Can these injured MLB stars turn the tide when they return?


Every so often baseball likes to remind us that the unexpected can happen at any time. As much as we try to analyze the game and occasionally feel like we’re on the verge of figuring things out, we get something no one in their right mind could have predicted.

Like an obscure rookie tossing a no-hitter in his first major league start.

Last weekend, Arizona Diamondbacks Rule 5 pickup Tyler Gilbert (and not Logan Gilbert, the Seattle Mariners’ first-round pick in the 2018 draft) tossed MLB’s eighth no-no of the season. Gilbert, 27, had three scoreless relief appearances under his belt before blanking the San Diego Padres in storybook fashion.

As we head into the stretch run, the quality of opponents may be the key to pitching success. The Padres’ lineup Gilbert faced, for example, was missing the team’s best hitter in Fernando Tatis Jr. (He has since returned.) And three of this year’s weakest offenses – Cleveland, Seattle and Texas – have each been no-hit twice.

The difference between the haves and have nots has only been amplified by the record-breaking number of deals at this season’s trade deadline.

As the week began, two teams were mired in 12-game losing streaks. The Baltimore Orioles were outscored 113-36 during theirs, while the Chicago Cubs were trampled by a mere 101-43 margin.

In the month since the All-Star break, the Orioles and Cubs are two of seven MLB teams averaging 4.0 runs per game or less. (The Texas Rangers have been the game’s least potent offense, scoring just 2.71 runs per game over that span. Also anemic: the Angels, Pirates, Mets and Royals.)

While it may be next to impossible to identify the next Tyler Gilbert, the best way to help your fantasy team’s pitching stats down the stretch is by taking advantage of those kinds of favorable matchups.

Injured list to instant impact?

As the week began, MLB teams were all around the 120-game mark, which means there’s roughly one-quarter of the season remaining.

For fantasy teams to make a major move in the standings, it’s probably going to take a little more than just hoping your entire roster catches fire at the same time. The easiest way is to get a major upgrade at one or more roster spots. But with the trade deadline already past, one more miracle option still exists: an injured player’s return to full health.

We’ve already seen the kind of impact Eloy Jimenez has provided since he was activated on July 26. In his first 15 games, the Chicago White Sox outfielder hit .333 with six homers and 19 RBI. Replacing your worst starter with that kind of production can give fantasy teams a turbo boost in the standings.

Who else could be on the way to help save a fantasy season?

SP Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox. Internet comedians noted things are looking good for Sale following another impressive “minor league rehab start” on Sunday – against the Orioles – in which he allowed two runs over five innings and struck out eight. But unlike Gilbert, Sale’s success was entirely predictable given his talent and the quality of his opponent. Coming back from elbow surgery 17 months ago, Sale may not go deep into games, but the starts he makes should be good ones. Impact: High.

OF Kyle Schwarber, Red Sox. Schwarber was one of the hottest hitters in the majors (16 homers in 21 games) when he suffered a hamstring injury in early July as a member of the Washington Nationals. After being traded to the Red Sox and finally being activated over the weekend, Schwarber had a pair of doubles, two walks and three runs scored in his first two games. A full-time designated hitter for the first time in his career, Schwarber should thrive in a potent Red Sox offense. And the rest between at-bats should help preserve his health. Impact: High.

OF Luis Robert, White Sox. In his first action in more than three months due to a hip injury, Robert hit .300 with a homer, three RBI and three runs scored. He’ll hit near the top of the order going forward, but the injury could curtail his stolen base totals. Impact: Medium.

OF Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins. Out of action with a broken hand since late June, Buxton could begin a rehab assignment next week. At the time of his injury, he was putting together an MVP-caliber season – with a .369/.409/.767 slash line, 10 homers and five steals in 110 plate appearances. But staying healthy has always been elusive for him and there’s no guarantee he’ll avoid another injury once he returns. Impact: Medium.

OF Eddie Rosario, Atlanta Braves. A trade deadline pickup from Cleveland, Rosario has been out since early July with an abdominal strain. He has struggled to find his timing during his rehab assignment and may not be at full strength when he’s activated. Though he does have home run power, especially versus right-handers, he may only be a part-time player in the Braves’ revamped outfield. Impact: Medium.

OF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels. Out since May 18 with a calf injury, Trout still hasn’t been able to run at full speed. Although the Angels haven’t discussed shutting him down entirely, time is not on his side as he looks to make it back before the season’s end. Impact: Low.

SP Shane Bieber, Cleveland. The reigning AL Cy Young award winner threw a bullpen session over the weekend for the first time since a mid-June shoulder injury. That’s encouraging news, but Bieber will still need multiple rehab starts before returning to the majors. Cleveland being out of playoff contention reduces the urgency to get him back on the mound this season. Impact: Low.

SS Adalberto Mondesi, Kansas City Royals. I’ll admit being one of those banking on Mondesi to vault my team back into contention. We remember how much of a five-category difference-maker he was last September … but that was during a shortened 2020 season. Even a similar showing this September can’t make up for the lost stats from the previous five months. After being pulled from his rehab assignment over the weekend, he may not even make it back at all. Impact: Low.

SP Jacob deGrom, New York Mets. Perhaps the greatest “what if” of 2021, deGrom’s amazing dominance (7-2, 1.08 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, 146 K in 92 IP) was sadly derailed by forearm and elbow issues. After his latest MRI still showed signs of inflammation, it’s possible he won’t make another start this season. Impact: Low.

Follow Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner

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