Postseason Roster Projection (notes and explanations on the projection can be found following the roster)…
- Lineup: BJ Upton appears to be healthy. The only real question is left field. Carl Crawford won’t be ready to start any games for at least the first round. Has Fernando Perez left enough of an impression on Joe Maddon to be the starting left fielder? We say Yes, but won’t be surprised if Eric Hinske gets a start or two. Hinske could also spell Gabe Gross in right one game. Look for Rocco Baldelli or Willy Aybar to be in right field against lefties, with the other at DH.
- Bench: The Rays will most likely go with a 11-man pitching staff, giving Joe Maddon one extra player on the bench. Ben Zobrist, Willy Aybar and Rocco Baldelli are locks. That leaves two spots. One must be a backup catcher and it looks like Joe Maddon trusts Michel Hernandez, based on his defensive skills. For the final spot, Eric Hinske has struggled in the second-half, but is Maddon ready to give a roster spot to a guy (Carl Crawford) that will be limited to pinch-running and late-inning defense? Maybe, but Maddon loves flexibility and Crawford makes the bench less-flexible. Of course, this all means that Justin Ruggiano, Jonny Gomes and Dan Johnson will be left off the roster. We might understand an argument for Ruggiano in place of Hinske and Crawford, or in place of Fernando Perez, but neither scenario seems likely.
- Rotation: The Rays will only need 4 starters in the playoffs. And if the Rays play game 1 on Wednesday*, they would have 2 days off in the first 3 games and could conceivably bring the game 1 starter back for game 4. But with the depth of the rotation, we don’t see Joe Maddon going with a 3-man rotation. The top 3 are locks. Who is #4? Edwin Jackson has pitched very well in the second half. Andy Sonnanstine is capable of a dominating performance. What if David Price throws a 3-hit, 11 strikeout, shutout tonight? We give the edge to Jackson, but either of the others would not surprise us. The other question is who goes in game 1. As it stands now, James Shields is scheduled to pitch the final game of the regular season. And if the Rays need that game for the AL East title, he likely makes the start. If the Rays have clinched by Sunday, we suspect Jeff Niemann or Mitch Talbot makes the Sunday start and Shields will go in game 1, followed by Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza.
- Bullpen: Only 2 spots are question marks. Will Troy Percival be healthy enough to pitch? Joe Maddon will not hesitate to keep Percy off if Maddon does not think he is healthy enough. That leaves 1 spot which most likely goes to David Price. We just can’t make an argument for Juan Salas, Jason Hammel or Jeff Niemann.
*The team with the best overall record in the AL gets to choose if they play game 1 on Wednesday or Thursday. The teams that start on Wednesday get a day off after game 1 and game 2, while the teams that start on Thursday only get 1 off-day in the first 3 games. A team with only 3 good starters would choose to start on Wednesday so they can utilize a 3-man rotation. The Angels would likely make the Rays start on Wednesday if the Rays are the Wild Card team. The benefit to the Angels is the quick turn-around leveled on the Rays going from Detroit to home to Anaheim in 3 days. If the Rays have the best record they would likely prefer to start on Thursday for the extra day of rest and knowing that the rotation is at least 4-deep.