The postseason is still over a month away, but the contenders are already pretty clear. Every team currently at the top of their division – except the Chicago Cubs – owns a double-digit lead. Chicago’s chase for another World Series will remain a focus down the stretch, as will the American League wild card chase.
Other than that, we have a pretty good idea which teams will be playing in late October. Problem is, few of those clubs are at full strength right now. A number of devastating injuries have hit contenders in recent weeks.
That’s not a problem for now. All those teams have massive leads, and won’t suddenly drop off while a significant player is injured.
That’s not the case once the playoffs begin. And while every major player currently injured should be back by then, what happens if they fail to return at full strength or experience a setback?
It would be tough for any team to try and win the World Series without one of its best players, but some teams are not as equipped to handle the blow as others. That’s where we come in. We asked our experts to tell us which injury to a contender hurts the most.
Which team is in the most trouble if their guy isn’t at full strength come October? Read on …
BRYCE HARPER, WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Bryce Harper appears to have avoided a serious injury after his knee jolted in gruesome fashion after his leg slide on top of the first base bag. While his timeline is unclear, it’s assumed he’ll be just fine soon. That should be great news. The Nationals won’t lose their division lead without him, and he should be at full strength for the postseason.
But what if he’s not? Harper said he would make sure he’s 100 percent before returning, but he did play through something – no one will say what – last year. If Harper pushes and comes back too early, we could see a repeat of that situation. While Harper is still dangerous when operating at 60 percent, he’s far from the best player in baseball not named Mike Trout.
The Nationals know the pressure is on to win a World Series now. Harper is a free-agent after next season, and the Nationals want to do everything they can to ensure he wins them a championship before he goes. If he’s healthy come the postseason, that seems a lot more doable. If not, another first-round exit could be in the cards. (Chris Cwik)
CLAYTON KERSHAW, LOS ANGELES DODGERS
All facts, it doesn’t matter how many regular season games the Los Angeles Dodgers win.
They can win 120 by the time Oct. 1 rolls around and it’ll be the 11 necessary wins ahead that everybody will care about. If the Dodgers don’t win in the postseason, this great regular season will be for naught, which is why the injury that is most concerning is Clayton Kershaw. Both Kershaw and the Dodgers have postseason demons to battle and they won’t be slayed if the Best Pitcher Alive isn’t at full strength.
Back injuries ain’t no joke, not that we need to tell that to anybody in L.A., but it’s one of those things that will have you wondering in the back of your mind about Kershaw, even if he looks great by the time the postseason rolls around. This year the Dodgers are in a place where they actually have some support for Kershaw in Yu Darvish and Alex Wood. He’s essential to that package though, which is why he’s the MLB star whose injury is most worrisome. (Mike Oz)
DAVID PRICE, BOSTON RED SOX
David Price has had an uneven season. He started the year on the DL with a left elbow injury, and when he finally returned at the end of May, he struggled for the next month. Now he’s back on the DL with more elbow soreness. (And that’s just the on-the-field stuff.)
But the Red Sox are going to miss Price a lot. Before he went on the DL, Price had found his rhythm. Since mid-June, Price had a 3.14 ERA in seven starts. And that’s including his disastrous start right before he went on the DL. He was an important part of the Red Sox rotation. And while the Sox do have a lead in the AL East, that lead is only four games. It wouldn’t take much for that to disappear, and the Yankees (despite their Aroldis Chapman issues) are hot on their heels.
Doug Fister has made three starts in Price’s place, and he’s been … well, he’s been Doug Fister. He’s just not as good as Price. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though: Price has been throwing and could be back by the end of the month. If he can get back in the groove and stay healthy, the Red Sox could use him down the stretch. (Liz Roscher)
FELIX HERNANDEZ, SEATTLE MARINERS
Of all the notable injuries we’ve seen in recent weeks, I think the one that hurts a contender the most is Felix Hernandez’s shoulder bursitis. The injury is not expected to be a season-ender, but unlike a lot of teams dealing with key injuries, Seattle desperately needs wins right now. They’ve been on the fringe of the wild card race all season and every missed start from their ace seemingly pushes them further away from ending MLB’s longest postseason drought.
The DL stint is Hernandez’s second of the season after missing two months with prior shoulder issues. And the truth is, he hasn’t been as dominant as we’re used to when he’s been on the field. But even a lesser version of King Felix is needed now more than ever because the rest of Seattle’s rotation hasn’t been durable either. Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly were lost to injuries a while ago. Now James Paxton is out too, leaving them with a hodgepodge group led by Yovani Gallardo and Angel Miranda. That’s not going to cut it with the intensity and urgency picking up down the stretch.
It would be interesting to see just how good Seattle could be if all of those guys were healthy right now, let alone the entire season. But they’re still close enough in the wild card standings that even just getting back Hernandez at something close to full capacity could be enough to keep them in the race. (Mark Townsend)
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