Under The Knife 10/14/21

One Big One Left

The Giants and Dodgers go at it in Game 5 and somehow, five doesn’t seem like enough. This is a classic series, as it was all year long. These teams are flat out even and on any given night, the Dodgers can put up big offense, the Giants can have a shutdown defense, and the difference might be bullpen management. The Dodgers have had a pretty set - and pretty good - pen all year long, with only minor tweaks and adjustments along the way. There’s a lot of analytics on both sides, a lot of work done to figure out who’s in what shape, what matches up with what in what situation and how to respond, but Dave Roberts and Gabe Kapler are on a knife’s edge with each decision and while they can be guided by the front office, they have to make that decision in the moment, guided by coaches and experience.

Let’s hope for a great one, but look at some injuries while we wait:

Tommy La Stella 2B SFG (strained Achilles tendon)

Tommy La Stella is having some Achilles tightness and around sports, people get jumpy with anything calf or Achilles, after Kevin Durant’s situation when he played across the bay. La Stella’s been playing with this for a couple weeks and it’s manageable, but there’s a risk that it grabs and costs him innings and forces Donovan Solano into a bad matchup.

I asked a source from a team whether he could look at Statcast data and see whether there was any indication of movement deficits, but the person said that it didn’t appear so, but it was an extremely small sample. Given Logan Webb is a strikeout/grounder pitcher, that could come into play some, but there’s ways to cover it with defensive positioning.

Brandon Belt 1B SFG (fractured thumb)

Brandon Belt continues to do some baseball activities, like fielding grounders in full view of everyone. As I said last time, that’s not the issue for Belt. Holding a bat, now that’s an issue and we still haven’t seen that. Is he doing that? No, but he is working up to it. One thing I’m told is that he’s in the cage doing “eye drills” - basically watching pitches to keep his timing - and “stick drills”, which are using something lighter than a bat that don’t require grip strength. I’ve seen everything from waffle ball bats to dowel rods and honestly, it’s whatever’s handy and works.

This isn’t to say Belt is ready to play and is going to Kirk Gibson hobble out in Game 5. That’s not happening and it’s downright unlikely that he’ll be on the NLCS roster if the Giants win. It’s not impossible, however, and the progress is something. I don’t feel great vibes for a World Series appearance since it would be so tough to both get healthy and test the thumb, even with a quick trip to Arizona, but again, it’s in the realm of possibility and if nothing else, this won’t be an issue for Belt in the long term.

Lance McCullers SP HOU (strained forearm)

Lance McCullers came back on short rest and that’s not always a good idea. (Corbin Burnes took some heat for not doing it, but I trust the Brewers had good reason.) For McCullers, he only lasted four innings and left with forearm soreness. Losing McCullers would be devastating for Brent Strom’s rebuilt rotation since they just showed a tired McCullers was preferred to Jose Urquidy.

Given his use, McCullers is likely 3/6 or 3/7, but a delay for any issue really throws the rotation off. Losing McCullers is the worst case and there’s no indication of that yet, but there’s really no word coming from Houston. A source tells me McCullers is getting treatment and doing his normal work, but whether that includes throwing is an unknown. McCullers is expected to be on the ALCS roster and worst case, could be removed and replaced if the injury is serious. That would be risky since it would take him out of the World Series, but without McCullers, they probably aren’t getting there.

UPDATE: McCullers had an MRI and Jon Heyman is reporting he’s likely to be left off the ALCS roster. That would be a big change from what my source told me Wednesday evening, but it’s plausible. Losing their ace would be tough and moving Zack Greinke back to the rotation is possible, but he’s not going deep. Jose Urquidy is now the three, with Jake Odorizzi a possible roster replacement. Odorizzi wasn’t on the ALDS roster, but was traveling and remains on his normal plan for throwing.

Jake Meyers OF HOU (bruised shoulder)

Jake Meyers bounced off the wall making a nice catch on a Gavin Sheets drive. The Astros say there’s soreness, but not much else about the injury. With Jose Siri dealing with a finger issue, the lineup could get a bit messy for Dusty Baker, but that assumes neither is available after a couple days of treatment and rest. This is likely one of those things that Carlos Febles is noting and the front office is simulating.

Simulating? Oh yes, teams do full sims on send/don’t send, where depth, the fielder’s arm, and the runner are tested. It’s still instinctual for the third base coach, but it’s also informed by modeling and situation. I know one team has done a little bit of testing on a VR solution where the coach is put into game-like situation and has to hit go or stop at the right points, but there’s no real outcome of that just yet.

Jorge Soler OF ATL (COVID)

The playoff rules for COVID are different than the normal injury replacement rules, so a lot of people are reading that Soler is out for the ALCS, having been replaced on the Atlanta roster by Cristian Pache. That’s not the case. Soler is out ten days, but after that, he could return once he has two negative tests 24 hours apart.

Functionally, it’s the same thing. In theory, Soler could return for Game 7 of the NLCS and perhaps Game 6, depending on whether his positive test came a day before it was announced publicly. Atlanta would be obligated to return him when healthy, but if he’s showing symptoms or fatigue, it can be extended. He could also go to the Atlanta complex It would surprise me to see him in the NLCS, but if the team keeps up its run, the World Series is reasonable given minor symptoms.

Not so Quick Cuts:

Max Scherzer is available tonight and I’m told he could go two innings. It would affect the planned NLCS rotation, but the Dodgers have to get there. Pretty much everyone except Walker Buehler is available. For the Giants, it’s everyone.

This one surprised me a bit:

I asked around at a couple teams and was more surprised. “Kimbrel under the [qualifying offer]? I’d take that chance,” said one AGM, who’s team does not need a closer. The responses were all the same - short term, few options, relatively small contract, at worst a potential mid-season trade. A team who needs a closer, needs closer cover, or has a pitching coach that is convinced he could fix Kimbrel? That’s the ideal landing spot and fits with places like Miami, Detroit, or Kansas City. The bigger question is what the White Sox will want in return. They’ll have to eat a lot of that $16m to get even B-level prospects.

No, I’ve never submitted an entire story for perusal before publication. When I wrote The Science of Baseball, I asked several of the people I interviewed to read the completed chapter and asked them to make sure I had no gross error, but this was more fact-checking than editing. All of them were very friendly interviews to begin with, rather than news, but even then, I would not have allowed them to change something significant about what I wrote. I have regularly checked for quote accuracy or told someone I’m about to publish something and asked for comment, but never a “would you like to read this and approve, sir?” I’ve committed more than my share of journalistic mistakes over the years, but that’s not one of them.

The playoffs mean winners and losers, but it also affects interviews. The Mets have asked for permission to speak with David Stearns, but the team decided not to respond until after the team was out of the playoffs. That came earlier than they liked and so a decision will be made, in consultation with Stearns, on that. Many consider the shift to the Mets as a lateral move since Stearns is already at the top of the chart, titles aside, and arguably a downward move. These are usually handshake agreements between teams, but there have been some enforced with simple contract law. The Mets are also looking at other candidates, including Doug Melvin, Josh Byrnes, and a few others. There’s one Mets rumor I love - “Ted Lasso.” No, Jason Sudeikis isn’t coming to the Mets, in character or not, but the suggestion is that Steve Cohen would consider someone from outside the normal baseball circles. Would that be a CEO type, someone from another sport a la Lasso, or something even weirder? (Remember, Paul DePodesta is now the President of the Cleveland Browns, so don’t say it can’t happen.) I don’t know, but again, the word is the Mets want to make a decision sooner rather than later.

The Padres managerial job is also waiting on the playoffs. Atlanta’s Ron Washington is considered a lock for the job now, but he can’t officially interview until after Atlanta is done. I’m not sure what an interview for Washington would entail, aside from some specific Padres question or maybe seeing how he’d work with current staff. Washington is as much a known in baseball as can be. With Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa back next season, Washington will add to the experience quotient as he returns to the managerial seat. The other name the Padres gave serious consideration to is AJ Ellis. The former catcher has been in San Diego’s front office for a couple years and could end up in a coaching role to become heir apparent. The team will go through a full search and you’ll hear lots of names, but those two are Plan A and it’s theirs to lose.