Baseball 101: Injury report
is necessary reading
for bettors

May 25, 2004 1:42 AM

Injuries in all sports can play a key role in a team’s performance, both straight up and against the number. Baseball is unique as there are games almost every day for six months, making it a necessity to keep up on injuries.

Also, as professional athletes go, pitchers can be extremely fragile. Kerry Wood was rookie pitcher of the year in 1998, and the next season didn’t play at all after shoulder surgery. Ace lefty Randy Johnson had back trouble and played without a new contract when he started 9-10 in 1998 with the Mariners.

It’s essential for sports bettors to keep detailed tabs on baseball injuries, especially with games nearly every day. Some teams can survive injuries and perform well, while other teams can melt faster than ice in a hot toddy.

The Cubs have been without ace righty Mark Prior all season with an Achilles problem. Prior was 18-6 last season with 245 strikeouts, yet Chicago has been able to cope, led by a deep pitching staff.

It will be interesting to see if the Cubs continue to hang with Houston for first place in the Central Division as they’ve been hit with even more injuries lately. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez is still out (broken wrist), and second basemen Todd Walker and Mark Grudzielanek have been hurting. Wood (triceps) will miss a start or two and star slugger Sammy Sosa went on the DL when back spasms were brought on after two violent sneezes.

Talk about a curse on the Cubbies!

If you’re betting sides and totals, knowledge of certain injuries can be helpful to your cause. Sosa hit his 10th home run in a 7-5 win over the Padres in a game that went over the total, then the next day sat out with back trouble as the Cubs won a 4-2 game that went under the total.

The Braves had a lousy week when their starting shortstop and second baseman went down, fanning 18 times against Ben Sheets and then having Johnson throw a perfect game at them. Shortstop Rafael Furcal has ankle troubles while 2B Marcus Giles broke his collarbone and is out at least a month. The Braves were already one of the poorest defensive teams in the NL, so it will be worth watching closely if the defense gets even worse with those two key infield cogs ailing.

In the 16-team NL the Diamondbacks rank 13th in batting average. A big reason is two offensive players they were counting on, 2B Roberto Alomar and 1B Richie Sexson, have missed much of the season. For sports bettors, the disappointing D-Backs were -26% in return on investment after 37 games.

The Angels have been the most remarkable story this season. A rash of injuries reminiscent of an epidemic has hobbled Anaheim, yet they seem to take on the character of their hard-nosed manager, Mike Scioscia, and just keep on rolling.

Last week, key Anaheim players Troy Glaus, Garrett Anderson, Tim Salmon, Darin Erstad and pitcher Brendan Donnelly were out. All were huge contributors during the run to the World Series title two years ago.

Three-time All-Star 3B Glaus was leading the AL in home runs (11 in just 108 AB), but will now have surgery on his right shoulder and could be out for the season. By the way, Glaus was 20-to-1 to lead the league in home runs — a tough break for futures’ bettors. Despite the injuries, the Angels began the season with a 26-13 record. Speedy CF Chone Figgins has come up from the minors and played well, along with veteran outfielder Jerry DaVanon and reliable utility infielder Shane Halter.

Contrast the overachieving Angels with the Red Sox. The second highest payroll team in baseball has been in a slide of late after a hot start. The Red Sox have played all season without star players SS Nomar Garciaparra and RF Trot Nixon. The Boston defense has suffered badly (13th in the AL) and continues to lack consistent clutch hitting.

The Kansas City Royals have stumbled largely because of injuries to the starting pitching staff. Projected starters Runelvys Hernandez, Miguel Asencio and Kevin Appier are all on the shelf. The last-place Royals have a minus-29% ROI.

Not much was expected of the Colorado Rockies this season, and they’ve lived down to that billing. It hasn’t helped that big-name players Larry Walker, Preston Wilson and lefty starter Denny Neagle are out. Walker and Neagle have yet to play, while Wilson has no homers in 18 at- bats.

Neagle ($9 million), Walker ($12.6 million) and Wilson ($9 million) are three of the top four highest paid players on the Rockies. It usually doesn’t help a team’s chances when your big guns spend more time in the trainer’s room than on the field.