Sunday night, after the Giants activated Pablo Sandoval from the disabled list, I asked on Twitter which of the five big-name players coming off the DL this week would have the biggest impact on the pennant race.
One problem: I missed two of them.
There aren't five big-name players that could come off the DL this week. There are seven.
Seven players who have combined for 17 All-Star appearances, six batting titles, one MVP and two runners-up, four Gold Gloves and 15 Silver Sluggers.
And I didn't even include Jason Heyward, who began a rehabilitation assignment with the Braves' Triple-A Gwinnett team, and could be activated as soon as Wednesday.
Anyway, I'll ask the question again: Which one will have the biggest impact on the pennant race?
And I'll try to answer it:
1. Matt Holliday, Cardinals, left quadriceps, last played May 31, could return Thursday. When Holliday missed seven early-season games with appendicitis, the Cardinals scored just 18 runs and went 2-5. He's missed the last 11 games, and they've scored 49 runs and gone 5-6. They're a first-place team that scores plenty of runs when he plays, a sub-.500 team that struggles to score when he doesn't. Fortunately for the Cardinals, it looks reasonably certain that this Holliday absence won't last much longer.
2. Travis Hafner, Indians, right oblique, last played May 17, could return late this week. Even with Hafner, the Indians may not be good enough to hold on in the American League Central race. But it's clear that without him, they've got no chance. The numbers are skewed a little by the strong pitching Cleveland has faced since Hafner went out, but it's still stunning to see that they were shut out just once with him in the lineup -- and six times in the 24 games he has missed. The Indians were hitting .271 as a team when Hafner got hurt. They've hit .224 as a team (with a .289 on-base percentage and a .346 slugging percentage) without him. The Indians will go as far as their talented young hitters can take them, but those young hitters are hurting without Hafner's presence in the lineup. Hafner is due to begin a rehabilitation assignment Tuesday at Double-A Akron. The Indians have told him they'd like him to stay there three or four days.
3. Joe Mauer, Twins, bilateral leg weakness, last played April 12, could return Thursday. If the Twins weren't already nine games out, Mauer would top this list. If they were still 20 games under .500, as they were a couple weeks back, he'd be farther down the list. The Twins aren't nearly the same team without Mauer, but his impact on the pennant race is limited by how bad they've been without him -- and by the continuing uncertainty about how effective he'll be when he returns.
4. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins, back inflammation, last played May 29, expected to return Tuesday. The Marlins, finishing up a brutal offensive homestand that cost hitting coach John Mallee his job, obviously need a boost. Ramirez, a one-time National League batting champ, could obviously provide it. But will he? Ramirez hit just .210 in 48 games before going on the DL. Even with that, the Marlins were just two games behind the Phillies when Ramirez last played. They're seven games out now, and he'll be back for the start of a four-game series in Philadelphia.
5. Magglio Ordonez, Tigers, right ankle weakness, last played May 10, returning Monday night. If he hits .172, as he did before the Tigers put him on the DL, he's the least important guy on this list. If he's a .300 hitter, as he has been for most of his career (including last year), he's as important as anyone, and might be enough to make the Tigers clear favorites in the AL Central.
6. Pablo Sandoval, Giants, fractured hamate bone, last played April 29, will return Tuesday. The way the Giants struggle to score runs, some will make the case that the Panda is as important as anyone. I dropped him down only because the Giants went 25-16 in his absence. Yes, Buster Posey is out of the lineup now, but the Giants are above .500 since he's been out, too.
7. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals, abdominal surgery, last played April 9, expected to return Tuesday. The Nationals without Zimmerman might be the worst offensive team in the game. The Nationals with Zimmerman could hope to escape last place by passing the Mets. It's hard to say Zimmerman will impact the pennant race, except by making the Nationals a significantly tougher opponent.