't look to be soon.
The A's have lost Anderson for the rest of the regular season after a freakish strained oblique. There's still a chance he could come back for the playoffs, assuming they get that far. It was thought to be a pretty mild strain, but an MRI showed a significant tear. The fact that it's on the same side as a previous injury isn't significant given the severity, though at lesser levels, players can come back more quickly because of the way the muscles are recruited during the normal motion. Don't expect him back until at least the ALCS.
The Tigers put Scherzer back on the mound Sunday for two reasons. First, they thought it would be safe after finding no internal damage in scans. Second, they're desperate and running out of time. Scherzer isn't in a workload area where he'd be considered a worry, but I do wonder if the great run he's been on hasn't been forcing him to work at a higher level, putting a bit more pressure on that shoulder. Scherzer was limited and appeared a bit cautious in his five innings of work, but the results were pretty positive.
The Cardinals are trying to hold on to the Wild Card slot with just a few games left, and they've overcome injuries all season trying to get back to the playoffs. An illness kept Beltran out of the game on Sunday, but is good for his knees in the long run. The Cards also got a bit of a bonus when it was announced that Berkman delayed surgery and will try to return. The team isn't counting on him, but it's good for morale, showing the team that everyone is still fighting, still working hard.
The Cards got more good news when Carpenter came back on Friday. Carpenter didn't have great command, but that's to be expected given the layoff and lack of work. Stamina is going to be the issue, leaving the front of the bullpen exposed a bit. Let's be clear, Carpenter was not rushed back. The surgery he had and the rehab he did led to this on a normal timeline. Carpenter is in line for two more starts, likely at the same pitch limits. Mike Matheny is going to have an interesting decision on whether to put Carpenter in the playoff rotation. My suggestion would be pairing Carpenter and Lance Lynn as the de facto No. 4, keeping both available in the pen for LDS Games 1 and 2 if necessary.
But that's not all. The Cards also are dealing with Westbrook, who had a setback with his oblique strain during a bullpen session, Holliday, who is playing through back spasms, and Molina, who's also dealing with back spasms. Molina had a similar issue in August and came back well. The Cards are going to have to keep the team healthier if they're going to hold off the Brewers and go deep into the playoffs again.
Teixeira is making some progress with his strained calf. He did enough work running and fielding that the Yankees will send him to Tampa to take part in some instructional league games. He'll get some "live" at-bats and have completely controlled situations, so it's almost better than a minor league rehab, aside from the level of competition. The hope is that he'll be ready for next weekend's series, but the Yankees don't have any solid timeline for this. They'll let the medical lead this and then make sure that Teixeira can contribute as they fight for the division crown.