No one likes excuses. Fans cringe at hearing anything as a reason for why their team is not doing well. And opponents, well they just laugh. They certainly don't want to hear excuses.
But as I watched Horacio Ramirez leave with another injury Monday night, the phrase that kept popping in my mind was that this season can be described as just "one thing after another."
Injuries are a part of baseball. There's not one team that doesn't have to deal with it. But this year's Atlanta Braves' team has been like a bad episode of "ER." Over and over again we've seen people go down with injuries.
It all started last year really. We've known since last summer that Mike Hampton, our third starter, would be out all of this year. It's sometimes forgotten since Mike's been gone so long, but it shouldn't be ignored. Hampton would have been a solid number three starter, especially if Smoltz and Hudson pitched as the two co-aces as we anticipated. Hampton's absence meant everyone else in the rotation had to move up a slot.
Then in spring training, the bullpen fell apart. Blaine Boyer, who got hurt the last week of the regular season last year, could never recover from shoulder trouble. He tried to pitch the first week of the season, but was obviously ailing and eventually had surgery.
Joey Devine didn't make the team out of camp, but after the third game was called up. His back started bothering him, and he's been nursing it along ever since in the minors. Back last winter we all believed Boyer and Devine would be the top two setup men in the bullpen. Their absence allowed guys we had never heard of to make the bullpen.
John Foster's elbow started bothering him in camp. The team tried to nurse him along with rehab, but he finally had Tommy John surgery in June. He was expected to be a solid lefty reliever for this team. His absence forced the elderly Mike Remlinger, obviously past his prime, to make the roster.
Macay McBride missed the first month of the season with a strained left forearm. With Foster already out, McBride's injury hurt the pen. Then a few days after McBride returned, lefty Chuck James hurt his hamstring and missed a month.
I know Chris Reitsma was pitching horribly, but we have to include him as well. He went on the DL June 12th with numbness in his finger which eventually turned into surgery on his right arm. If he had been healthy, would he have pitched better? And if the people who we thought were going to be in front of him were not injured and had been able to set him up, might Reitsma have been more effective? It's a fair question. I know people are anti-Reitsma, and rightfully so with his performance. But you have to wonder if the bullpen we thought last winter had been in place (Boyer and Devine setting up Reitsma) would Reitsma had done a little better?
Already missing Hampton, the rotation took another hit in the third game of the season when Ramirez pulled his hamstring. He would miss seven weeks before returning. When Ramirez went out John Thomson returned to the rotation after starting the season in the bullpen, only because he came down with an elbow injury at the end of spring training to avoid a trade. Then Thomson joined the party when he left a game on in early June with a blister. The right-hander missed almost three weeks, made two starts in his comeback, and then came down with shoulder trouble. Now Thomson may never pitch another game in a Braves' uniform.
Kyle Davies, who was counted on heavily after Ramirez went down, got hurt on May 15th. He had to have surgery on his groin a few weeks later and hopes to be back sometime this month. His injury was a big blow to this team, as everyone hoped he'd take over as the number three starter for the rest of the season.
So don't even count Hampton (missed 110 games), but look at the games missed by three of the five pitchers we hoped and counted on to start 30-35 games this season: Davies (72 games missed), Ramirez (43 - and probably going up), and Thomson (38).
I mean how could we have ever guessed that guys like Jason Shiell, Lance Cormier, and Travis Smith would make starts for us? Or how about this - could you have ever imagined back last winter thinking that guys named Ken Ray, Chad Paronto, and Tyler Yates would have to become important pieces in our bullpen? Or that guys like Peter Moylan, Kevin Barry, and Wayne Franklin would even see time in our bullpen?
We probably would have said, "this team is going to be in trouble." And they are.
Then you look at the position players. Don't forget about them. Chipper Jones hurt himself in San Francisco the first Sunday of the season and missed two weeks, and now he's out again with an oblique strain. Chipper was on the hottest streak of his life when this last injury popped up. Never underestimate his absence.
Brian McCann got hurt in mid-May in a vicious play in Arizona. We were 8-11 in the games he missed and it showed. Kelly Johnson's shoulder injury cost him the season and gave Brian Jordan a job, but then Jordan himself got hurt in mid-June and is probably never going to play again.
That's 711 games missed (on the DL) by Braves' players this season. It's only August 8th, and that number will be way over 1000 by the end of the season. Compare that to the number of games missed by Braves' players on the DL in the last two years:
So this year has been dramatic when it comes to injuries. Call it an excuse, but call it the facts. It's something you just can't ignore.
Who knows how much better this team might have been if we had only had half these injuries. Would we have collapsed in June and gone 6-21? I doubt it. We may have never been a dominating team this season, and the Mets would probably still have been better. But there's no way this club would be nine games under .500, this bad, if we had been more healthy.
Maybe it was just our time to get some bad luck. Luck is the residue of design, as Branch Rickey said many years ago. But you can’t design a safety shoot for this situation. You can't win fourteen straight division titles without a little bit of luck. Maybe our luck has just run out.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look at the Braves’ traditional front office philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves’ Radio Network. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.