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For Sox, a full roster of questions

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  September 19, 2008 11:13 AM

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TORONTO -- By this time next week, the Red Sox should have all the answers. They should know whom they will be facing in the first round of the playoffs, and they should know where. And they should have a good idea about the health of a roster that is currently in a state of flux.

MAZZ'S PROJECTED RED SOX PLAYOFF ROSTER: Below is my projected Red Sox roster for the ALDS. What do you think? Leave us your projected roster in our comments section.

STARTING PITCHERS
Josh Beckett
Jon Lester
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Tim Wakefield

RELIEVERS
Paul Byrd
Javier Lopez
Manny Delcarmen
Hideki Okajima
Justin Masterson
Jonathan Papelbon

CATCHERS
Jason Varitek
Kevin Cash
David Ross

INFIELDERS
Kevin Youkilis
Dustin Pedroia
Mike Lowell
Jed Lowrie
Alex Cora
Sean Casey

OUTFIELDERS
Jason Bay
Jacoby Ellsbury
J.D. Drew
Mark Kotsay
Coco Crisp

DESIGNATED HITTER
David Ortiz

On Wednesday, following a 10-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays that left the Red Sox two games out of first place (three in the loss column) with 11 days remaining in the regular season, manager Terry Francona did precisely what one would expect when asked about potential roster decisions facing the team: he declined. And while Francona might have been playing games -- at least to a certain extent -- the truth is that the Sox face a number of key questions before they can determine who will be on the roster for the American League Division Series.

Among them:

How many pitchers will the Sox carry?
Last year, during the ALDS against the Los Angeles Angels, the Sox carried an extra (third) catcher in lieu of an 11th pitcher. While an ailing Tim Wakefield was left off the roster, third-string catcher Kevin Cash was added. Part of the reason for the latter was that backup catcher Doug Mirabelli had a leg injury, though the existence of an extra off day allowed the Sox the luxury of carrying just 10 pitchers.

Remember: During the postseason, teams operate with a four-man rotation instead of a five-man, which immediately trims the staff by one. For the first round, at least, carrying an 11th pitcher seems unnecessary, particularly if the Sox end up with the 'A' series that would allow them to make it through the five-game set with just three starters. (There is an extra off day.)

Regarding the rotation, things seem pretty clear, unlike last season. Whereas in 2007 there was debate as to whether Curt Schilling or Daisuke Matsuzaka should follow Josh Beckett -- Matsuzaka started Game 2 of the ALDS, Schilling Game 2 of the ALCS and World Series -- there is really no gray area with this team. Barring a major surprise, Beckett, Jon Lester and Matsuzaka will pitch in that order, with Tim Wakefield or Paul Byrd getting Game 4 (again, if there is a need for a fourth starter).

If there is a decision to be made between Wakefield and Byrd, consider this: If Wakefield pitches out of the bullpen, the Sox could face a situation where they also need to bring in catcher Kevin Cash, losing Jason Varitek for the balance of the game; no matter how long Wakefield lasts, Cash would be in the lineup for the duration. But by starting Wakefield, the Sox would ensure having Varitek in the game for the final innings, if and when the knuckleballer departed.

Regardless, both Wakefield and Byrd should be on the roster, assuming good health.
Which brings us to ...

What will the bullpen look like?
One thing we know is that Francona likes having two lefthanded pitchers for the purposes of matching up, meaning that Javier Lopez and Hideki Okajima will be on the roster. Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, and Justin Masterson all are sure bets, along with Wakefield and/or Byrd, depending on which is not in the rotation. (Both could be in the bullpen if the Sox need only three starters.)

To make things easier, let's say the Sox will be carrying four starters (Wakefield being the fourth) and that Byrd will be in the bullpen with Papelbon, Delcarmen, Masterson, Okajima, Lopez, and Byrd. The only real remaining question is whether the Sox want to carry Mike Timlin as an 11th pitcher in the event they get into some type of emergency situation. (Of course, that is also why Byrd will be in the bullpen.) It seems unlikely that the Sox would choose someone like David Aardsma over Timlin, who pitched well last postseason and at least has the benefit of experience. If Timlin were left off the roster, the greater likelihood is that the Sox would go with an extra positional player for obvious reasons. Namely ...

How much will injuries affect decisions with regard to the positional players?
Presumably, quite a bit. With essentially a week to go, the Sox need answers on Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew, each of whom obviously could make all the difference in the world. With Lowell and Drew healthy enough to play, the Sox would have a bench that includes Mark Kotsay, Coco Crisp, Sean Casey, Alex Cora, Cash and either a third catcher (David Ross?) or, say, someone like Julio Lugo. (This is assuming the Sox have 10 pitchers.) The obvious question concerns where the Sox need the most depth.

Obviously, Lugo is in great jeopardy of being left off the roster. If Lowell cannot play, the Sox can move Kevin Youkilis to third and play Casey or Kotsay at first base while still carrying an extra infielder (Cora) on the bench. A healthy Lugo's greatest asset is his speed, which offers the Sox some value in the late innings of a close game, but he also has shown that he can be a reckless baserunner, which raises a red flag.

When all is said and done, the final spot on the Boston roster may come down to this: Timlin, Lugo or a third catcher, presumably Ross. That scenario obviously changes if Drew or Lowell is injured, though the Sox obviously will have much bigger things to worry about than the identity of their 25th man if that is the case.

One final thing: Remember that the rules changed last season, allowing teams to replace an injured player in the middle of a series. The replaced player would then be unavailable for the next round, however, which means that roster substitutions come at a price.

How do you think the Sox postseason roster will shake out? Leave us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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