How Pitching Injuries Affect The AL West Race


Mar 5, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Jarrod Parker (11) pitches during the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Maryvale Baseball Park. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

In ten days, the Seattle Mariners will play a baseball game that will count towards the end-of-season standings. In ten days! That game will be followed by 161 more games, and then Mariners season will conclude. Unless, of course, the postseason somehow happens, unlikely as that may still seem. The M’s are still a team on the bubble of wild card contention, and it’s not like all three of the division’s other major league teams need to completely flop in unison for the postseason to be any kind of possibility. All it may take is good play in Seattle and a little bad luck elsewhere. And on the bad luck front, there’s news.

The story so far this spring has been pitching injuries. The Braves lost two front end starters to Tommy John. The Padres are down a Cory Luebke, and the Tigers are going to do the 2014 campaign without setup man Bruce Rondon. Perhaps the injury most relevant to the Mariners is that of Jarrod Parker, the young de facto ace of the Oakland Athletics. Parker’s out for at least the year while he recovers from his second Tommy John surgery, and all of a sudden the pitching-rich A’s are slotting relievers into their rotation. The whole division, really, has been hit hard by pitching injuries, and while the Mariners have had their share, they may actually be well positioned to benefit from the hard times faced by their division rivals.

Last season, the Athletics won the West on the strength of the game’s third-most productive offense, despite a rotation that ranked in the bottom half of all teams. The young guns that led the team’s 2012 revitalization were all more or less average in 2013, as Bartolo Colon stood out as the unlikeliest of aces. This year they’re going to be without Colon, having replaced him with Scott Kazmir. And Kazmir’s hurt. It’s unlikely he’ll miss any significant amount of time right away, but this injury serves as a reminder that Scott Kazmir is Scott Kazmir, and Scott Kazmir is brittle.

A.J. Griffin’s also out to start the season, and now the A’s rotation looks like it has Drew Pomeranz and Jesse Chavez in it. Tommy Milone struggled through the 2013 season after being a vital cog the year earlier, and now it looks like he’ll slot back into the rotation as a good bounce back candidate. It’s hard to expect much from Pomeranz, and Chavez is absolutely a reliever. Griffin and Kazmir may not miss more than a couple months combined, but the loss of Parker legitimately weakens the A’s chances of three straight division titles.

The Texas Rangers, too, are not opening the season with the rotation of their dreams. Yu Darvish still leads the pack as one of the very best pitchers on earth, but where he used to have a legitimate co-ace he now has Joe Saunders. Derek Holland stepped on his dog or something, and will miss at least half the season. Matt Harrison still isn’t quite right. The Rangers rotation is leaning awfully hard on Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando, both of whom combined aren’t quite Holland. Joe Saunders and Tommy Hanson are really, truly on the team, and yeah, this rotation has been weakened to the point that the Rangers playoff hopes have taken a little hit.

Los Angeles of Anaheim is not dealing with any substantial injuries to important rotation members, which must be nice for them. But – but! – behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, the Halos will be starting Hector Santiago, Garrett Richards, and Tyler Skaggs. This rotation may not be injury-ravaged, but it also is not imposing. That’s nice.

The Houston Astros best pitcher, by far, is Scott Feldman.

So where do the Mariners fit into all of this? Obviously Seattle has been similar blows in the form of injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker. The bad news is that Randy Wolf and Blake Beavan look like legitimate candidates to make April starts. Scott Baker still isn’t so much as flashing the velocity he used to showcase, which may be bad news or may be no news. Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, and Erasmo Ramirez are locks for the rotation, but how much better are Paxton and Ramirez than Perez and Ogando, if they’re even better at all? Is that duo any more serviceable than Dan Straily and Sonny Gray? The Mariners may be in no position at all to take advantage of the turbulence in their division.

But where the Rangers are losing an ace for four months, the Mariners aren’t likely to have lost theirs for more than four weeks. Hisashi Iwakuma’s finger injury is a bummer in that it opens a door for Randy Wolf, but it’s not so bad in that he’s already back to throwing and will return to the bigs soon. Walker’s fine, and really shouldn’t be expected to miss more than a couple starts. Compared to the ails of Texas and Oakland, Seattle’s starting pitcher injuries seem like nothing.

Iwakuma is probably the best AL West pitcher currently shelved, and he’ll be back soon. The gap between Wolf and Iwakuma is the largest such gulf between starter and replacement, and that gap will be closed by May. The Holland and Parker injuries are going to result in their teams giving their Randy Wolfs more than four starts. This is where the Mariners have a distinct advantage.

The AL West’s three best rotations have been hit hard with preseason injuries, and as a result the division race has gotten even tighter than was already projected. The Mariners may not have the best depth, but they’ve suffered the least substantial losses in that their hurt guys are expected back soon and will provide a bigger boost than their Oakland and Texas counterparts. Certainly the M’s would be better positioned to take advantage if Walker and Iwakuma weren’t hurt, but they’re still better off than they would be in a healthier division. Their playoff odds are still slim, but they’ve been a little slimmer as recently as a couple days ago.

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