If the Tigers do what I believe they will—win the division (and by 8-10 games, btw)—there will be some hard decisions to be made in the name of the roster.
The 25-man for the first round has to be set by midnight, August 31. There could be some tweaking between the ALDS and CS, if the Tigers make it that far, but mainly only due to injury.
Who stays and who goes?
If the Tigers lop off a pitcher and carry an 11-man staff, that creates space for one more position player. Clearly, there’s no need for a five-man rotation in the playoffs, so why waste a roster spot for a guy who won’t see any action?
The Tigers could keep a 12-man staff and shift Rick Porcello or Brad Penny to the bullpen for long relief, but all that does is overcrowd the pen, again at the expense of a more valuable position player.
Here’s a look at my proposed 25-man for the ALDS:
C Alex Avila, Victor Martinez (hold on; more on this later!)
1B Miguel Cabrera
2B Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn
SS Jhonny Peralta
3B Wilson Betemit, Brandon Inge
OF Austin Jackson; Brennan Boesch; Delmon Young; Magglio Ordonez; Andy Dirks
UT Don Kelly
SP Justin Verlander; Max Scherzer; Doug Fister; Brad Penny
RP Rick Porcello; David Pauley; Jose Valverde; Joaquin Benoit; Al Alburquerque; Phil Coke; Daniel Schlereth
Note the absence of Duane Below. It was a tough call, but I went with Schlereth because of his slight edge in big league experience. Plus, I want Alburquerque, despite his current recovery from his concussion.
The other tough call was Pauley over Ryan Perry, though I wouldn’t put up much of an argument the other way; they’re almost both the same guy, in my opinion.
So there you have it—the 25-man for the ALDS.
It’s an 11-man staff with 14 position players.
I listed V-Mart as a catcher, but in truth Inge should be called upon in a pinch, should Avila go down (heaven forbid). I am hesitant to devote a spot to Omir Santos because of his total lack of big league experience and with, potentially, three other guys already on the roster who can catch (Martinez, Inge, Kelly). That, and I like Dirks.
I like the offense/defense platoon of Betemit/Inge at third base. How amazing to have both of them on the playoff roster, when Betemit was essentially Inge’s replacement after the latter was DFA’d.
Even the Inge haters must be honest with themselves: who do you feel more comfortable with, defensively at third base, in a close playoff game in the late innings—Wilson Betemit or Brandon Inge (Wednesday’s brain fart by Inge notwithstanding)?
By the way, as the Tigers stretch their lead in late-August, the Chicken Little folks are out, talking about 2009’s collapse.
The 2009 Tigers and the 2011 version are nowhere near the same team.
In 2009, the Tigers had no V-Mart hitting behind Cabrera. Not even close. The 2009 team didn’t have the production at SS that Jhonny Peralta is giving them now. Again, not even close.
The 2009 team didn’t have a 2011 Alex Avila.
The 2009 team had Fernando Rodney, not Jose Valverde.
The 2009 team had no Doug Fister in the rotation. It didn’t have a Cy Young-worthy Justin Verlander (though JV was pretty good). It didn’t have Max Scherzer at the top of the rotation.
And the 2011 Tigers don’t have a team anywhere near as good as the 2009 Twins chasing them.
True, the 2009 Tigers had Jim Leyland. You got me there.
But this 2011 team isn’t going to collapse. The pitching is too good (though not great) and the lineup is too deep and well-rounded to go into any prolonged losing streaks. Plus there’s Verlander to nip those in the bud.
Look, even if the Tigers finish a mediocre 15-17, that would still give them 86 wins. That means the Indians would have to finish 23-12, and the White Sox 23-11 just to force a playoff.
Not gonna happen.
Time to start thinking about playoff rosters. August 31 is right around the corner!