If the Rays do successfully play their way into the postseason, they will have some interesting decisions to make in terms of the starting rotation.
First, let’s take a look at how each of the starting pitchers has performed since the All-Star break…
Let’s assume the season ended today, the Rays are in the playoffs, all pitchers are healthy, Andy Sonnanstine is not a candidate and Joe Maddon chooses to go with a 4-man rotation (as he did in 2008).
That leaves 6 pitchers for 4 spots and some questions waiting to be answered…
- Are David Price and Matt Garza the only locks? In our minds, the answer is yes.
- If Jeremy Hellickson is one of the Rays 2 or 3 best pitchers right now, do they dare leave him out of the postseason rotation? The Rays have always said, the needs of the prospect outweigh the needs of the team. But does that still hold in the playoffs? Unfortunately it might.
- If the Rays do go with Jeremy Hellickson in the rotation, do the Rays take James Shields over both Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis for the final spot? Probably. Despite his struggles, Shields has the higher upside and gives the Rays the best chance of shutting an opponent down.
- If the schedule allows, who would Joe Maddon choose for a 3-man rotation? JoeMa’s loyalty probably gives Matt Garza, David Price and James Shields the edge whether it is deserved or not.
In the end, the Rays will probably go with Price, Garza, Shields and Niemann. To us, the key is Shields. If he continues to pitch to a 5.35 ERA in the final 6 weeks, his spot could be in jeopardy. And if he is bumped from the postseason rotation, we are not even sure he would be on the playoff roster. It easy to imagine that the other pitchers would make better bullpen options. That is a long way to fall for a guy that was the opening day starter.