The Red Sox hold a one-game lead on the A’s for the best record in the American League with four games to play. It goes without saying that finishing first in the league would be paramount for Boston as it would result in a Division Series matchup with a potentially fatigued Wild Card winner and also allow the club to avoid the well-rested, tremendously talented Tigers. Home-field advantage for the major league’s second-best home team, courtesy of a 53-28 record, is nothing to scoff at either.
As the regular season winds down, the Sox’ brass is quietly strategizing how it will construct its first-round roster for when the postseason opens on October 4. Keep in mind, too, that the group can change between rounds.
The 25-man roster will hardly feature any surprises and the process of finalizing the list actually has very few questions.
There’s no question here as to the who, merely the how – as in, how will these pitchers be aligned? In all likelihood, the four-man rotation will be ordered just as it’s listed above.
Lester is the team’s undisputed ace. Save for a nightmarish 11-start run from May 20 to July 13, he’s posted a 2.47 ERA in 22 outings spanning 142.1 innings this season. Having a career 2.35 ERA as a playoff starter also doesn’t hurt his case.
Buchholz has been generally effective since returning from his three-month injury absence as he’s built his arm up to comfortably throw more than 100 pitches in a game, but command and efficiency have been more of an issue than a 1.06 ERA over three starts would indicate. A little extra rest coupled with the fact that he’s slightly better on the road this season (5-0, 0.95 ERA) than at home (6-1, 1.99) will all but certainly push him to third in the rotation.
The argument for Lackey to be the team’s No. 2 in spite of Buchholz’s ridiculous stats this years is another nod to season splits, since he’s a substantially better pitcher at Fenway (6-3, 2.47 ERA) than he is elsewhere (4-10, 4.48) in a similar number of innings. The 2002 champion has also posted a 3.12 ERA in 14 career playoff appearances.
Most questions in determining the roster concern the bullpen and the mystery over whether the team will store six men in the ‘pen or seven. Though the Red Sox have suggested they’ll carry 11 pitchers, the organization has never used more than nine in a five-game series. My gut feeling is that they’ll go with the 11 because you can never have enough pitching in October and, of course, the instability in the seventh and eighth innings to date, but I’d personally prefer the Five Options to Uehara, which will be the name of my band if I ever learn to sing or play an instrument.
Uehara, Tazawa, Breslow, Dempster, and Workman are the no-doubt-about’ems. Thornton should qualify over Franklin Morales as the lefty-specialist, and the team can get away with leaving Doubront off the roster for one round since he has minimal relief experience compared to the rest of the group. If the Sox opt for a seventh arm out of the bullpen, figure it will be Morales. He can eat innings and he’s pitched well since August 16, sporting a 2.25 ERA over 12 appearances.
No mystery here. As good as Ryan Lavarnway has been this year, and he has with a .311 average and .788 OPS in 23 games, there’s no need to carry a third catcher.
Designated Hitter (1): David Ortiz
Sure, he’s batting just .164 with 3 extra-base hits and 5 RBI in his last 14 playoff games, but you go ahead and tell him he’s not the guy.
Some have questioned whether Bogaerts will make the cut, but they shouldn’t. As a defensive option at shortstop and third base, along with a strong righthanded bat, he’s guaranteed to suit up next month. There’s no legitimate second baseman to back-up Pedroia, but Middlebrooks is capable should a need arise.
Provided the Sox do opt for seven relievers, this category will shrink to six. For my money, though, I like the look of seven.
Gomes and Carp are locks, not because they’re outfielders, but for their pinch-hitting abilities and overall flare for the dramatic.
Ellsbury (foot) and Victorino (thumb, back, hamstring) both have very recent and unpredictable injury concerns, which is enough to justify keeping freshman Bradley on call for at least the opening round. Berry’s value comes in his knack for traveling 90 feet in a single bound … or something like that. The speedster is the only one off the bench who can give the Red Sox what Dave Roberts provided on that memorable night in 2004, and you never know when you’ll need a late burst.
If, however, six is the magic number for this category, the debate will exist between Bradley and Berry, and perhaps hinge on the health of those starters. Forced to choose, I’d go with the rookie as a preventative measure.
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Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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