Long story short: Rajai, lefties will determine roster
We’re likely to have a pretty good idea about the Tigers’ Division Series roster when the team works out later today. Realistically, though, most of the spots are set. Essentially, it comes down to this:
1. How much can Rajai Davis be expected to play?
This is going to have an impact everywhere from the bench to the bullpen. If his injury allows him to return to the starting lineup, the Tigers can go with their regular outfield mix, use Ezequiel Carrera as an extra outfielder and pinch runner, and use their 25th spot to carry an eighth reliever.
It’s if he isn’t ready that things get tricky. If he’s day-to-day, but still expected to be ready at some point in the series, the Tigers could be expected to use their 25th spot to carry an extra position player. If they want the extra outfielder, Tyler Collins — who can play all three spots — fits the bill. If Don Kelly is expected to handle a share of the playing time, then the better choice might be Hernan Perez, who can shoulder Kelly’s utility infield duties while serving as a late-inning pinch-runner as he did last October. If Davis is completely out, of course, his spot becomes open, and that extra position player can slide into there while freeing up a relief spot.
2. How many lefty relievers do the Tigers want?
If Chris Davis was looming in the Orioles lneup, this would be a no-brainer, despite Davis’ relatively even splits (.199 against righties this season, compared with .188 vs. lefties). But Davis is suspended, and right-handed hitter Steve Pearce is expected to take on his old role. There are still left-handed hitters the Tigers will want to match up — Alejandro De Aza is hitting just .138 (12-for-87) against lefties — but it’s not the same level of concern. As important of a player as Nick Markakis is, he has hit lefties better than righties the last few years, and he’s 6-for-18 off Phil Coke.
It’s an interesting twist for a Tigers bullpen that has struggled since summer to identify a primary reliever for lefty-lefty matchups. Coke is sure to make the staff, but after that, it’s a mystery. Blaine Hardy was a vital piece at one point, but struggled through September. Kyle Lobstein has made a strong case to stay on the roster as a reliever now that Detroit doesn’t need a fifth starter, but is more of a long reliever (which the Tigers also need) than a lefty specialist. Kyle Ryan has performed very well in spots but is also a 23-year-old rookie whose only relief history as a pro has happened in the past month.
Here’s what appears to be safe:
- C (2): Alex Avila, Bryan Holaday
- IF (5): Miguel Cabrera, Nick Castellanos, Ian Kinsler, Andrew Romine, Eugenio Suarez
- OF (4): Ezequiel Carrera, Torii Hunter, Don Kelly, J.D. Martinez
- DH (1): Victor Martinez
- SP (4): Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, Rick Porcello
- RP (6): Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain, Joakim Soria, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, Anibal Sanchez
That leaves one positional spot for either a healthy Rajai Davis, Tyler Collins or Hernan Perez. One bullpen spot is likely to be determined between Blaine Hardy, Jim Johnson, Kyle Lobstein, Kyle Ryan, Evan Reed and Pat McCoy. And one spot is up for grabs between both groups.