Yesterday I wrote about the post-season position player roster alternatives available to the Tigers if they were to make the playoffs. As I suggested (and as probably indicated, as well, by the lack of comments) the choices there are mostly clear-cut, and those that aren't are at least not likely to be terribly controversial. The only real arguments likely entail either 1) the principled objections some people would have to including Jhonny Peralta to the playoff roster, or 2) the belief by some that Nick Castellanos would necessarily be a better alternative than one or more of the other players because he is, after all, the Tigers' top prospect.
When it comes to pitchers, however, the last few bullpen candidates may be a bit more difficult to identify. I suggested yesterday that there might be a chance that the Tigers carry twelve pitchers into the playoffs, at least for the league series, but in reality there is probably little-to-no chance that happens. Operating on the assumption, then, that the team will carry four starters and seven relievers into the playoffs, here is how the picture looks right now.
First, barring an untimely injury, the four starters are as nearly set in concrete as they can be. The presumed rotation would consist, not necessarily in order, of four right-handers:
- Max Scherzer. Still chasing win number 20, thanks to the curse of Tokarz.
- Anibal Sanchez. Stealth candidate for the AL Cy Young, hindered mostly by his relatively low number of starts.
- Justin Verlander. Laboring through a, for him, disappointing season with stats that would be quite acceptable for all but the elite major league pitchers.
- Doug Fister. Still tied for the MLB lead in hit batters, Doug has struggled on occasion, but is generally quite effective.
The only other possible candidate to start in the post-season would be:
- Rick Porcello. Also a righty, Rick has been very good at times, while at others he has struggled mightily to get batters out and keep the ball in the park. You could "Porcello" his stats to make him look more comparable to Fister and even Verlander, but realistically he will spend the post-season in the bullpen, again barring an injury to one of the other starters. This is not a bad thing. Rick was very effective in relief in the playoffs last year, and is stretched out as a starter in case he is needed to replace an injured starter or, perish the thought, appear in long relief.
Of the six remaining bullpen spots, it is safe to say that three are a lock:
- Joaquin Benoit. Right-handed, the regular closer for most of the season. To date, he has been perfect in 18 save opportunities.
- Drew Smyly. Presumed lefty starter-in-waiting, Drew was expected to be the team's primary long-reliever this season. He has been one of the most consistent members of the bullpen, but has mainly been used in spot relief during the latter part of the season.
- Jose Veras. Right-handed back-end reliever obtained from Houston mid-season to fill the void created by Octavio Dotel's injury. He saved 19 of 22 for Houston but has been used mostly as a (very effective) seventh or eighth-inning setup man since joining the Tigers.
Then, there is one near-lock:
- Bruce Rondon. Fireballing right-handed rookie once slated, and still probably being groomed, to be the closer. Bruce has almost certainly been effective enough, since his return to the ML roster, to merit a playoff roster spot, and no doubt he would benefit from the experience.
That leaves two remaining bullpen spots, and here are your candidates:
- Al Alburquerque. Righty fireballer with a nasty slider but tendencies toward wildness at times. With AlAl, you never know whether he is going to walk two batters or strike out the side. He endeared himself to Tiger fans and aggravated Oakland fans in last year's playoffs by kissing a ball hit back to him before throwing Josh Reddick out.
- Luke Putkonen. Big right-hander who has in the past been used as a spot starter for the Tigers, but has spent most of the season in Toledo, For the most part, Luke has been effective in his major league relief appearances.
- Evan Reed. Right-hander acquired at the beginning of the season through waivers, mainly to provide organizational depth. Like Putkonen, Reed has performed reasonably well as a reliever for the Tigers, and has shown he is capable of pitching multiple innings in relief.
- Phil Coke. Lefty late-inning guy whose playoff heroics last year, as well his entertaining personality and patented glove-slam would make him a fan-favorite, were it not for the fact that this season, in particular, he has been disturbingly ineffective, especially against right-handed batters. Coke went briefly to Toledo to get sorted out. Whether he succeeded remains to be seen.
- Darin Downs. Lefty who early in the season enjoyed some success in middle relief, but ultimately was optioned to Toledo when he began to struggle. Surprisingly, he was not originally among the September call-ups, but the team later rectified the oversight.
- Jose Alvarez. Lefty starter who was, like Reed, picked up off waivers, to add organizational depth. For the most part, his appearances in Detroit this year have been as a spot starter, with mixed success.
- Jeremy Bonderman. Bondo is a sentimental favorite with many Tiger fans, as a former Tiger starter who was resurrected from the scrap heap by Seattle earlier in the season and eventually picked up by the Tigers organization mid-season. He pitched well enough in Toledo to warrant a stint with the big club, but, unfortunately, has been largely ineffective since his call-up. He has hurt himself several times with throwing errors.
As of August 31, of the above players, Putkonen, Reed, Downs, Alvarez and Bonderman were not on the active (25-man) roster. Normally, that would mean that none of those guys is playoff eligible. However, as Tigerdog explained here, because two players, Luis Marte and Octavio Dotel, were on the DL and remain there, the Tigers could, with league approval, add up to two of those players to the playoff roster to replace Marte and Dotel, who would have been playoff eligible by virtue of being on the DL. That assumes, of course, that Nick Castellanos does not take up one of those substitute spots.
To my view, the choices are not obvious. With a couple of weeks left in the season, the decisions might come down to a couple of appearances. If I were to guess, Putkonen, AlAl, Coke and possibly Downs (only because he is a lefty alternative to Coke) share the inside track, but only barely. Least likely to make the roster would probably be Alvarez, Bonderman, and Reed, in that order, but any of the others could easily stub his toe and drop out of contention with one bad outing.
So, keeping things upbeat, who do you think would be most likely to help the Tigers out of the bullpen? Unfortunately you only get to vote for one again, even though there will be two spots available, not including the one Rondon seems most likely to occupy.