In Major League Baseball, making the playoffs is never as secure a probability as one often thinks it is. Remember 2011, when the Rays and Cardinals dramatically entered the postseason at the last possible instant? For Tiger fans, remember Game 163 in 2009? Nothing is set in stone unless your team has a lead in its division like the 116-win Seattle Mariners of 2001. However, for the sake of this post let’s assume the Tigers make it to the postseason for the third consecutive season.
Aug 26, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (19) pitches in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
When trying to think of the Tigers’ potential playoff roster, it’s hard to think out of the box. Not because everything’s hunky-dory and the lineup is Leyland-proof, but more the exact opposite: Tiger hitters are hitting inconsistently, the pitching has gone through an ice-cold streak, players are getting second chances in September, rookies are showing their potential, and certain players have an opportunity to return in the nick of time. This makes for a quagmire of traps and bad decisions, so how could Detroit circumvent that?
I’m making my list based off the facts that Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski will probably have an almost identical postseason roster as they did last year, with the exception of Veras and Iglesias. Seeing as how that formula has failed the last two years, I’d like to see some pretty different arrangements. Let’s tackle this position-by-position:
Actually, it’s easy to work this out: Brayan Pena (coming off a torrid August but struggling so far in September) and Alex Avila (coming off a struggling August but having a torrid September so far) are the catchers, and if anything happens Victor Martinez has recently proved he can don the pads and still hit well. Thankfully, barring an injury, things should be pretty clear for catcher.
Prince Fielder seems to be coming around at just the right time, and he has that whole “amazing power hitter who can get on base” thing going for him.
One is the fantastic current starter, the other could very well be the starter of the future. Perez has struggled at times this season in his limited call ups, but he’s got decent speed and a promising glove. Having some depth behind free-agent-to-be Infante is never a bad thing, especially if there’s no defensive drop off.
Iglesias is the shortstop of the present and future, and his glove has reached legendary status this season. If Peralta returns I don’t see him coming back as the starting shortstop, especially with defense playing such a key part in the playoffs. However, coming off the bench as a big bat who can play some shortstop AND third base he becomes an extremely valuable piece, especially if he’ll be playing for a new contract this off season. And for those arguing that the Tigers are, at this point, 18-17 without Peralta, just point a finger at the pitchers, because they’re not doing too much to help at this point. I’m eager to see what he can do in a supporting role, or if he really is as important to the offense as he’s being made out to be.
The Best Hitter of this Generation and a dude who can play solid defense at every position? Yeah, sure, why not?
I’m probably in the minority that thinks Castellanos could turn into a solid contributor in the playoffs, but he’s far too talented not to attempt it. I’m not saying he should be the starting leftfielder, but he’s got a quick bat and he can play some third base if an emergency arises. He and Dirks can be used in a platoon, and Jackson and Hunter are just fixtures out there at this point – I can’t imagine them not doing very well in the playoffs.
Y’know what? So far this season, I wouldn’t want Verlander starting Game 1 of any playoff series. This year his results have fluctuated too much, and in years past he hasn’t had overwhelming success in the postseason. Why keep experimenting? I’d be tempted to make him the fourth starter, but part of me keeps hoping he’ll rebound. As for the Ace, Sanchez makes a convincing case, especially after his showing last year. It’s nice to have a legitimate “dilemma” having to choose between two of 2013’s best pitchers.
Leaving Leyland with fewer options means a smaller chance for a bad decision. And honestly, the lefty-righty thing isn’t always as cut and dried as the man makes it out to be. This contingent of pitchers would be the best possible for a playoff series: Benoit, Veras, and Rondon provide the gas. Downs provides the LOOGY. Pukonen provides a solid alternative. Porcello and Smyly provide the long-relief guys who, as Smyly showed earlier this season, can be nearly invaluable. These guys are all quite good, and if used correctly can sway a series.
Ramon Santiago – His hitting has gone south in a major way, and although he can be solid at second, short, and third base, he’d be rendered superfluous due to Perez, Kelly, and Peralta.
Matt Tuiasosopo – He seems unable to hit lefties after going cold post-All Star break. What good is a platoon if the guy who is supposed to hit left-handed pitching doesn’t?
Phil Coke – He’s…ugh. I really enjoy the dude, and I hope he goes into broadcasting, but he just doesn’t seem to have a place on this team anymore.
Jeremy Bonderman – the feel-good story of the year, and a guy I’ve been a fan of throughout his whole career, but it’s just not working out like we’d all hoped.
Danny Worth – Same boat as Santiago.
In essence, I would hope the Tigers put together a roster that minimizes managerial mistakes, and allows for quality substitutions. With a banged up Cabrera and some questionable hitting and pitching, trying to find a formula that works would be absolutely crucial. Like I mentioned earlier: trotting out nearly the same postseason roster the last two years hasn’t yielded the results Mike Ilitch has been looking for, and Leyland can’t just keep trotting out the same lineup and using pitchers in the same slots if things start to fail – the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I think the Tigers can succeed this year, I really truly do, but not without some mixing and matching, and not without the right group of guys, both old and new.