Biertempfel: Teams try to get by without their stars
This year's NL Central title might hinge on the players who are out of their teams' lineups as much as those who are playing.
“The (star) power with the injuries is more significant this year than last year,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
In the span of just a few hours Wednesday, the division lost two top players to thumb injuries that required surgery. St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina will miss eight to 12 weeks. Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips will be out about six weeks.
The Cardinals already were missing two pieces of their rotation, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, who are out with shoulder problems. Garcia is done for the year, and Wacha won't get back on a mound for at least two weeks.
The Reds also are without reliever Sean Marshall (shoulder) and first baseman Joey Votto (left knee). Rookie of the year candidate Billy Hamilton missed time last week with a cranky hamstring.
The Milwaukee Brewers have been without pitcher Matt Garza and sluggers Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun at times. The Pirates have been forced to make do without Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Russell Martin and Neil Walker.
“When it's up the middle — when it's a catcher or one of your pitchers — it can have more (impact) as far as challenging you,” Hurdle said.
What's a team to do when its key players end up on the disabled list? Well, they don't whine about it, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
“We keep playing the game and realize that really good teams always have something that happens,” Matheny said. “They've got an opportunity to respond with pity or doubt or bow their neck and say, ‘OK, now watch what we do.' It's not what we wanted (but) we've got an opportunity here to step up and do something special.”
Hey, you're an All-Star
• What does it say about the Pirates that they have a “super utility” guy — someone without a fixed position and barely two seasons of major league service — who's an All-Star-caliber player? “It shows how tough our team is,” Josh Harrison said. “We've got a well-balanced team. On any given night, it can be anybody. We've got a team that, regardless of injuries or whatever, guys coming up and down, guys are welcomed. It's a loose clubhouse, and we feed off each other and play well together.”
• Harrison originally planned on spending the next four days at home with his wife and 5-month-old daughter. He was looking forward to a home-cooked meal from his mom, a belated birthday present. “But, you know ... things happen,” Harrison said with a smile.
It's fitting that the Pirates played in Cincinnati, Harrison's hometown, right before the All-Star break. He got to do a victory lap of sorts before heading off to Minneapolis — with his wife, little girl and parents in tow.
“Coming back home before I was an All-Star was overwhelming,” Harrison said. “We'd come in for three games, and everybody was like, ‘What are you doing after the game? I'd like to see you.' Now, coming back as an All-Star, it's all that to the max. Ever since the news last Sunday, my phone has been going off.”
• Great American Ball Park will be the site of next year's All-Star Game. Is Harrison letting himself dream ahead to 2015? “Aw, no,” he said. “I'm just thinking about today and going out and getting a win.”
• Well-traveled veteran Chris Dickerson hit .309 at Triple-A Indianapolis but didn't figure in the Pirates' outfield plans. After being traded for cash or a player to be named, Dickerson went 7 for 15 with four runs scored in his first four games with the Cleveland Indians. “That's what you hope for,” Dickerson told USA Today. “It's one thing to just come into the clubhouse and get acclimated ... but coming in and contributing is a huge deal.”
• They struggled in the Pirates' bullpen, but neither Jason Grilli nor Bryan Morris has allowed an earned run (through Thursday) since being traded. Grilli tossed six shutout innings for the Los Angeles Angels. Morris yielded three unearned runs in 21 1⁄3 innings with the Miami Marlins.
• Jordy Mercer was on the wrong end of one of the oddest plays I've seen in 20 years of covering baseball. Mercer was out at second base on a force play that was scored third baseman to ... um, center fielder.
It happened Thursday when the Pirates had the bases loaded and none out. Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter fielded a bunt and threw to second base before seeing there was nobody there to catch the ball. It rolled into shallow center field, where Jon Jay was backing up the play. Jay scooped the ball in stride and beat Mercer to the bag.
“Never seen that before,” Mercer said. “Probably never see it again, either.”