SAN FRANCISCO — In a perfect playoff world, Stephen Strasburg would be on the mound in the nation's capital, Mariano Rivera might be closing it out in the Bronx and Melky Cabrera might deliver a timely hit by the bay.
Bartolo Colon would be starting for Oakland, Ryan Madson pitching the ninth in Cincinnati.
Call this the depleted postseason. Almost every club headed to the playoffs has dealt with a devastating loss of some sort.
Workload, injuries and performance-enhancing drugs — there are all kinds of reasons teams are playing several men down.
The Bay Area took the biggest hit — with a long list of absent players on the Giants and Athletics. Each club moved forward seemingly unfazed, with San Francisco winning its second NL West title in three years and Oakland capturing the AL West crown on the regular season's final day.
"Twenty-nine teams are going to finish with a loss, and I'd say the No. 1 reason is health, which makes it more spectacular where we are," Oakland's Jonny Gomes said.
Both teams also lost a key player because of performance enhancing drugs, both to positive testosterone tests exactly one week apart. First it was Cabrera on Aug. 15, then Colon on Aug. 22.
"I think every team, when something like that happens, they try to make a statement, to bring the best they can bring, because they still have a job to do," Giants center fielder Angel Pagan said. "And it's about believing if you have enough, too. All these teams, they believe that they can get it done. We knew that we didn't have our closer, but we also knew that we had a great bullpen." Giants' closer Brian Wilson had season-ending surgery in April.
Ending Strasburg's season early was a front-office decision. Washington made the call to shut down its prized pitcher based on workload after 1591/3 innings and a 15-6 record. Since early May, the New York Yankees have coped without career saves leader Rivera, who underwent surgery on his right knee in June.
Cabrera tested positive for testosterone and received a 50-game suspension in mid-August. The Giants since decided not to bring him back in the postseason if they're still playing when he's eligible — happy with the current roster and certain their public image would take another hit.
Cincinnati missed Madson, who's out for the year with a torn ligament in his elbow, and fellow relievers Nick Masset and Bill Bray also were lost before the year began. Even manager Dusty Baker spent a stint away from the team for 11 games — including the NL Central clincher and Homer Bailey's no-hitter while healing from a mini-stroke and irregular heartbeat.
Texas trudged along after starter Neftali Feliz underwent elbow-ligament replacement surgery this summer and without former postseason star Colby Lewis. Then, there's 2011 World Series star Lance Berkman of St. Louis recovering from his second knee surgery of the season Sept. 11, and long-gone Tigers All-Star Victor Martinez healing from a knee operation.
The Yankees won the AL East and earned the AL's No. 1 seed with a rout of the rival Red Sox in Game 162, but might have been in a far more favorable position and resting the regulars with Rivera still around.
"It's hard to say. You don't know where you would be at," manager Joe Girardi said. "Injuries are hard to predict, when you're going to have them and how you overcome them and what the guys do. ... Obviously we're all a little bit curious, but I don't think it's anything you can predict. But it does seem like we're getting healthier."
Baltimore manager Buck Showalter lost three leadoff hitters to injury. Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts both underwent season-ending surgery, and Nick Markakis broke his left thumb last month when hit by a pitch.
"It's probably as good a team as I've ever had at staying in the moment," Showalter said.
The Braves lost starter Brandon Beachy, who was tied for the best ERA in the majors when he went down in June and underwent Tommy John surgery.
Strasburg's last start came on Sept. 7, when he lasted only three innings and allowed five earned runs against Miami. While the Nationals were expected to let him pitch one more time, he was shut down the following day.
He was out on the field, celebrating with teammates on Monday night, when the Nationals clinched the NL East title. "Just a great feeling, to be a part of this," he said.
Across the bay in Oakland, the A's are without several starters in what became an all-rookie rotation. Brandon McCarthy was hit in the head with a line drive r on Sept. 5 and underwent surgery for an epidural hemorrhage, brain contusion and skull fracture.