When it was announced during the Cardinals' thrilling victory Sunday night that Yadier Molina had an oblique injury, Redbird faithful the world over assumed that the peerless catcher would be out for the short time that remained in the season. No reports came for some time that gave any reason to question that assumption.
But yesterday afternoon, word arrived that Yadier had indeed flown to San Francisco, and good news trickled in from there, as a glimmer of hope blossomed into a full-blown gleam of optimism.
Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz walking on to the field during BP. pic.twitter.com/NcXVofxHMP— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) October 13, 2014
Molina and Matheny both said Yadi can catch and throw without much discomfort. But: swinging the bat is a problem.— Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) October 13, 2014
How big of a loss is Yadier Molina?
Yadier Molina missing games this NLCS with an oblique injury is a huge loss for the Cardinals even if he hasn't quite been himself since returning from the disabled list after undergoing surgery on his right hand.
I've read a lot of tweets from folks skeptical about Yadi's ability to contribute anything. Certainly the Cardinals have been overly optimistic about this sort of thing in the past, and we're trained to hear "oblique" and think "out for weeks and weeks" because that's often the case. However, there are a few caveats.
The primary reasons players are often out for so long with oblique injuries are:
1. Like all strains, there's a risk of making it worse by using it while still at all injured, so caution is generally wise.
2. Swinging a bat is the primary reason why most players are worth playing, and that requires violently twisting the players' trunk.
These don't exactly apply to Yadi.
1. If he re-injures it or makes it worse, then he can rest for months, with the only loss being that roster spot for the days between today and the date of making it worse. If Molina injures it to a greater extent by trying to play and pushes it from a 3 week injury to a 6 week injury, for example, it doesn't hurt the team.
2. Yadi's primary value, as Ben wrote yesterday afternoon, is not his bat. If Molina does nothing but try to walk, bunt, or poke the ball lightly over the second baseman's head, he's still probably a more valuable player than AJ Pierzynski or Tony Cruz, and if he can't do those things, he could still come in as a defensive replacement.
Furthermore, oblique injuries don't always mean lengthy trips to the DL. Matt Adams played through a lingering oblique injury just last month, and ended up needing just a couple of days off. There are varying degrees of severity and different locations for the injury, and they don't always require the long recovery period we expect. We will likely never find out the exact location or degree of Yadi's, but it should be genuinely encouraging that he's in San Francisco and doing this:
Finally, there have been a lot of people specifically skeptical that he can throw as he needs to in a game situation with this injury. Now, the following is purely anecdotal, so do with it what you will. Stop reading if you're not interested in medical anecdote! Halt! Go away! If you're still with me: While I certainly did not expect it, I was not shocked by the news that Molina was throwing yesterday. I've strained my oblique multiple times in the past, and some of the occurrences have left me in enough pain that I would not be able to swing a bat. However, in each case the pain was isolated to certain specific movements. Unlike a hamstring strain, on which it is painful to do any athletic leg activity, when I've strained an oblique, I could do a lot of things, even some vigorous things with certain kinds and amounts of trunk rotation, unlimited by the injury. Only very specific movements left me breathless with pain.
I can't emphasize enough that this is mere anecdote. There are internal and external obliques that do different things, and I don't know if my injuries were to the same muscle, the same part of the muscle, or with similar severity as Yadi's, and of course I never attempted to throw out a runner from my knees with the condition. But as my experiences suggest, the oblique muscles are large, and different parts of them are contracted or stretched with different degrees and angles of motion. Each movement is different, and while Molina might not be too close to swinging a bat, it's not inconceivable that he could still throw at full or near full effectiveness.
While yesterday's stream of good news could be a smokescreen or misplaced faith in Yadier's toughness, it's not out of the question that the marvelous catcher's potential availability is real.