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Three Strikes: Mets’ injury woes; White Sox join rare club

The Mets added two more players to their growing injury list on Friday, while the White Sox joined a rare club and more spots on the All-Star teams opened up.

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Having defeated the Nationals 9–7 on Thursday night to pull within three games of the first-place Nats with three head-to-head games in Queens remaining prior to the All-Star break, the Mets woke up on Friday with visions of being tied for first place at the break. They might have been better off staying asleep. Friday morning it was announced that Matt Harvey would have season-ending surgery to alleviate the symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. That evening, New York not only lost the second game of their series to Washington, guaranteeing that it would head into the break in second place, but lost its two best players to injury, as well.

The game offered the marquee pitching matchup of All-Stars Stephen Strasburg and Noah Syndergaard, and ended with a tidy 3–1 score, but it was a devastating loss for New York. Washington jumped out to an early lead on a two-run homer by Clint Robinson in the top of the second, then added to that lead when Daniel Murphy drove home Jayson Werth with a double in the top of the third.

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That double went over the head of Mets All-Star centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes, then ricocheted back off the wall and back over his head. Cespedes made an unsuccessful leaping attempt to corral the ball and strained his right quadriceps in the process. When the Mets came back out to the field in the top of the fourth, Cespedes stayed behind and the expectation is that he will not play again until after the All-Star break, missing not only the final two games of this weekend’s series against the Nats, but forgoing his starting assignment in the All-Star Game, as well.

An inning later, Syndergaard’s velocity dipped noticeably and he was removed after seven pitches with what the team is calling a dead arm. He, too, is expected to miss the All-Star Game.

The All-Star break could be the Mets’ saving grace with regard to these injuries, as it buys Cespedes an extra four days off, meaning he can get six days to rest his sore quad while missing just two games. As for Syndergaard, with the Mets being able to re-set their rotation after the break, they could give Syndergaard 10 days off before his next start without having to use an extra starter, good news given that Harvey’s injury has already forced them to counter Max Scherzer with Logan Verrett on Saturday. Whether or not that six days for Cespedes or 10 days for Syndergaard will be enough, however, remains to be seen.

Syndergaard’s injury is the greater long-term concern. There’s nothing mysterious about a quad strain, particularly for a player who dealt with a contusion on that thigh earlier in the year. However, “dead arm” is not a phrase one wants to hear associated with a 23-year-old stud who threw 65 2/3 more innings last year (postseason included) than he ever had before.

The optimistic view is that dead arms are not uncommon for pitchers, and Syndergaard said he felt no pain at all in his arm, no discomfort at all, not even in his elbow, where he had previously been diagnosed with a minor bone spur. “It’s that time of year, my first full season in the big leagues. I’ve throw a lot of pitches, a lot of innings,” Syndergaard told the media after the game. “It’s a long season. You put a lot of pressure on your body. I just need a little break.”

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Syndergaard said the fatigue was building up during the game, but that he started to really notice it in the fourth inning. When he came out for the fifth, his warm up pitches, all fastballs, “just weren’t coming out the way I wanted them to.” Syndergaard noticed that his pitches “didn’t have that late life,” and confirmed the drop in his velocity by checking the Citi Field scoreboard. “I could tell something wasn’t necessarily right.”

Still, he didn’t seem overly concerned, describing the injury as “a little shoulder fatigue” pointing out that he’s already had two MRIs on his elbow this season which showed a “very healthy ligament” and reiterating that he felt no pain, later even backing off from the shoulder-fatigue comment by saying it was hard to pin-point the area of concern, labeling it instead, “overall arm fatigue.”

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The alarmist reaction is to wonder if Syndergaard, in compensating for the discomfort in his elbow caused by the bone spur, has put undo strain on his shoulder, causing what is known in sports medicine as a cascade injury. Syndergaard is a young product of American high schools who throws 100 miles per hour when healthy. He fits the profile for serious arm injury, it often seems as though it’s just a matter of time until something in his right arm snaps or tears. To hear Syndergaard tell it, this is not that time.

The Mets obviously hope not. In the meantime, they are now four games behind Washington in the East and in danger of falling further behind with Cespedes out of action and that unfavorable pitching matchup on Saturday. The Mets came into this series thinking there was a chance they could enter the All-Star break tied for first place. They’re now hoping they can avoid entering the break six games back. With Strasburg looking better than ever since coming off the disabled list on Sunday—his first 10 2/3 innings since returning, including the first four in this game, were hitless—while the Mets’ injuries pile up—Harvey and David Wright lost for the season, Lucas Duda likely out through at least the end of the month, Zack Wheeler’s potential return from Tommy John surgery at least a month beyond that due to setbacks and now Cespedes and Syndergaard lost for an as-yet-to-be-determined amount of time—a six-game deficit, even this early in the season, could be insurmountable for New York.

. . . And Then There Were Three

The White Sox tied a major league record with their third triple play of the season Friday night. Chicago had previously turned triple plays on April 22 against the Rangers and May 18 against the Astros. No team has ever turned four triple plays in a single season, and the last year in which a team turned three in a season was 1979, when the Red Sox and A’s did so. The White Sox are the 11th major league team since the creation of the National League in 1876 to turn three triple plays in a season, adding their names to this list (*American Association team):

1882 Cincinnati Red Stockings*
1885 New York Giants
1886 Brooklyn Grays*
1890 Rochester Broncos*
1911 Detroit Tigers
1924 Boston Red Sox
1964 Philadelphia Phillies
1965 Chicago Cubs
1979 Oakland Athletics
1979 Boston Red Sox
2016 Chicago White Sox

Chicago’s first triple play was a wild one that began with a fly to rightfield and a runner getting caught off base after trying to get back to first base and ended with Prince Fielder caught in a rundown off third base. The official scoring was 9-3-2-6-2-5.

The second was a more conventional around-the-horn 5-4-3 triple play with force-outs at third second and first, all accomplished in the less-than-five seconds it took George Springer to get from the right-handed batter’s box to first base.

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Friday night’s required some quick thinking from rookie shortstop Tim Anderson. With runners on first and second, Freddie Freeman hit a sinking liner just to the left of second base, which is where Anderson was playing with the infield pulled around against the lefty slugger. Anderson caught the ball on a short hop, but the runner on second, leftfielder Chase d’Arnaud, reacted as though Anderson was going to catch the ball on the fly, retreated to second only to realize his mistake after it was too late. In the time it took Anderson to make three quick steps toward second, he had to process the second-base umpire’s call of no catch then decide whether or not to tag d’Arnaud or step on second. If he had stepped on second first, it would have eliminated the force and rendered d’Arnaud, who had reached the bag ahead of Anderson, safe. However, Anderson, playing in just his 26th major league game, made the correct play. He tagged d’Arnaud out, then stepped on second to retire the runner coming from first base, then threw to first to force out Freeman for the third out.

Triple plays are pure flukes, but if the White Sox can turn just one more in their remaining 76 games, they’ll become the first team in the first 141 years of major league play to turn four triple plays in a single season.

Beyond the Final Vote

Michael Saunders and Brandon Belt won the Final Vote campaign for the final All-Star roster spot in their respective leagues. However, that final spot is never actually the final spot. We have already seen six players replaced due to injury or fatigue concerns, with Clayton Kershaw, Wade Davis, Matt Carpenter and Marco Estrada on the disabled list, Madison Bumgarner scheduled to start on Sunday,  disqualifying him from participation, and Strasburg being removed due to the recency of his disabled list stay. Now the NL will have to replace Cespedes and Syndergaard, and the AL may have to replace Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, who was unavailable Friday night due to a sore left knee. As things stand, 74 players have been named All-Stars this year. Cespedes and Syndergaard’s replacements will make it 76, matching last year’s total and pushing the number of All-Stars past 10% of all active major leaguers.

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Don’t look for Gregory Polanco to replace Cespedes, however. Polanco left the Pirates’ 8–4 win over the Cubs Friday night game with a tight hamstring. Perhaps the NL could turn to Polanco’s teammate Starling Marte or Arizona’s Jake Lamb, both of whom were more deserving than Belt, to whom they lost the Final Vote, just as the AL’s George Springer and Ian Kinsler were more deserving than Saunders, whose poor play in the field in the wake of last season’s knee surgery has undermined his impressive production at the plate. However it shakes out, Belt and Saunders are far from the last men to make this year’s All-Star squads.