UPDATE: TIGERS ANNOUNCE ROSTER FOR ALDS
Now that the Tigers have taken care of business in the regular season, concluding with their fourth consecutive Central division title, it's time to focus on the postseason. First order of business is to select the 25 players who will be on the playoff roster.
Manager Brad Ausmus, President and General Manager Dave Dombrowski, the front office staff and coaches will be meeting in the coming hours to pare down the list of 35 players who are on the current expanded September roster. All of those 35 can be on the playoff roster, but ten players on the expanded roster will not be going to Baltimore.
The easiest decision is the starting pitching rotation.
Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello will be on the roster. Anibal Sanchez will be moved to the bullpen. Kyle Lobstein, if he's on the roster, will not be starting. The rotation may be -- and probably will be -- juggled before the Tigers take the field in Baltimore, but that's another discussion.
The starting lineup is also mostly set.
C Alex Avila
1B Miguel Cabrera
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Eugenio Suarez
3B Nick Castellanos
RF Torii Hunter
CF Rajai Davis
LF J.D. Martinez
DH Victor Martinez
That's nine. Four bench players are also probably locked in: Don Kelly, Andrew Romine, Bryan Holaday, and Ezequiel Carrera seem sure to be on the playoff roster.
That's 17 players, leaving eight spots to fill. Cutting back to a four man rotation leaves the option of carrying one more relief pitcher, or one more bench player. We'll come back to that after we list the locks in the bullpen.
RHP Joe Nathan
RHP Joba Chamberlain
RHP Joakim Soria
RHP Anibal Sanchez
RHP Al Alburquerque
Those are the five relief pitchers that Brad Ausmus seems to think can be trusted with a lead in the late innings. They're in, and they're all right handed pitchers. Phil Coke is probably a lock also. Since Blaine Hardy struggled badly in September, Coke has been at least as good at getting left-handers out. Plus, he's Phil Coke. He has to be on the team!
That's six relief pitchers, four starters, and 13 position players, for a total of 23 players. The last two spots will be the subject of much discussion and focus until the team announces the playoff roster. So, let's do this by process of elimination.
Outfielder Steven Moya, catcher Jim McCann, and infielder Hernan Perez were barely noticed by Ausmus after being called up in September. The same is true for pitchers Buck Farmer, Pat McCoy, Kyle Ryan, and Evan Reed. There are probably seven of your ten cuts right there.
That leaves us with five players vying for two remaining roster spots. One more left-handed pitcher seems like a given, so that Ausmus can play match ups with the bullpen. Here are the candidates:
LHP Blaine Hardy: One month ago, Hardy would have been considered a lock in the bullpen. He was the primary left handed relief pitcher, getting work in the late innings. But a very rough September has put him on the bubble, and maybe off the playoff roster. Hardy has an ERA of 5.11, an FIP of 6.73 a WHIP of 2.80, an opponent's average of .333, and and a walk rate of 24% in September.
LHP Kyle Lobstein: After being called up as a spot starter when Anibal Sanchez was placed on the disabled list, Lobstein did an admirable job filling in. You can hardly blame him for all the Twinshits that led to a bunch of runs last Saturday, nor the mental error by Miguel Cabrera that probably let most of the first half dozen runs score. Lobstein could replace Hardy in the bullpen and be on hand as a long reliever should a starter be forced to leave the game early.
LHP Robbie Ray: Probably a long shot, as he didn't get a lot of work after being called up in September, but Ray could also be in the mix for the second lefty position. You could just as easily insert Kyle Ryan into this discussion.
Once the Tigers choose their second left handed reliever, that leaves one spot open, and two names remain on the list to choose from. First, we have to double back and check on the health of Rajai Davis, who suffered a groin injury in Saturday's game and did not play in the division clincher on Sunday. If Davis is unable to go, the Tigers would surely name another outfielder to take his place. The team could decide to call Don Kelly an outfielder and add another infielder, such as Hernan Perez, but that is not what they have done recently when Davis was not in the lineup.
OF Tyler Collins could be -- and in my book should have been -- the natural replacement for Rajai Davis. We don't really know how he would, or will, perform given extended time in the major leagues, because he hasn't gotten much playing time. The Tigers could have given Collins some of the starts that Davis made against right handed pitchers, and certainly the starts that were given to Carrera, but that didn't happen.
If Davis is out, they will have to leave him off the playoff roster and Collins is the likely substitute. He plays all three outfield positions well, although he played only eight games in center field with Toledo this season.
More likely, it sounds as though Davis will be able to play, or will be close enough that they don't leave him off the roster, since a mid series roster change can only be made if another player is placed on the disabled list.
If Davis is healthy, the Tigers could still decide that they'd like someone on the bench who could, you know, hit a baseball once in a while. A bench of Romine, Kelly, Holaday, and Carrera couldn't hit snow off a rope. Collins may be on the roster, both as a possible pinch hitter and as insurance for Davis.
RHP Jim Johnson could also be the last man on the roster if the Tigers decide to go with 12 pitchers, eight of them in the bullpen, and stick with just four non hitters on the bench. Johnson was arguably one of the worst relief pitchers in the game this past season, posting an ERA of 7.09, an FIP of 5.08, a WHIP of 1.95, and a WAR of - 0.7. He was released by the Oakland A's in mid season and signed by the Tigers, who rushed him to the majors after proving nothing in Toledo. His overall numbers with the Tigers show more of the same. 6.92 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 8.31 walks per nine innings, and a WHIP of 4.50.
The one bright spot in Johnson's performance is that he didn't allow a home run with the Tigers and he held opponents to a batting average of just .188. He struck out ten batters in seven innings during September, but still had an ERA north of 5.00 and walked 6.43 batters per nine innings.
You would have to do some serious cherry picking to justify giving Johnson a spot on the roster. Going eight deep with the Tigers' cast of relievers this season can't be a good idea. The one thing he has going for him is that his competition is not very good, either. That, and Brad Ausmus seems to love his veterans.
The fact that Collins was all but ignored by Ausmus after being called up probably does not bode well for his chances of making the roster. I would carry another position player just to get a hitter on the bench, as well as to limit the number of implosive relievers that Ausmus has to call upon during the post season.
So, my guess is that Lobstein gets the nod over Hardy as the second lefty in the bullpen, and Collins makes the roster over Johnson or another relief pitcher.
What would you do?
Note: Any player who was on the major league roster as of August 31 is eligible for the post season roster. Any other player who was anywhere in the organization as of that date, can be used to replace another eligible player who is unable to play due to injury.