Friday, April 4, 2014

Dodgers' early injuries are worrisome, but they're still the class of the West

One of the few things that could derail the Dodgers this year is injuries. Wouldn't you know it, the season is a week old and we're already hearing Clayton Kershaw and Brian Wilson may miss significant time.

Wilson has a common (1-in-5) side effect of Tommy John Surgery, where he's experiencing nerve irritation. Best case, he comes back after a few weeks of rest and medication. Worst case he needs a surgery to reset the nerve. Even worst case, he comes back at some point this season I think.

The significance of Kershaw's injury keeps growing. First it was like a sore back. Then he was expected to be out for a few weeks. Now it is maybe two months. And it's a muscle that's technically part of his rotator cuff.  Shoulder injuries are scarier than elbow injuries for pitchers, because the repairability is much less. So everyone is saying "back injury" instead of "shoulder injury" but to be realistic it is at least a little shouldery. Should we call it a shack injury or a boulder injury?

Unless we continue to hear worse things, both guys are coming back. Frankly, I like the idea of reducing everyone's workload this year anyway. The Dodgers are favored to run away with the division, and arriving at the end of the regular season with everyone healthy and rested ought to be the main goal (unless an unexpected race develops in the division).
A little foresight would have gone a long way there, Honey. Maybe don't fly your ace 16 hours and 18 time zones away to start a game after a short spring to prepare, when you expect to win your division by 10 games more. But anyway ...

If these two were replaced by replacement level players for 70 starter innings pitched and 30 reliever innings pitched, the Dodgers still project to 95 wins (down from 98) and a comfortable division title. But in point of fact, Wilson's setup innings will be pitched by other good bullpen guys, whose innings will themselves be replaced by innings from Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez. Kershaw's innings, meanwhile, will be pitched by Paul Maholm and Josh Beckett. All these guys are better than replacement level. So, in light of current injuries, I still expect the Dodgers to win 96 games.

Bottom line, I am far, far away from worried about championship hopes this year. Even a heartbreaking disaster scenario where Kershaw and Wilson are out for the year, and we start to see Triple-A starters coming in, the Dodgers still probably win 92 games and get to the playoffs. Trying to go through the playoffs in that case becomes a lot less likely, but as long as these guys are expected to be back strong by September, the Dodgers remain the World Series favorite (not that they have a greater than 50 percent chance of winning the World Series, just that they have more chance than any other single team).

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