NLDS

The Injury Bug

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The playoffs begin this week and the Atlanta Braves await either the St. Louis Cardinals or the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday at Suntrust Park.

Both will provide unique challenges and Atlanta shouldn’t breathe easy simply because they don’t have the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round (it is, I will say, massively impressive how the Brewers have clinched a playoff spot and have stayed within striking distance of the NL Central title even after losing last year’s MVP Christian Yelich to injury just a few weeks ago).

It isn’t as though the Braves can rest easy knowing they’re at the height of their powers, either. The team was healthy for so much of the 2019 season, with the exception of injuries to Nick Markakis and Dansby Swanson; both of which took them out of the game for significant periods of time.

However, as I’ve pointed out before, the backups and new acquisitions stepped up and showed out in the absence of the two Atlanta lineup mainstays.

But now, at the worst possible time, the injury bug has started to bite. The Charlie Culberson hit by pitch was a freak accident, nothing really to say about that. But it took out a reliable bench player and pinch hitter that would have doubtlessly gotten huge opportunities to make a difference in October.

The other side of that same coin is Johan Camargo, who has had a fairly miserable season but showed signs of turning things around in the minor leagues, who offers the same defensive versatility as Culberson.

Camargo would have been the obvious choice to make the roster as a super utilityman in Charlie’s place, but it looks like he’s down for the count as well.

That brings us to the other two (three, sort of) injuries, all due respect to Culberson and Camargo, the minor injuries to Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. are more major.

Freeman was benched for a few games to heal a wrist injury from last week. He returned for the season finale series against New York, but that nagging wrist had really been doing on number on Freddie’s production at the plate. He may be playing through it, but the 3-hole hitter is playing at a disadvantage.

Of equal (maybe greater?) concern is Ronald Acuna, Jr., who hurt his hip during the two-game set against Kansas City last week and was benched for the rest of the regular season so that he could heal up.

This did, disappointingly, prevent Acuna from getting the three steals necessary for him to be the fifth player ever to go 40-40 in a season. The leadoff hitter is the dynamic sparkplug that sets the Braves off and they need him as close to 100% as possible for the playoffs.

Piggybacking off of that is something that probably didn’t seem like it would be as important a week ago as it is now. That is Ender Inciarte being ruled out for the NLDS.

Inciarte has been hurt a lot in 2019, his first stint on the IL coming after a disappointing start to the year and his second coming at an equally disappointing time: just as he seemed to have found his stroke and was hitting well.

Him not being on the DS roster doesn’t seem like it changes much, since the team played so much of the season without him, but the Acuna injury makes Ender’s inability to play hugely significant.

A healthy Ender is a multiple-time Gold Glove winner and could patrol center field while Acuna strains himself less in left but it’s not to be.

The Braves seem confident that Freeman and Acuna will be ready to roll on Thursday. Having an additional three days off can’t hurt. Atlanta has to be aware of their ongoing concerns and can’t afford to underestimate the Brewers or the Cards.