There are so many side-effects of Jason Heyward‘s injury to consider – how to handle the on-field concerns is a big part, but there’s more: namely, his time-to-return and the Braves’ Won-Loss record vis-a-vis positioning for the playoffs.
Today is August 22nd. Jason is expected to have surgery to stabilize his jaw, which is broken in two places. Early reports suggest a 6-8 week recovery. In all honesty, that’s probably a minimum time frame, given the need for this surgery. But let’s check the date book:
(click on the graphic to embiggen for clarity)
This is dicey for Atlanta. The absolute earliest that Heyward might be available is for the first round of the playoffs. Second round – the National League Championship Series represents a more likely scenario, though any delays at all would put his return into the World Series. It is also unclear at this point how much work he’ll be able to do before seeing any game action. Specifically, these questions have unknown answers at this point:
- When would he be cleared to run
- What kinds of other conditioning/workouts will he be allowed to do, and when
- Can he find a decent nutrition program (given the apparent need for a liquid diet for a while) to keep from losing weight/strength
- Will the jaw surgery stabilize the fractures enough to resume baseball activities at any point prior to the 6-8 week quote we’ve heard
- What kind of work would be available to get timing back once cleared (note that the minor league seasons will be done by then – only simulated games would be available)
The Braves will have to get a number of ducks in a row to stay as much ahead of Jason’s recovery milestones as possible if he has any chance of returning this season. Undoubtedly, they will do so, but it’s important to know that even such preparations might not be sufficient, depending on what is learned in the operating room today.
The other major aspect is whether Atlanta will be able to hold on to their lead in the race for home field advantage in the playoffs… vitally important given their 44-18 record in Atlanta. Pittsburgh, for example, has a similarly lopsided 42-22 record at home.
As of this morning, the NL standings look like this:
- #1 Seed: Atlanta (77-49)
- #2 Seed: Los Angeles (74-52, 3 games behind). Wins seed due to 4-2 head-to-head advantage over Pittsburgh
- #3 Seed: Pittsburgh (74-52)
- Wild Card #1: St. Louis (73-53), 1 game behind PIT
- Wild Card #2: Cincinnati (72-55), 1.5 games behind STL
Braves Schedule: After the next week (St. Louis and Cleveland), it’s truly easy for all of September. But without Heyward, it’s hard to imagine a run like the team has been on since the All-Star break. Overall, I would expect something around 20-16 to finish from here.
LA Schedule: They’ve been on fire, but it does look to be a little tougher for them. Boston and Cincinnati are the big out-of-division series’s. Seven games remain with Arizona, and they won’t roll over. Otherwise, they see the rest of their own division a lot. Still, 24-12 would hardly be a shock, which would overtake Atlanta for home field advantage.
Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati. Brutal schedules among all three teams fighting for playoff positioning. In fact, Arizona – despite being 6 games behind in the Wild Card – isn’t really out of it since all three of these teams will be involved in a seemingly constant slugfest with each other for the rest of the year. Cincy gets the DBacks (ends today; 2-1 series lead) and Dodgers early (Sept 6-8) but Houston late (Sept. 16-18). They probably have the worst schedule. But if any of these teams win more than 50%, then they will gain ground on the others.
Playoff Matchup Projections
Given all that, I would estimate the following:
- Cincy holds off Arizona for the final Wild Card spot and goes to Pittsburgh, who can’t hold on vs. the Cards for the division title.
- Winner of that game goes to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers in the NLDS.
- That leaves Atlanta to host the Cardinals
Atlanta’s progress through the playoffs will depend on how well they can hit good pitching – whether from the Dodgers, Cardinals, or Pirates (yes, I’m discounting the Reds to a great extent). Heyward’s presence is an important – vital – part of that. Let’s pray for no further bad news from his surgery today.
@Braves Jason Heyward underwent surgery today to repair his fractured jaw. Two plates were placed in his jaw, one plate on each fracture site. …. Heyward’s procedure was performed today by Dr. Glenn Maron in Atlanta, Ga.
FYI: In the event of a season-ending W-L tie with the LA Dodgers, the Braves would win that tiebreaker as a result of beating them in 5 of their 7 head-to-head games this year.