The Red Sox revealed their roster for the ALDS this morning, choosing to keep 11 pitchers, six outfielders, five infielders, a couple of catchers, and some designated hitter named Ortiz. Let's take a look at what those decisions indicate, and where they might become crucial during a best-of-five against the Rays.
Coming off a four-day break, and with two off days built into a short series, a team could easily get away with keeping 10 pitchers on the roster if it wanted to leave room for depth elsewhere -- but keeping seven relievers on the roster, including two who spent the vast majority of the season as starters, suggests that John Farrell is planning to have a quick hook in this series and would rather have an extra arm at the ready.
If he had full confidence in his bullpen, or had the relievers carved out roles for themselves, the Sox might've kept a position player over Felix Doubront. However, there's not much certainty about any of the pitchers who'll be summoned ahead of Koji Uehara (who himself is likely to be called upon earlier than usual), and Farrell isn't likely to give any of them much of a leash.
Expect a lot of short stints that could be limited to a batter or two, depending how the matchups play out, and depending what the Rays have already expended as far as pinch-hitting resources. If it takes four pitchers to get through an inning, so be it.
DOUBRONT OVER THORNTON
To understand why Felix Doubront, and not Matt Thornton, earned a spot as the 11th pitcher on the staff and third lefty in the bullpen, consider what Farrell said Thursday about what he expects these games against the Rays to be like.
"Likely to be well pitched, typically low scoring," said the manager, "and there's going to be a play, a defensive play inside of a game that will be a swing moment."
If he anticipates the games to be low scoring -- and he shouldn't, given that Tampa Bay could throw Matt Moore or David Price in four of the five potential games -- he can't afford to let his starters struggle their way through an outing. And if he anticipates tight games, like these teams have played against each other all year, there's a chance that it could go to extra innings. Perhaps several extra innings.
So, in either case, it behooves him to have a pitcher on his staff who can give the club some length out of the bullpen (without needing to press Game 4 starter Jake Peavy into service). Ryan Dempster may be needed for a middle-innings role if Brandon Workman or Junichi Tazawa runs into trouble, so he is not necessarily that long man. Doubront could be, whether he's needed to bail out the Sox from a bad start early or keep them alive late.
THE EFFECT OF 11 PITCHERS ON THE INFIELD
During the Sox' intrasquad scrimmage Wednesday, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia played an inning at third base. And while it might've looked like one of those playful, we're-having-some-fun-here type of situations, it's not crazy to think it could come to that in this series -- in part because the Sox didn't think John McDonald was worth keeping as a utility reserve.
Tampa Bay is starting lefties in each of the first two games. The Rays also have three lefties in the bullpen. Stephen Drew isn't good against lefties, and Farrell has said he'd entertain hitting Xander Bogaerts if the situation was right.
So, let's say Drew's spot comes up in a big situation -- big enough that Farrell summons Bogaerts. That would leave the Sox without a backup at second base, third base, or shortstop. And so if Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, or Will Middlebrooks was to get hurt after that, the Sox would be forced to scramble at one of those positions.
Boston's two backup first basemen (Daniel Nava and Mike Carp) are left-handed, so they're out. Neither Jonny Gomes nor Shane Victorino has played a professional game on the infield, either minor leagues or majors. David Ross hasn't played the infield since five games at Single-A in 1999. So with McDonald not on the roster, it would be Mike Napoli moving from first to an unfamiliar spot across the diamond -- or Saltalamacchia, who has taken grounders at third throughout the season.
Not ideal, obviously, but not out of the realm of possibility.
Daniel Nava finished the regular season with the eighth-best batting average in the AL, and the fifth-best on-base percentage. Yet with Moore and Price pitching Games 1 and 2, Gomes will start in left field for the Sox both Friday and Saturday. And Nava might actually not even be the first man off the bench at that position.
If Joe Maddon calls on a righty to face Gomes in the middle (fifth, sixth, seventh) innings, and Farrell counters by bringing in a batter who can hit lefty, he may well go to Mike Carp ahead of Nava because of defensive considerations.
All year, the Sox have taken any opportunity to remove Carp from the contest when defense became more of a priority than offense, so if Carp is the last man in to left field for the Sox, they're basically forced to live with his glove in the late innings. They could go to Quintin Berry, but he's on the roster to pinch-run, so he should be saved for those situations if he hasn't been used. If the Sox can set themselves up so Nava (or Gomes) is in left field when they're protecting a lead, that's their preference.
BERRY OVER BRADLEY
It's simple. Berry has been successful in all 24 of his major-league steal attempts. Jackie Bradley Jr. might be more useful as a starting player, but if this role is reserved for a runner, Farrell can't afford to keep the player who swiped only seven bags in 14 attempts at Triple-A this year.
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