Pablo Sandoval's pending return could be a difference-maker in a crowded NL West race. (US Presswire)
Earlier today, I examined the impact of injuries on the American League playoff contenders, and noted that despite ranking in the top 10 in terms of player games lost to the disabled list, teams such as the Yankees, Orioles, A's and Rays have challenged for playoff spots thus far and appear likely to continue doing so. The NL field has been bitten harder by the injury bug, both in terms of contenders and noncontenders. How much higher in the standings would the Cardinals be with Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and a full season from Lance Berkman? Where would the Phillies be had they left the gate with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, or not lost Roy Halladay for seven weeks? Would the Brewers have punted Zack Greinke to the Angels had Shaun Marcum, Chris Narveson, Alex Gonzalez and Mat Gamel been available all season?
In terms of Senior Circuit teams that have overcome injuries to contend, none rank higher than the Nationals in terms of player games lost, or the Dodgers in terms of dollars lost. Here's how the data shakes out according to the injury accounting at Baseball Prospectus:
Percent of Payroll Lost To Injury
Listed according to the rankings above, here's a quick rundown of the major injuries that the NL contenders (teams above .500) have dealt with and will continue to deal with as they head down the stretch.
Record: 71-44, first in NL East (4 1/2 games ahead)
Though they currently own the best record in baseball, the Nats' surprising season has been indelibly stamped by injuries already. After all, it's quite possible that Bryce Harper wouldn't have arrived at the end of April had it not been for Mike Morse's strained latissimus dorsi, or stuck around if not for Jayson Werth's broken wrist. That duo combined to miss 125 games, but both are back and productive, helping to offset the teenage rookie Harper's second-half fade. The bullpen withstood the first-half absence of Drew Storen, who still hasn't resumed full-time closer duty. The lineup has endured the loss of starting catcher Wilson Ramos to a knee injury and is currently without shortstop Ian Desmond, whose breakout campaign (.286/.322/.503) was interrupted by an oblique strain; he has been out since July 22, and isn't expected back until late August. His absence will continue to overexpose Steven Lombardozzi (.270/.319/.351), but the Nats' biggest concern is for an injury that hasn't happened: The team is planning to shut ace Stephen Strasburg downbefore the playoffs due to an innings cap in his first year back from Tommy John surgery.
Impact going forward: High. The loss of the healthy Strasburg doesn't technically count as an injury in terms of DL days and dollars, but the impact of losing the league's strikeout leader late in the year will likely resonate for as long as Washington's season lasts.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Record: 62-53, second in NL West (one game out), 2 1/2 games out in NL wild card race
Freed from the shackles of Frank McCourt's mismanagement, the Dodgers have mounted a surprising bid for the NL West flag despite losing top hitter Matt Kemp to a pair of hamstring injuries that cost him 51 games and strangled an already-weak offense. The team has had mixed results replacing Mark Ellis, Juan Uribe, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Dee Gordon as they've missed time, but the upshot has been the acquisition of Hanley Ramirez, another much-needed big bat for the middle of the lineup. The rotation has been forced to patch through the loss of Ted Lilly, who has been out since late May due to shoulder inflammation and who may not return to a starting role following a recent setback; meanwhile, the bullpen has coped with the losses of Todd Coffey, Matt Guerrier and Scott Elbert, though the latter two could return in September.
Impact going forward: Low. Despite losing more dollars to the disabled list than any other NL team, the Dodgers are in better shape now than they've been all season thanks to their roster overhaul, which brought in not only Ramirez but also leftfielder Shane Victorino and starter Joe Blanton. Their bullpen could get a modest boost come September if hard-throwing Rubby de la Rosa's rehab from Tommy John surgery can get back on track following a mild groin strain.
San Francisco Giants
Record: 63-52, first in NL West(one game ahead)
The Giants have had less-than-stellar results replacing two players that will miss the entire season, namely second baseman Freddy Sanchez (out all year due to back surgery) and closer Brian Wilson (who underwent Tommy John surgery after making just two appearances). The team's keystone men — mainly Ryan Theriot and Manny Burriss — have combined to "hit" an abysmal .251/.300/.286. Fill-in closer Santiago Casilla converted 24 out of 30 save opportunities, a fairly reasonable rate but nonetheless shaky enough to lead manager Bruce Bochy to turn to Jeremy Affeldt in recent weeks.
Elsewhere, first baseman Aubrey Huff has been limited to just 34 games due to anxiety disorder and a strained patellar tendon, which he initially hurt while celebrating Matt Cain's perfect game, then reaggravated in late July; Bochy has made a hash of the first base situation in his absence, jerking Brandon Belt in and out of the lineup even after a .296/.400/.563 June. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval missed five weeks due to a broken hamate that required surgery, and has been out since July 25 due to a hamstring strain; Marco Scutaro has helped there and will continue to help at second base going forward, as the 36-year-old infielder's bat has come to life (.312/.361/.422) since his acquisition from the Rockies on July 28.
Impact going forward: Medium. The continued presence of Scutaro and the pending return of Sandoval, who started a rehab assignment last week, should help sustain a lineup that has come to life, producing 5.21 runs per game in the second half compared to 3.93 in the first. More work for Belt, who has hit .464/.531/.679 in August, should help, too.
St. Louis Cardinals
Record: 62-53, third in the NL Central (seven games out), 2 1/2 games out in NL wild card race
Despite the majors' top run differential (+101), the defending world champions are on the outside looking in when it comes to a playoff spot. Even so, they've done an excellent job covering for their major injuries. They lost Carpenter, the ace who started Game 7 of last year's World Series to what was eventually deemed thoracic outlet syndrome; he underwent season-ending surgery on July 19. The team has also been without Garcia since early June due to labrum and rotator cuff tears; he's on a rehab assignment and could be back later this month. Even so, rookie fill-ins Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly have been so effective that the team's rotation ranks third in the league in ERA (3.55), with the impact of Lynn's move from the bullpen perhaps felt more acutely via that unit's 4.28 ERA, which ranks 10th.
Meanwhile, the lineup leads the league in scoring at 4.90 runs per game despite Berkman being limited to just 28 games due to a left calf strain and ongoing knee problems; after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee and struggling with postsurgical inflammation, he now has cartilage damage in his left knee as well.
Impact going forward: Medium.Allen Craig, who missed the first four weeks of the season due to his own knee surgery, has bashed at a .301/.362/.570 clip with 17 homers in 312 PA to offset the loss of Berkman. Carpenter will be missed down the stretch, and Lynn is likely to face workload concerns, but the recent improvement of co-ace Adam Wainwright — who missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery — should help. He has a 2.22 ERA since the beginning of July.
Record: 66-48, second in the NL East (4 1/2 games behind), leading the NL wild card by 4 1/2 games
Though they have dealt with a below-average impact in terms of both games and dollars lost to the DL, the Braves have battled significant injuries in their rotation. Tim Hudson began the year still recovering from lower back surgery and missed 21 games, Brandon Beachy was lost for the season in mid-June due to Tommy John surgery, Tommy Hanson went down at the end of July due to a lower back strain and Jair Jurrjens went out shortly afterwards due to a groin strain. Fortunately, their offense has had far fewer injuries, with the biggest ones being those of veteran third baseman Chipper Jones and rookie shorstop Andrelton Simmons. Jones missed a total of 18 games due to surgery to repair a torn meniscus and then a subsequent calf injury, while Simmons went down in early July after fracturing a metacarpal in his right hand while sliding; he had hit a surprising .296/.336/.452 in 125 PA prior to being injured.
Impact going forward: Medium. The Wild Card race is a crowded field, and while the additions of Ben Sheets and Paul Maholm and the move of Kris Medlen from the bullpen have all helped the rotation, the return of Hanson would be more than welcome.
Record: 69-46, first in NL Central (4 1/2 games ahead)
The Reds recently reeled off a 10-game winning streak and a 15-1 run despite the absence of Joey Votto, who underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee on July 17. Inevitably, the team has come back to earth, and while they're now 19-8 since Votto went down, they stand to be without him awhile longer as he underwent a minor procedure to remove a piece of floating cartilage from the same knee on Friday, pushing his return back another 7-10 days, into late August. Cornerman Todd Frazier has done an outstanding job filling in for both Votto and third baseman Scott Rolen, who missed five weeks earlier this season due to left shoulder woes and has continued to battle a balky back; Frazier is hitting .280/.339/.528 with 14 homers in 310 PA. While the rotation has yet to experience a single injury — the team has used just five starters all year — the bullpen had to overcome the pre-season loss of Ryan Madson to Tommy John surgery. Aroldis Chapman has more than picked up the slack as closer, whiffing an eye-popping 16.7 per nine while yielding a 1.26 ERA, and the bullpen as a whole has a league-low 2.66 ERA.
Impact going forward: Medium. While the Reds stand a good chance of making the playoffs, their hopes for advancing depend upon a strong return from Votto, who's hitting .342/.465/.604, good enough for the top three in all three categories, including first in OBP. Remove his stats from the Reds' totals and the team is hitting just .244/.302/.405.
Record: 58-57, third in NL West (five games behind), 6 1/2 games out in NL wild card race
Though they rank 25th in terms of player games lost to the DL, Arizona has hardly avoided injuries. Most notably, Daniel Hudson was limited to just nine starts and torched for a 7.35 ERA before undergoing Tommy John surgery on July 9, while Joe Saunders missed four weeks due to a shoulder strain. While Josh Collmenter and rookies Wade Miley and Patrick Corbin have patched the rotation ably, the unit's 4.16 ERA ranks 11th in the league, and Collmenter recently was laid up by an ulcer. Meanwhile, the club got by for half a season while Stephen Drew recovered from last summer's severe ankle injury, but he has hit just .212/.309/.33 since returning, while the player who filled in for him during his absence, Willie Bloomqust (.300/.323/.396), went on the DL on Friday due to a lower back strain.
Impact going forward: Low. Despite the league's fifth-best run differential, the defending NL West champions have underachieved. Given the size of their deficit in both the division and wild card races, the returns of Collmenter and Bloomquist — whenever they happen — won't be difference-makers.
Record: 64-50, second in NL Central (4 1/2 games behind), 2 1/2 ahead in NL wild card race
The Bucs' shocking bid for a playoff spot has been helped along greatly by the team's health. Among their hitters, only Alex Presley has served time on the disabled list, and that was just eight games due to a concussion. The rotation has weathered more substantial injuries; A.J. Burnett missed the first 13 games due to a fractured orbital bone sustained in spring training, Charlie Morton was limited to just nine starts due to elbow problems that culminated in June Tommy John surgery, and Jeff Karstens missed more than two months due to shoulder soreness.
Impact going forward: Low. With the activation of reliever Juan Cruz from a stint due to shoulder inflammation, the team doesn't have a single player on the DL whose absence is likely to affect their shot at a playoff berth.
Thanks to Dan Turkenkopf of Baseball Prospectus for data assistance.