Getting injured players back
can be as important as a trade

Jun 20, 2006 5:41 AM

Baseball is a marathon. Patience and consistency are keys to being the best, qualities that are necessary in the world of sports wagering.

After all, the hot teams in May and June don’t win the World Series. It’s the team hottest in October. Have you forgotten the Angels and Marlins? At the end of the first month of the 2002 season, Anaheim was 11-14 and not considered a challenger in October.

A year later, Florida was 26-32 and looking up at the Braves, Phillies and Expos in the NL East. The Marlins were just one-game out of last place in the division and 100-1 to win the World Series. In October, they did.

Many times a team’s currently roster won’t be the one used in October, or even July. Managers are still tinkering with lineups, or practicing patience with slumping players hoping they’ll bust loose. General managers review team needs and plot trades to upgrade positions. Even minor leaguers can help.

In midseason of 1996, a youngster named Andruw Jones joined the Braves from the minors and was their starting center fielder in the World Series. This season, many talented teams have been waiting for key players to return from injuries. Here’s a few hoping to look different down the stretch.

Cubs: Call this season forgettable through mid-June. They haven’t hit and the starting pitching has been decimated by key injuries. There is some good news on the horizon. Ace righty Mark Prior appears ready to join the rotation after missing the first two-plus months of the season. Prior has been rehabbing from a strain in his right shoulder and threw 90 pitches during 6 2/3 innings last week in a start for Triple-A Iowa. He struck out 10 hitters, a very good sign for the Cubs.

First baseman Derrek Lee is still sidelined from a broken wrist he suffered in April. The defending NL batting champion (.335) was hitting .318 when he was injured. The cast was removed May 31 and Lee is planning to swing a bat this week. The duo’s healthy return is key if the Cubs intend to make a run at a first World Series title since 1908.

Angels: Anaheim, a 10-13 favorite to win the AL West, has spent much of the season occupying last place. However, there is a lot of hope. Darin Erstad (ankle) was back in center field after six week on the DL. Young pitcher Ervin Santana keeps getting better, and 6-foot-7 rookie Jered Weaver has jumped into the rotation providing an outstanding starting arm.

"I’m not an oddsmaker," Angels pitching coach Bud Black said last week, "but Jered has shown he deserves to get major league starts in the future." In addition, defending Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon came off the DL and was expected to pitch either Sunday or Monday. Teamed with Kelvim Escobar and John Lackey, the Angels could have one of the top rotations in baseball. The bullpen is already one of the best.

Astros: The defending NL champs have been a .500 team. There are signs of a possible surge. Andy Pettitte is pitching better after a terrible start. Ace righty Roy Oswalt (back sprain) returned last week from the 15-day DL, throwing six quality innings in a 5-4 against the Cubs that gave the Astros a seventh win in eight games.

Oh, and a guy named Clemens is closer to joining the rotation. Don’t write off the Houston Astros just yet.