USA Today Sports

Some truths about the Red Sox postseason roster

Rob Bradford
September 16, 2018 - 8:47 am
Categories: 

Prior to the Red Sox' 5-3 win over the Mets Saturday, Alex Cora offered his best example when it came to making the final decision on a postseason roster.

"The last spot was here," said the Red Sox manager, referencing the Astros' regular-season ending series against the Red Sox in 2017. "With (Juan) Centeno and Stassi. We were going to go with three catchers and they had their pros and cons and at the end, we went with Centeno. There was a play here in the eighth inning in game two. Brock (holt) was at first, Centeno blocked it and threw him out at second and it was the third out of the inning and we were like, 'We’re going with him, so yeah it was that.' Throughout the playoffs there were some decisions we had to make I think we went from one roster to a different one to a different one in championship series to the world series. There weren’t too many honestly. That was one that was made in the last week of the season."

So, will there be that similar moment with Cora's Red Sox this time around? Maybe not a decision based so much on a singular moment, like in the case of Centeno. But there are clearly down-to-the-wire debates percolating with the Magic Number now down to just four.

"We’re not going to go with small sample sizes. I don’t think five days or two outings are going to dictate your season or who we believe you are," Cora noted. "If one day you get three outs, it doesn’t mean you’re throwing the ball well or because you didn’t get three outs, it doesn’t mean you’re struggling."

With everything we know and have seen to this point there are some educated guesses to be had. Here they are:

THEY WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY CARRY 11 PITCHERS

There are certainly more bullpen candidates than a year ago when John Farrell went with 11 pitchers (which was also necessitated by the uncertainty involving Eduardo Nunez's knee). But, like last year, the Sox need some extra flexibility when it comes to position players.

For one, you have some players who have injuries that could crop up at any point, with Nunez's knee, Rafael Devers' hamstring and Mitch Moreland's still potentially presenting problems. But the true impetus for the extra position player this time around is the importance of having Blake Swihart around.

Without a designated "burner" to serve in pinch-running situations, Swihart is their man. Then there is the Sandy Leon conundrum. Leon continues his offensive downward spiral, now 1-for-39 dating back to Aug. 18. While Cora chose not to pinch-hit for him in a deadlocked game in the fifth inning Wednesday, things are changing, as was evident in the win over the Mets. Another tie game, two runners on in the fifth. This time Brock Holt was sent up to pinch-hit for Leon and the result was a game-winning, two-run double.

It would seemingly be a lock that Leon would start at least both Game 1 and 2 of the best-of-five division series, and perhaps, if Rick Porcello pitches, Game 3. There is no way around that due to the success of Chris Sale, David Price and Porcello with Leon behind the plate. But if that is the case the Red Sox are going to probably need some early depth if a similar pinch-hitting opportunity is necessitated.

That's where Swihart comes in (again).

WHY NO BRANDON PHILLIPS?

While Phillips showed he is still a capable big leaguer when showing his stuff in Atlanta, it doesn't seem like Cora is going out of his way to squeeze the infielder into the lineup for a legitimate tryout. Why? The priority is getting Rafael Devers going.

The Red Sox know how powerful the upside Rafael Devers' power from the left side of the late can be, and what a difference he can make if on the right roll. That takes priority over Phillips.

The best avenue Phillips would have to find a spot on the roster would be if Nunez wasn't able to function. Then it would be a legitimate conversation, with their skill-sets somewhat lining up. Right now, there doesn't appear to be a fit. Even if Ian Kinsler was sidelined the choice would probably be Tzu-Wei Lin due to his ability to play shortstop and pinch-running capabilities.

SO, ABOUT THIS BULLPEN ...

Here are those I consider locks for pitchers to make the postseason roster: Sale, Price, Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Craig Kimbrel, Steven Wright, Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Nathan Eovaldi.

That's nine.

That leaves Joe Kelly, Bobby Poyner, Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez, Brandon Workman, Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Thornburg and Heath Hembree for two spots.

If the season ended today? It depends.

If the Red Sox are playing the Yankees my guess is Kelly and Workman.

I don't feel great about leaving Hembree off, and will probably be wrong, but I think the Red Sox will prioritize matchups and Kelly has a few in his favor against New York. Brett Gardner is 0-for-9 with six strikeouts vs. the righty, Neil Walker is 2-for-16 and Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge are a combined 4-for-16. As for not going with a lefty, the majority of hitters in this lineup who would do damage feast on southpaws. And if you do need to get a lefty out, hitters from that side of the plate are 2-for-18 against Workman dating back to Aug. 18.

The wild card? Drew Pomeranz. Aaron Hicks is 1-for-14 against him. Still probably not going to be enough of a difference-maker.

If it's the A's I will go with Poyner and Workman.

Oakland, as a team, is better against right-handers, but, once again, in a short series there are going to be matchup issues. A case could be made for keeping Kelly to go after Jed Lowrie (0-for-6 against the righty) and/or Jonathan Lucroy (3-for-14). But Lowrie is also 0-for-8 against Eovaldi, so there will be that option.

Poyner gets the nod because of Khris Davis. Yes, he is a right-handed hitter but the slugger's 42 homers just 10 have come against left-handers and is a reverse-split guy. (He is 3 for his last 26 against southpaws.) And while the Red Sox could conceivably throw Rodriguez in for a quick showdown with the righty hitter (he is 0-for-12 with 7 strikeouts against Rodriguez), that sort of window would seem to be limited.

The wild card? That would be Pomeranz, again. It should be noted that lefty has also struck out Matt Chapman in three of their four meetings (walking him the other time), with Davis going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts vs. the lefty.

Things change, but this it's about time these sort of conversations are at least surfaced.

Comments ()