Watching the Brewers-Cubs games Wednesday night, I got a sick feeling in my stomach when Rickie Weeks hit the deck after injuring his ankle legging out an infield single. It wasn’t just because I have an aversion to ankle injuries, having suffered plenty in my life; but it is because I know how important Rickie is to the Brewers.
Weeks has spent most of the year in the leadoff role, playing well enough to be selected as the All-Star starter at second base. He’s a guy who is crucial to the Brewers if they want to make a playoff run, perhaps even moreso than guys like Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder. Braun and Fielder are replaceable for a period of time (though certainly not both together), because I think their roles as run producers can be supplanted by the other getting hot or players like Casey McGehee or Corey Hart stepping up.
But Weeks is different.
His combination of speed, power, hustle and versatility within the Milwaukee lineup makes him, in my opinion, the player the Brewers can least afford to lose. As a Brewers fan, here’s hoping Weeks is only out about 2-3 weeks and Milwaukee can tread water in the NL Central until then.
The injury also got me to thinking who the most irreplaceable players on other contenders are. Like in the Brewers’ case, it’s not always the best player, but often it is the player that has a unique role within the team that has made them successful to this point so far.
San Francisco Giants: Brian Wilson
In San Fran, the choice is fairly obvious. The offense is by no means spectacular, and the pitching staff could withstand the loss of a guy like Tim Lincecum for a period of time. The guy they could not afford to lose is Wilson. The offense does not give him more than a one-run lead very often, but knowing that they have a lockdown closer like him in the pen makes the Giants the team they are.
St. Louis Cardinals: Jaime Garcia
When healthy, the offense is one of the best in the bigs, led by Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, and the like. The pitching staff hasn’t been quite as good, suffering the loss of Adam Wainwright and dealing with a below-average year from ace Chris Carpenter. Enter Garcia, who is leading the Cards in wins (10), ERA (3.01) and strikeouts (111).
Philadelphia Phillies: Shane Victorino
The key to many great pitching staffs is a great defense behind them, and the best teams are solid defensively up the middle. Victorino provides Gold Glove-caliber defense in centerfield, all while hitting in the ever-important fifth hole, right after Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. And so far this season, Victorino has delivered, leading the Phillies with an OPS of .885.
Boston Red Sox: Jacoby Ellsbury
The Red Sox can spend all the money they want on guys like Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, but I think most people would agree that they have only had a 50 percent success rate on those guys so far this season. Their most important player has been Ellsbury, their leadoff man, who has played excellent defense and has driven in 60 runs, fourth on the team behind Gonzo, Kevin Youkilis and Big Papi. He’s also got a .383 OBP and has been wreaking havoc on the basepaths whenever he’s gotten on, stealing 29 bases, good for sixth in the league.
New York Yankees: CC Sabathia
The Yankees have bought a high-octane offense, but the most important person to the Bronx Bombers is their ace. The Yankees do not have a great pitching staff and will rely on the league wins leader, who is sporting a solid 2.56 ERA and is third in the league in strikeouts (156), come playoff time. As a Brewers fans, I’ve seen first hand how great CC can be down the stretch, and I expect nothing less in New York.
Texas Rangers: Adrian Beltre
The Rangers face a similar situation as the Brewers, needing to replace an All-Star infielder. The Rangers are built on offense, so they will be able to withstand the loss of Beltre in that respect given that they have players like Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz still in their lineup. Beltre’s defense is what sets him apart from the rest of his teammates. The Rangers should be able to hold off the rest of the mediocre AL West, but losing Beltre does not help their cause.
Chicago White Sox: Jake Peavy
Guys like Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin should be enough to do what will be required of the offense to win the AL Central, and the South Siders have their ace in Mark Buehrle. It will be the rest of the pitching staff that will need to step up in order for the White Sox to be really successful, and much of that success rests on how well Jake Peavy can pitch from here on out. He has an ERA over six in his last ten outings, where he is 3-4, and Chicago will need more production out of him to hold of the Tigers (and the Twins, perhaps?) in their division.