During the ALDS last season, Tigers manager Jim Leyland called on 23 players of his 25 man roster. Thirteen were position players, and 10 were pitchers. Thus even in a series of close games, the bench was not emptied, which puts the battle for the last roster spots in perspective.
The Tigers' roster begins with Alex Avila, Prince Fielder, Omar Infante, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Iglesias, Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez. Jhonny Peralta is back and has a role, which makes 10. Let's assume that Leyland and Dombrowski take 14 position players and 11 pitchers. Leyland has pointed out that with the off days, the starters of the first and second game would both be available for game five. Thus the need for a reliever is diminished, as Scherzer or Verlander would be more effective in relief than a Darin Downs.
So we need four more position players. The Tigers used 19 position players this year. A backup catcher is a given, so Brayan Pena makes 11. Bryan Holaday is not needed as Victor Martinez can be the emergency catcher. Avisail Garcia was traded and Danny Worth is injured. This leaves five players for three spots: Don Kelly, Ramon Santiago, Matt Tuiasosopo, Hernan Perez and Nick Castellanos.
Leyland is very loyal to his players, so one answer is to take the three players who spent the most time in Detroit: Kelly, Santiago and Tuiasosopo. Castellanos did not grab the right-handed hitting left fielder role in 18 September plate appearances. With Peralta's new role, Castellanos' only use would be as the second right-handed pinch-hitting option. He may be a better option than Tuiasosopo, but loyalty and experience will trump talent. Castellanos can look forward to future playoffs.
Kelly can fill the role of left-handed pinch-hitter. The only right-handed hitter that Leyland may pinch-hit for is Iglesias, with Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook or Pat Neshek on the mound in a critical game situation. Kelly can also substitute on defense, say, if Peralta pinch-hits for Dirks. And last year Leyland used Kelly to pinch-run in a playoff game against Oakland, even with Quintin Berry on the bench. Factoring in loyalty, Kelly is on the roster.
That leaves Santiago, Tui and Perez for two spots. From a depth-chart perspective, Santiago and Perez seem redundant as middle infielders. Without Tui, there are four outfielders not including Peralta. One of those is Don Kelly, who may well be needed in the infield or end up in the designated hitter spot after pinch running for Victor Martinez. The outfield has very little flexibility. Thus Tui makes the roster. Plus, Leyland likes to look at the bench and see someone who could "run into one."
Santiago and Perez vie for the last position. Perez has speed, with 28 stolen bases in the minors this year and 27 last year. That could help a station-to-station team like Detroit. He has played almost as many games at shortstop as he has at second base. Santiago can switch hit, and has experience at third base. People are creatures of habit, and Jim Leyland has replaced Miguel Cabrera at third frequently of late. If Don Kelly pinch runs for Martinez, Leyland will not move him to third base and expose the pitcher to hitting in the designated hitter spot. He will want another option at third base, and Santiago is that option.
If you are playing this series with Strat-O-Matic cards, or a computer simulation, you take Perez for the last spot. If you are playing with real people, you take Santiago.
Knowing Leyland, expect Santiago.