Chipper is down, and so too are the Braves.
It was a sobering night for Braves fans, as we face the prospect that we could be without our third baseman and three-hole hitter for an extended period of time. Chipper Jones made an unbelievable throw to first base in the sixth inning of Tuesday's game -- fielding, turning, throwing in one leaping motion -- throwing out the running from across the diamond. But when he landed he immediately when into a crumpled mass of pain on the ground.
After a few minutes Chipper limped off the field and into the clubhouse. Braves fans, and likely the Braves themselves, thought the worse. Memories of the ACL tear in the same knee back in 1994 began to cross everyone's mind. Would knee injuries be the bookends of his Hall of Fame career?
This morning, though, is better news. While there is little doubt that Chipper will need to spend some time on the all too familiar disabled list, there is a hope that the worst outcome -- an ACL tear -- could be avoided. Chipper after the game:
"He told me out on the field, your ACL is stable. When I did it the first time, if I locked out my knee and I had weight on it, the top half of my leg would roll over the bottom half. And that’s not happening [this time].
"I’m pretty confident it’s not the ACL. There might be a slight tear, but it’s not completely torn." [...]
"But I’ve got a very distinct pain on the lower left side of my knee. Just got to wait for the MRI."
Measured optimism, I'd say. This raises some unfortunate questions. The first being, 'who would play third base?' This injury happened at a time when the most likely candidate, Martin Prado, is also on the disabled list, and not available until Monday. Brooks Conrad, who filled in and won the game for the Braves, is the candidate by default. This will certainly consume what's left of our reserve middle infielders, and force more inexperienced players into bench roles, greatly weakening the Braves bench -- which was a strength of the team.
If Chipper is out for any extended period of time, the Braves would have to think about making a trade for a starting infielder. While Conrad has shown a propensity for late-inning heroics, he's certainly not the type of player who can match the production or presence that Chipper Jones brings to the Braves lineup on an everyday basis.
The only options on the 40-man roster to replace an infielder are Diory Hernandez, already in the Majors to replace Prado, and Brandon Hicks, who proved unprepared for the Major Leagues in his brief appearances this year. The only other options in the Braves system are likely organizational player Wes Timmons and journeyman Joe Thurston, and while Thurston has Major League experience, he's not that good.
With the Braves offense already struggling, and one of our regulars (Prado) already out, the prospect of losing Chipper is a harsh one for the Braves. Certainly no more injuries can be accounted for, and under-performers like Troy Glaus must turn things around; after a home run last night there are signs that he is returning to form.
As Chipper, the Braves, and all of Braves Country wait for news on the knee, we all hope for the best, but somehow expect the worse. What should the Braves do if Chipper is out for a long time? What should they do even if is only out for a couple of weeks? Is it now imperative that Frank Wren make a trade to at least acquire an insurance policy against a Chipper-less playoff run? Discuss.