Published On: Tue, Aug 23rd, 2016

Which of these 5 injuries will affect the playoff race?

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September is right around the corner, which means that every player on a 25-man roster is in considerable pain right now.

Some players are more hurt than others, however, and some of those ailing individuals could be the difference between their team playing baseball in October, or hitting the golf course. As we head into the home stretch, let’s look at five players whose injuries will most affect the playoff race.

Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

Injury DL date Expected return
Grade 3 groin strain Aug. 14 At least 6 weeks

Ichiro Suzuki is a lot of good things – the greatest Japanese player in MLB history, for instance, and an eventual Hall of Famer, too – but a suitable replacement for Giancarlo Stanton, he is not. Since Stanton shredded his groin Aug. 13 on a boneheaded baserunning gaffe, the Marlins have averaged just four runs per game – more than a quarter-run below their season average – and Ichiro’s struggles have been a big part of that.

In eight games as Miami’s everyday right fielder, the 42-year-old has hit just .208/.296/.333 with a 24.1 percent strikeout rate. Initially thought to be done for the season, Stanton may be able to return for the final week of the campaign, president of baseball operations Michael Hill said Sunday. To make a late comeback meaningful however, the Marlins – 1 1/2 games back of St. Louis, with a 23.6 percent chance of earning a wild-card spot, according to Fangraphs – will need Ichiro to approximate his .412 first-half OBP for another five weeks. That’s a tall order.

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Injury DL date Expected return
Herniated disc Jun. 30 TBD

To their credit, the Dodgers have a done a fine job weathering a woefully extended absence from the best pitcher on the planet – they still boast a one-game lead over the scuffling San Francisco Giants for first place in the NL West – but the warts in their rotation are getting harder to ignore. Over the last two weeks, no team has received less value from their rotation than the Dodgers, whose patchwork starting corps has combined for a 6.92 ERA, while allowing 12 homers in 52 innings over that span (2.08 per nine).

Though Kershaw felt “100 percent” after throwing a bullpen session Saturday, if he encounters another setback that prevents him from returning this season, it’s not hard to see Los Angeles squandering their division lead, given that all of their starters except Julio Urias have been bad since the All-Star break.

Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

Injury DL date Expected return
Left knee sprain Aug. 10 2 weeks

With bat-flipping season just around the corner, the tied-for-the-division-lead Blue Jays are presumably ecstatic about the impending return of their veteran right fielder, who should inject some life into a lineup that’s been rather listless since the All-Star break. Once Bautista is activated from the disabled list, possibly later this week, the Blue Jays can finally return one of Ezequiel Carrera/Justin Smoak/Melvin Upton Jr. to the bench, effectively swapping out one of the team’s worst hitters for a six-time All-Star who, despite his struggles this year, still boasts a .349 OBP with a 112 OPS+ through 80 games.

While the Blue Jays may be able to win a second straight division title without Bautista, given that they’ve got another dozen games left against the Red Sox and Orioles, adding another plus hitter to their star-studded (but underperforming) lineup won’t hurt.

Injury DL date Expected recovery time
Right elbow soreness Aug. 22 2 weeks

Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals

Injury DL date Expected return
Fractured right thumb Aug. 13 TBD

The errant pitch that fractured Holliday’s thumb and sidelined him indefinitely appears to have galvanised the Cardinals, who have lost just twice in the eight games since losing their left fielder, outscoring their opponents, 47-35, over that span. Despite the lineup shuffling his absence has engendered – Brandon Moss and Jeremy Hazelbaker have been seeing time in left, with Matt Carpenter moving to first, Jhonny Peralta shifting over to third base, and Greg Garcia taking over at shortstop – the Cardinals’ chances of landing a wild-card spot shouldn’t suffer that much with Holliday out.

Why? Holliday hasn’t been all that impactful this year, managing career-lows in OPS (.768) and batting average (.242), while posting his worst walk rate (8.3 percent) since 2006. Amid his regression at the plate, Holliday has barely been above replacement level this season; his presence in the lineup over the next six weeks shouldn’t determine whether they preserve their 1 1/2-game lead over the Giants for the second wild-card berth.

Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

Injury DL date Expected return
Elbow soreness Aug. 22 2 weeks

Boasting an eight-game lead atop the NL East, it’d be virtually impossible for the Nationals to squander their division lead in the next six weeks, even if Strasburg’s elbow problems forced him to miss the remainder of the campaign. While his absence could have a negligible, trickle-down effect on the wild-card race (the Nationals play the Mets six times in the next three weeks, after all, while six of their final 13 contests come against Miami), if his elbow problems persist, Strasburg’s absence would have a much greater impact on the postseason itself.

Were Strasburg unavailable for, say, the NLDS, after Max Scherzer, manager Dusty Baker would be sending one of Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez, or Joe Ross to the mound instead. That’s not an insignificant difference.

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