Your playoff-bound Detroit Tigers have just eleven games remaining after clinching a postseason spot early Saturday morning. They still have home field advantage to play for, but for the next two weeks, the pressure is essentially off the club. Plenty of questions remain, however, for manager Jim Leyland.
First is the question of whether the Tigers should go all out in an effort to earn home field advantage–whether just for one round or through the ALCS–or set up their rotation how they want it for the division series. As Chris Iott of MLive.com pointed out Friday, the fact that the Tigers have announced Brad Penny as the starter for Tuesday’s game against the Royals likely means the team has decided to go with the latter option. In fact, as Iott outlines rather nicely, it appears that the rotation is set up very conveniently for the playoffs without any clever maneuvering necessary. As of now, the likely scenario is that Justin Verlander will pitch in game one, September 30th, on an extra day rest, followed by Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello, each of whom, except Scherzer, will also be pitching on an extra day rest. Finally, Verlander would be set up to start in a potential game five, again on five days rest. Even if the Tigers remain in a close competition for the first or second seed in the AL, I don’t think they would pitch Verlander an extra time in their final series against the Indians, an act which would probably render him unavailable to potentially pitch twice in the division series.
Obviously the starting rotation is the most important issue for the Tigers, but the extra time they’ve given themselves by clinching early will also give them a chance to test out players in different roles that they could conceivably need to fill at some point in the postseason.
For one, and all of us hope Alex Avila remains bullet-proof and this proves unnecessary, the Tigers need to figure out who their backup catcher is. Assuming Victor Martinez remains physically incapable, the question becomes whether or not Brandon Inge is willing and able to handle the role (he hasn’t been behind the plate for Detroit since 2008). If not, the Tigers will have to use a roster spot on Omir Santos. I wouldn’t go as far as calling such a move a waste of space, but Santos would probably not end up seeing any October action. The Tigers would be better served if they could give his spot to a utility player with slightly more hitting prowess and the ability to come in as a defensive replacement at multiple positions–I’m sure Leyland will give ample consideration to the prospect of Don Kelly’s inclusion.
There has also been much speculation as to whether Penny would be useful for the playoffs pitching out of the bullpen. I suspect if the Tigers can find a way, they’ll give him an opportunity to show what he can do out of the ‘pen before the season is over. His last start, if he goes on normal rest as a part of the rotation, would be September 25th, three days before the final game of the season. As I type this, I’m wondering if the Tigers would give Jacob Turner one more spot start on that date, setting a strict limit on his innings and/or pitches, so that they can plan to bring Penny out of the bullpen.
Beyond all this, the Tigers’ skipper still has some crucial decisions to make. Plenty of roster decisions loom.
How many pitchers will Leyland take (most postseason rosters include ten or eleven), and who will they be? For me, outside of the four-man rotation, the only locks are Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, and Phil Coke. Will Leyland take Penny or stick with Duane Below for long relief? At least one of David Pauley, Ryan Perry, Daniel Schlereth, and Al Alburquerque will likely fail to make the cut.
If the Tigers do go with eleven pitchers, that would leave them with fourteen spots for position players. Detroit has seventeen position players on their active roster, which means three of them would have to be cut. In my opinion, those three should be Santos, Will Rhymes, and Danny Worth. As far as the bullpen, my projected playoff roster includes Below, Perry, Schlereth, and Alburquerque; it leaves Penny and Pauley out. Leyland, of course, could come up with a completely different team; this is purely speculation.
Agree with my choices? Disagree? Please comment and let me know either way. What are you looking for from the Tigers in their final eleven games?