The Cubs head to the final stretch of the season with a bit of a working margin. They lead the Brewers by 4½ games, and eight teams are legitimately pushing for five postseason spots. All eight will have to perform down the stretch to get what they want. However, with the edge the Cubs have, Joe Maddon can continue to play cat-and-mouse games more than most of the managers in the field. Today I’ll look at a rather unfortunate angle of baseball, and how Maddon may be able to ward off some injuries down the stretch.
As a season progresses, many teams can validly claim they had rough luck regarding injuries. They happen for every team, and in many cases, fans figure their injury “luck” was worse than their opposition. Especially if coupled with a lack of respect for other players across the league. A developing field in MLB ought to be injury limitation. Nobody will be able to eliminate injuries. However, if a team can, especially down the stretch, limit injuries, all the better.
Here, I sideswipe myself. Young Tim played far too many games of dice baseball. Whether from a board game, or self-created (rudimentary), I was into lineup creation before lineup creation was considered. Usually, I mimicked. My first and favorite was Sports Illustrated Baseball. An at-bat was usually determined by one or two rolls of three six-sided dice. Either hitters or fielders could be injured during any at-bat. With the hitter, it would be be by getting hit by pitch. For the fielder, it would be “randomly” determined.
For the injuries to occur, the Yellow X Chart would come into play. The chart would spring to life when the pitcher (The pitcher would roll before the hitter, who would determine the result if the pitcher didn’t.) rolled a 38, which happened 1 of 36 hitters, or so. Usually, the X would result in a wild pitch, balk, or passed ball. However, in some instances, a HBP or blank spot resulted, and a player might be injured.
I considered the injury chart fairly realistic, though extended injuries were a bit limited. With a 25-man roster, losing a player for half-a-season could make the reality of the game a bit impaired. Imagine the 1971 Cubs losing Ron Santo for three months, and Paul Popovich being the only available option. Yeah, not too promising that those games get played.
I liked the game for its simplicity, and added a few rules of my own, including an “infield in” option, as well as “home field advantage” play. As I tended to add available players from other seasons of the game to my already assembled teams, I had the opportunity to add to the injury factor, which I did.
By this time, teams had closer to a 40-man roster, and teams often had three or four catchers. I added the premise of cumulative injuries. After all, while some injuries happen “at a certain point,” others develop over a period of time. If not accurately accounted for while they’re developing, the injury happens, and sometimes severely.
What I developed with the dice game was the possibility for up to five players per team to be on injury watch every game. Sometimes, the dice were kind, and the injury possibilities fell on blank spots. Sometimes, it would fall on a starting pitcher who tossed a few days ago. Or, maybe, it was the backup catcher.
However, sometimes, the card would turn up on a key player. And, the manager was faced with a decision. The injuries in these spots weren’t direct. They were more hypothetical. Let’s imagine it’s a possible injury to Santo. His likelihood of injury would be less than most players, because he played so often. He didn’t “need” many days off, anyway. However, at some point, you’d have to decide.
For instance, a possibility could be that his injury roll gets tripled (for likelihood and severity) if it happens before he has seven innings off in a day. You look at the schedule. It’s Tuesday, and you have Thursday off. Are you confident that you can get through until the game ends on Wednesday without a Whammy? The day off qualifies as a day off.
He probably won’t get injured. However, if he does, he might miss a month instead of three days. Usually, I’d roll with Popovich, or whoever. It’s my choice, and missing him for seven innings is possible. After all, in that instance, he could still pinch-hit in the eighth inning, and stay in, with the minimum met.
In Wednesday’s game, Craig Counsell was faced with that sort of decision. Christian Yelich could have played. In fact, he did play. However, he took a decent chunk of the day off, as if he had a pregame roll that he should probably take a day off. Brewers Twitter was incensed. “Why did Yelich sit in a game this important?”
Sometimes, a player ought to have a day off. In Atlanta, Freddie Freeman had his first day off of the season, but pinch hit, later. People who, in their own lives, might routinely schedule a personal day around their work schedule to extend their time off, get livid when professional athletes get the same benefit. Yeah, I don’t get it either.
Back to the pennant race, though, five of the eight contenders had Thursday off. After that, managers will have to assess their likelihoods to reach the postseason. Those a bit on the outside looking in (Arizona and Philadelphia) might need to be more willing to ride with a player at “less than ninety percent”. It’s a tough call.
In Washington Wednesday, Yadier Molina left the Cardinals win with hamstring tightness. The day off Thursday will help. I doubt Mike Schildt wants to start Carson Kelly or Francisco Pena much down the stretch. Nor would he want to lose Molina for a week or more.
As much as we wish injuries weren’t a part of the game we love, they are. Even as reality isn’t as direct and specific as a dice roll, players will need days off between now and October. Much to the chagrin as some, Maddon will provide said rest, even to the primary run producers. October is more important than September, especially with a working margin in September.