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Can Arizona Win Without Stephen Drew?

Stephen Drew could miss the start of the 2012 season. The soon-to-be-29-year-old has been slow to recover from a devastating ankle fracture, which ended his season in mid-July. With the Arizona Diamondbacks defending their National League West crown, Drew’s return will play a big role if the D-Backs plan to repeat.

Looking at players who have suffered similar injuries, we see how Drew is recovering and how much time he should be expected to miss this season.

Player Year Injury Date Injured Time on DL
Bobby Crosby 2005 Ankle fracture Aug. 28 22 days
Jerry Hairston Jr. 2004 Ankle fracture Aug. 18 Ended season
Koyie Hill 2004 Ankle fracture Aug. 18 Ended season
Aaron Rowand 2006 Ankle fracture Aug. 22 Ended season
Adam Rosales 2010 Stress fracture in ankle Aug. 12 Ended season/out until following June
Magglio Ordonez 2010 Ankle fracture July 25 Ended season
Ryan Doumit 2007 Ankle fracture Sept. 9 Ended season

Looking at the table, there’s some evidence that suggests Drew might not miss significant time this year. Unless indicated above, most of the players who suffered season-ending ankle injuries managed to return the following season and play in April. The only exception is Adam Rosales, who suffered a stress fracture in his ankle. Rosales had been dealing with ankle injuries throughout the 2010 season — and it’s possible this injury was initially misdiagnosed as something else — which could explain why it took him so long to recover.

The most common rehab for an ankle injury seems to be about four to six weeks, depending on the injury’s severity. But since many of these guys had the entire off-season to recover, it’s tough to know whether that timeline is accurate. The only player who was able to recover in time to play again in the same season was Bobby Crosby, who somehow spent just 22 days on the disabled list following an ankle fracture. Unless you have superhuman ankles, it’s more than likely you’ll need that four- to six-week time frame to recover.

It’s also tough to determine the severity of Drew’s injury when compared to these players. Remember that Drew also suffered ligament damage, which could add time to his recovery. Hairston, on the other hand, didn’t even require surgery for his fracture.

So we know that the Diamondbacks are dealing with a lot of uncertainties. Obviously, every player’s recovery is different. But based on recent history — and the fact that Drew has already been cleared for some baseball activities — let’s assume he misses the season’s first month. Would that sink Arizona’s season?

Drew’s replacements don’t inspire much confidence: John McDonald was brought in this off-season as a defensive replacement, but he might be one of the worst hitters in baseball. He’s hardly the type of guy the Diamondbacks want to push into a starting role, and it’s likely he’d be a late-inning defensive replacement. If Drew does miss some time at the start of the season, Willie Bloomquist likely would be the temporary starting short stop. He’s fast on the bases, but his defense is unpredictable and he’s a terrible hitter. He hardy resembles a major-league-quality starter.

Obviously, the fewer games Bloomquist and McDonald need to start, the better it’ll be for the Diamondbacks. While two weeks from these guys won’t kill their team in the long run, things could get more challenging if Drew’s injury continues to sideline him. The Diamondbacks were able to win the NL West without him for much of the past season, but Arizona isn’t a heavy favorite to repeat this year. History says that Drew should be healthy sooner rather than later, which bodes well for this team. But if he misses more time than expected, the Diamondbacks will struggle to replace his production. That could be the difference in what could become a crowded NL West race.