The Detroit Tigers are on the cusp of clinching a 3rd straight AL Central crown and will either play Boston or Oakland in the ALDS. No matter who they play, the Tigers will be entering the playoffs as a road team and with less fanfare than usual.
Perhaps, after a few deep playoff runs the past few years, the Tigers are old hat now. My hunch is that the players are just fine with that. Aside from the official clinching of the pennant, the last big box that Jim Leyland needs to check off is who should comprise his 25-man playoff roster.
Well, I’m here to help:
Have a Coke and a bench
A few guys have come close to ruining all postseason roster consideration over the past few months. Matt Tuiasosopo has been brutal at the dish since mid-July and doesn’t offer the Tigers a presence of any kind in the postseason. As tough as it might be to tell a guy who spent the entire season with the big club that he can’t come to the party, and despite a lack of a clear alternative, it is a move the Tigers have to consider.
Same goes for Phil Coke. The struggling lefty has a 5.40 ERA and a ghastly 1.67 WHIP on the season and now he’s battling an irritated elbow. Last year he couldn’t get righties out, this year he can’t get anyone out. As electric and useful as he was just one postseason ago, he needs to be left off the roster to give the Tigers the greatest chance at ending a 30-year World Series drought.
Who’s coming with me?
The regular starting 9 on offense will remain standard. The regular outfield will be Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson, and Torii Hunter. Across the infield will be Prince Fielder, Omar Infante, Jose Iglesias, and Miguel Cabrera. Alex Avila will catch on most days and Victor Martinez will haunt the opposition out of the DH slot.
Brayan Pena is a lock as the backup catcher. Don Kelly and Ramon Santiago will also play their utility roles with consistency. Kelly will appear in some key pinch-hit situations and depending on the health of Cabrera, Santiago might be needed at 3rd base.
These 12 are obvious. My hunch is that Jhonny Peralta will also be along for the ride. If he’s not, then Tui is probably a lock but I see no reason why the Tigers would deny a bat as impactful as Jhonny’s and if he can be serviceable in left field, he adds a lot of versatility as an outfielder against lefty pitching and as a backup 3rd baseman/shortstop as needed.
The starting rotation should be the following, in this order: Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, and Doug Fister.
This allows the Tigers to push Rick Porcello to the bullpen, which is a role he has excelled in during recent postseason runs. Porcello has dominated right-handed hitters this year to the tune of a .239 batting average against. He will be a huge, multi-innings weapon at Leyland’s disposal.
Porcello will be joined in the bullpen by Joaquin Benoit, Jose Veras, Drew Smyly, Bruce Rondon, and Al Alburquerque. And quite honestly, when you consider how deep the Tigers’ starters will likely go in most games, Leyland might not need much more than these six arms. But he’ll take at least one more with him.
Leyland would love to have another lefty besides Smyly. Even though Benoit, Veras, and Alburquerque all have good numbers against lefties, Leyland will want to be able to give hitters another look. That look might come in the form of the resurfaced Darin Downs. The Tigers pulled him up off the couch and he’s pitched well in two appearances since rejoining the team. If Coke is down and out like he appears to be, Downs is the next best bet. He is certainly more trustworthy than Jose Alvarez.
Last man in
That gives us 13 hitters and 11 pitchers. One spot remains. Leyland is left with few options outside of Coke and Tuiasosopo. If one thing really hurt the Tigers in last year’s playoffs it was the lack of right-handed thump off the bench. It’s really too bad that rookie Nick Castellanos didn’t provide an impact in his brief appearances late in the year as he could have snuck onto the roster with some solid play.
Regardless, Tui is getting a bunch of starts right now for a reason. If he shows any glimmer of hope, then he’s going to be the guy, and doesn’t he just seem like one of those unlikely postseason heroes?
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