Indians starter Trevor Bauer made waves on Sunday, September 18, both on and off the field. He hit three batters in his start against the Tigers, leading Detroit lefty Daniel Norris to throw behind Rajai Davis. After the game, Bauer took to Twitter and called Cleveland.com writer Paul Hoynes a “coward.” The reason? One day earlier, Hoynes pronounced the Indians’ World Series chances over after starter Carlos Carrasco sustained a hand injury that ended his season.
Sadly, Hoynes could be right. Save for a slew of injuries over the final weekend, the Indians will enter the postseason as the American League’s most handicapped squad after losing both Carrasco and Danny Salazar to long-term injuries. Carrasco was hit on the hand by a batted ball on September 17 and will be out for the season. Salazar could feasibly return – he threw off a mound on Monday – but likely won’t have the stamina to rejoin the rotation. The Tribe might go with a three-man rotation for the ALDS, and could even start Bauer in Game 1 if Corey Kluber’s strained quad doesn’t heal in time. Josh Tomlin would be the likely Game 3 starter.
Cleveland’s injury report doesn’t stop there, though. They have been without outfielder Michael Brantley for most of the season due to a lingering shoulder injury – Brantley had a second surgery in August and is out for the year – but the rest of the outfield has not missed a beat. Cleveland’s outfield ranks fourth in baseball with a combined 12.1 fWAR, a total made more impressive when you consider most of the Angels’ 12.7 fWAR comes from Mike Trout alone. The Indians are also without catcher Yan Gomes, who is likely out for the year with a fractured wrist.
Then there are the Texas Rangers, who are probably the healthiest team of the playoff bunch. Shin-Soo Choo has had multiple stints on the disabled list this year, but is set to return from his latest malady (a broken forearm) for the team’s final series of the regular season. In his absence, the Rangers have used a combination of Carlos Gomez, Carlos Beltran, Delino DeShields, and Nomar Mazara in the corner outfield spots, and to good effect. Adding Choo, a .247/.369/.416 hitter this season, to that mix only creates more matchup problems for Rangers opponents.
In fact, other than Prince Fielder and reliever Shawn Tolleson, the Rangers have everyone available. Their rotation is completely intact, with Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish leading the way. Darvish did not make his 2016 debut until May 28 due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery, but he has a 3.53 ERA and 3.30 FIP in 16 starts. Derek Holland has already been moved to the bullpen, and at least one of Martin Perez, Colby Lewis, and A.J. Griffin will join him during the postseason. Rangers fans aren’t very enthusiastic about any of those options remaining in the rotation, but with Hamels and Darvish healthy, the issues with the rotation’s back end are minimized.
The Red Sox are nearly as healthy as the Rangers entering the postseason, minus one big exception: Drew Pomeranz. The 27-year-old lefthander won’t make another start this season per manager John Farrell. Pomeranz has thrown a career-high 169 1⁄3 innings this season and is dealing with some forearm tightness, so he might not even be in the team’s bullpen plans. This leaves Boston with a playoff rotation of David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Clay Buchholz.
The final few AL wild card contenders aren’t so lucky. Baltimore’s Chris Tillman appears to be fine after spending a few weeks on the disabled list in August with shoulder inflammation, but Kevin Gausman recently had a start pushed back due to an intercostal muscle strain. Darren O’Day also recently returned from the DL, though he has looked like his usual self in his past couple outings. The Toronto Blue Jays are similarly beaten up, though most of their injuries were self-inflicted (in a way) after a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees over the weekend. Devon Travis (shoulder) and Joaquin Benoit (calf) were both injured in the fray, and their respective timetables for return are currently unknown.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers could be getting healthy at the right time. Third baseman Nick Castellanos returned from the disabled list on Tuesday after missing nearly eight weeks with a fractured bone in his hand. Jordan Zimmermann is scheduled to start Friday, though his past two attempts at a return from injury have been disastrous. The Seattle Mariners might get Nate Karns back, which Mariners fans are conflicted about given Karns’ 79 ERA+ in 94 1⁄3 innings this season. Seth Smith (foot) and Nelson Cruz (wrist) are both hobbled with day-to-day injuries.
All told, it will be impressive if the Indians can navigate their way through the ALDS and ALCS with the injuries they have sustained this season. Losing one good starting pitcher is hard enough, but missing a second — not to mention their starting catcher and a former MVP candidate — adds another level of difficulty the other teams in the AL playoff picture aren’t dealing with. Health is of the utmost importance at this time of the year, and it may ultimately be the reason Texas or Boston prevail in the American League this postseason.
Rob Rogacki is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and the Managing Editor of Bless You Boys, SB Nation's Detroit Tigers community. You can follow him on Twitter at @BYBRob.