Panic Meter on Acuna, Harper and Slew of Injuries Shaking Up NL Playoff Race

Zachary D. RymerJune 28, 2022

Panic Meter on Acuna, Harper and Slew of Injuries Shaking Up NL Playoff Race

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    AP Foto/Derrick Tuskan

    This weekend was a rough one for injuries in Major League Baseball, and especially for stars in the middle of the National League's crowded playoff race.

    To determine how much the biggest injuries figure to affect said race, we've dusted off the ol' panic meter.

    Though Ronald Acuna Jr.'s foot and Bryce Harper's thumb were the headliners, they were but two of nine key injuries we think are worthy of some degree of panic based on how bad they are and what they mean for their teams. Seven of these injuries occurred this weekend. The other two are featured after crucial status updates.

    With a 1 representing "nothing to see here, folks" and a 5 representing that one Community meme, let's get to it.

RF Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta

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    AP Photo/Nick Wass

    Team Record: 42-32 (2nd in NL East)

    Injury: Bruised left foot

    Injured List: No

    Ronald Acuna Jr.'s recovery from last year's torn ACL kept him out until April 28, and he then missed additional time in May with a strained quad. Now the 24-year-old, who has an .828 OPS and seven home runs in 43 games, has a foot injury he suffered on this foul ball Saturday:

    Mark Bowman @mlbbowman

    Here is where Acuña fouled a pitch off his left foot in the third inning. He remained in the game until the eighth inning. He'll be further evaluated tomorrow, but as mentioned earlier, Snitker doesn't think it's a fracture. <a href="https://t.co/J7RaDnYprY">pic.twitter.com/J7RaDnYprY</a>

    That was in the third inning, yet Acuna stayed in the game until the ninth inning. X-rays and an MRI revealed no fracture, and Atlanta kept the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year off the injured list.

    But while it could have been worse, it's not good. Acuna was getting around the clubhouse on a medical scooter Sunday. It's possible he'll return for the start of a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, but that's probably optimistic.

    "If you're asking me, I think it will be a couple days because I can't put any pressure on my foot," Acuna said through an interpreter, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com.

    The designated hitter could be a mechanism for Acuna to make his return sooner rather than later, but Atlanta should tread carefully. Whereas the team's record is 21-10 when Acuna starts in right field, it is only 6-5 when he starts at DH.

    With fellow star Ozzie Albies sidelined with a left foot injury of his own, Atlanta will be even more short-handed as long as Acuna is out.

    Panic Meter: 2

RF/DH Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies

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    AP Photo/Derrick Tuskan

    Team Record: 39-35 (3rd in NL East)

    Injury: Fractured left thumb

    Injured List: 10-day

    Elsewhere in the NL East, it was apparent as soon as Blake Snell's 97 mph fastball made contact with Bryce Harper's thumb Saturday that the two-time MVP was badly hurt:

    NBC Sports Philadelphia @NBCSPhilly

    Bryce Harper takes a pitch to the hand and exits the game.<br><br>Please be okay, Bryce 🙏 <a href="https://t.co/Qy2wGmNPbi">pic.twitter.com/Qy2wGmNPbi</a>

    We now know that Harper, 29, broke his left thumb. According to Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer, he is expected to undergo surgery and will miss around six weeks.

    If there's a silver lining for the Phillies, it's that Harper's latest injury—he already had a torn UCL in his right elbow—means the DH spot is now open for Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. As they've combined for minus-11 outs above average, that's addition by subtraction for the club's outfield defense.

    Otherwise, there's no getting around how much it hurts the Phillies to lose Harper's bat. He has a .985 OPS and 15 home runs with a 1.095 OPS and five home runs during the Phillies' 17-6 run since the firing of manager Joe Girardi.

    Because 12 of the Phillies' next 15 games are against other contenders in Atlanta, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Toronto Blue Jays, Harper's injury could sink the club's already iffy playoff hopes even if he doesn't need surgery.

    Panic Meter: 5

RHP Jack Flaherty and CF Harrison Bader, St. Louis Cardinals

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    John Fisher/Getty Images

    Team Record: 42-34 (2nd in NL Central)

    Jack Flaherty's Injury: Dead arm

    Injured List: 15-day

    The St. Louis Cardinals' Jack Flaherty only just returned from a shoulder injury June 15, so it's obviously not a good sign that he's already back on the IL with yet another shoulder issue after pitching to a 5.63 ERA in three starts.

    This latest issue cropped up Sunday when Flaherty exited his assignment against the Pittsburgh Pirates after just two innings with what he called a "dead arm." On Monday, the Cardinals designated his injury as a strain.

    The short-term outlook for the St. Louis staff could look worse. As noted by Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Friday, Steven Matz (shoulder) and Jordan Hicks (forearm) could soon be ready to rejoin the rotation and bullpen.

    Rather, the bigger concern with Flaherty might be the long-term outlook.

    He looked like a rising star as he was en route to a fourth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2019. Yet injuries have since limited the 26-year-old to 29 appearances and 126.2 innings, and his fastball velocity was way down in the outings he made this year. It's all enough to worry about when, if ever, he'll get back on track.

    Panic Meter: 4


    Harrison Bader's Injury: Plantar fasciitis in right foot

    Injured List: 10-day

    The Cardinals also lost their starting center fielder Monday when they placed Harrison Bader on the IL with plantar fasciitis.

    This was perhaps inevitable, as John Denton of MLB.com noted the 28-year-old had been bothered for weeks. Now the question is how long he'll be out. Though it's not always the case, plantar fasciitis has been known to require surgery.

    In the meantime, the Cardinals outfield is now missing Bader in center and fellow Gold Glover Tyler O'Neill in left. That's a blow to the club's defense, which it very much needs to compensate for the staff's 28th-ranked strikeout rate.

    With 14 straight games against the Phillies, Atlanta and the Dodgers from July 1-14, this isn't an ideal time for the Cardinals to be undermanned in any phase of the game.

    Panic Meter: 5

RF Hunter Renfroe, Milwaukee Brewers

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    AP Photo/Nick Wass

    Team Record: 42-33 (1st in NL Central)

    Injury: Strained left calf

    Injured List: 10-day

    Though he last played for the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday, it wasn't until Sunday that the team placed Hunter Renfroe on the IL with a strained calf.

    The key development was an MRI that, in Renfroe's words to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com, "showed a little more damage than we thought." The 30-year-old sensed the injury was more serious than the strained hamstring that sidelined him from May 24 to June 6.

    In a vacuum, losing a hitter with a .789 OPS and 13 home runs through 54 games is obviously not helpful to the Brewers. A closer look at how the lineup has performed doesn't exactly brighten the picture:

    • April 7-May 23 with Renfroe: 4.6 runs per game
    • May 24-June 6 without Renfroe: 3.7
    • June 7-22 with Renfroe: 4.0

    Even still, the sky isn't falling just yet. The Brewers haven't missed Renfroe nearly as much this time, as they've scored 25 runs in their last four games. And that was against two contenders in the Blue Jays and Cardinals.

    Milwaukee has two more such games on tap against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday and Wednesday, but then it begins a 10-game stretch against the Pirates and Chicago Cubs. Just what it needs to better endure the absence of one of its top hitters.

    Panic Meter: 2

RHP Daniel Hudson, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Team Record: 45-27 (1st in NL West)

    Injury: Torn left ACL

    Injured List: 15-day

    Though the Dodgers held on for a 4-1 win over Atlanta on Friday, Daniel Hudson had to be helped off the field during the eighth inning with a clearly serious left leg injury:

    Bally Sports South @BallySportsSO

    Unfortunate news for the Dodgers: Daniel Hudson leaves the game after suffering a left leg injury. <a href="https://t.co/nTuVdlo89Q">pic.twitter.com/nTuVdlo89Q</a>

    Hudson, 35, was later diagnosed with a torn ACL.

    "It doesn't look good from all indications," manager Dave Roberts said, per Juan Toribio of MLB.com. "Things can happen, but I just don't see how it's not the end of his season. So it's potentially a huge loss for us."

    There really is no sugarcoating it. Hudson had been dominating to the tune of a 2.22 ERA and 30-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 24.1 innings. He had been even better in save situations, holding the opposition scoreless over 14 innings.

    To make matters worse, the Dodgers' injured list was already loaded with relievers. Between that and veteran closer Craig Kimbrel's iffy performance—he has a 4.13 ERA with 12 walks in 24 innings—the pressure is now on the front office to get help before the Aug. 2 trade deadline.

    If it doesn't come through, the club's slim lead in the NL West could be in jeopardy.

    Panic Meter: 5

SS Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants

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    AP Photo/Marta Lavandier

    Team Record: 39-33 (3rd in NL West)

    Injury: Left knee inflammation

    Injured List: 10-day

    Among the hats that Brandon Crawford has worn during his 12-year career with the San Francisco Giants is one of durability. Before this year, he had been on the IL only twice.

    It's now three career IL stints for Crawford by way of knee inflammation, but the move seems to be as much for rest as anything else. As Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported, Crawford isn't expected to be out for longer than 10 days:

    Susan Slusser @susanslusser

    Crawford likely to just be on the IL for the minimum. He’s been banged up all season, and with the knee issue this seemed like a good time to get him solid time off to recover Kapler says. Crawford was on board with it.

    In the meantime, the 35-year-old's shoes at shortstop figure to be filled by Thairo Estrada. That could actually be addition by subtraction.

    Though Estrada doesn't have Crawford's credentials as a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove Award winner, he has been the better option, as Crawford has struggled offensively and defensively. At the plate, at least, Estrada boasts a .720 OPS to Crawford's .663.

    To boot, the Giants are in a soft part of their schedule. Of their next 15 games, their four-game set against the San Diego Padres from July 7-10 is their only test against a fellow winner.

    Panic Meter: 1

RF Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Michael Owens/Getty Images

    Team Record: 45-27 (1st in NL West)

    Injury: Cracked rib

    Injured List: 10-day

    Shifting back to the Dodgers, it's been almost two weeks since Mookie Betts suffered a broken rib on this collision with fellow MVP Cody Bellinger:

    Chad Moriyama @ChadMoriyama

    Seems like it might be relevant to post the controversial ruling. <a href="https://t.co/x5AKA1cEMs">pic.twitter.com/x5AKA1cEMs</a>

    Though Betts went on the IL a few days later, Roberts optimistically told reporters that there was "solace in that and hopefully we'll get him back sooner than later."

    That no longer seems to be the case. Whereas the Dodgers thought Betts, 29, could resume baseball activities Sunday, he didn't. Accordingly, his recovery timeline has become uncertain.

    Though Betts had been cold in the days preceding his injury, he had a 33-game stretch from April 30 to June 4 in which he posted a 1.167 OPS and 14 home runs. Even now, he's still seventh among NL position players with 2.8 rWAR.

    So how are the Dodgers 6-4 since he went down? Mainly because Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner have caught fire. That's not bad as far as sustainable recipes go, and it further helps that 10 of the Dodgers' next 13 games are against losing clubs.

    Panic Meter: 2

SS Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres

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    AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

    Team Record: 45-30 (2nd in NL West)

    Injury: Fractured left wrist

    Injured List: 60-day

    More than half a year has passed since Fernando Tatis fractured his wrist in a motorcycle accident, and it's been more than three months since he had surgery.

    And yet his recovery timeline is still hazy.

    Two weeks ago, San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller said an MRI showed Tatis hadn't healed enough for "a full green light" to resume baseball activities. He's since swung a bat, but bench coach Ryan Christenson referred to that as a "systems check." The 23-year-old hasn't hit yet.

    It's to the Padres' credit that they've done as well as they have without a shortstop who has averaged 48 home runs and 31 stolen bases per 162 games since 2019. Ha-Seong Kim, in particular, has done a fine job of holding things down at shortstop.

    On the whole, that is. More recently? Less so. Kim has slumped, and San Diego's shortstop production is barely above replacement level since May 17. As the Padres have also gotten middling production out of their lineup in that same span, their admirable record shouldn't distract from how much they could use Tatis.

    Panic Meter: 4


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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