Tigers' postseason roster prediction
Jim Leyland said before Saturday night's game that he wasn't even going to drop a hint about the postseason roster -- even if the Tigers had clinched a spot, he isn't going to have one of his players learn they didn't make it in the paper -- but he didn't act like he's planning any surprises, either.
"Personally, I think it will be a no-brainer," he said. "If you do the math, it isn't that hard."
Well, if there's one thing I'm good at, it is math, so here we go:
Before we can start looking at positions, we need to figure out the first key to the puzzle -- how many pitchers is Leyland going to want on his postseason roster? Four starters are a given, with a fifth moving to the bullpen as a long man. Leyland likes a seven-man bullpen, so I expect there to be six full-time relievers, giving us 11 pitchers. At that point, the math is very easy -- a 25-man roster with 11 pitchers gives us 14 position players.
CATCHER: Bryan Holaday is a nice emergency option, but there's a reason he only has 27 at-bats. Alex Avila will be starting in the postseason, and Brayan Pena will be his backup. If the Tigers need a third catcher, or if Miguel Cabrera needs to DH for a day, Victor Martinez will slip behind the plate.
FIRST BASE: Prince Fielder comes out of baseball games about as often as the Lions win playoff games. Barring the first injury of his career, he's going to at first for every inning of the postseason.
SECOND BASE: The Tigers struggled when Omar Infante missed a month with an ankle injury, but he's healthy now and he's hitting .316 in what might have been an All-Star season without the injury. He was a Tiger for 119 losses in 2003, for the World Series in 2006 and again in 2012, and he's not going anywhere in 2013.
SHORTSTOP: Detroit paid a high price for Jose Iglesias -- they learned that again Friday when Avisail Garcia showed off his power, speed and throwing arm -- but no one is complaining. Iglesias is the American League's best defensive shortstop -- Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons would give him a battle for the major-league honors -- and he's quickly becoming the best friend of every pitcher on the staff.
He's not a big hitter -- he's only batting .276 with doubles power since coming to Detroit -- but he's not as bad as people feared, and he's Detroit's best baserunner.
THIRD BASE: Miguel Cabrera. You've probably heard of him. He's about to win his third straight batting title, a second straight MVP and only a nagging injury and an incredible season by Chris Davis are going to keep him from being the first player to win two straight Triple Crowns.
His only flaw is that he's so slowed by the injury that Leyland has needed to pinch-run for him late in games. If that happens in October, it will probably be Hernan Perez doing the duties, with Ramon Santiago ready to fill in as a late-inning defensive replacement.
LEFT FIELD: For most of the season, it looked like this was going to be a postseason platoon of Andy Dirks and Matt Tuiasosopo, with Don Kelly available for in-game juggling. Tuiasosopo, though, is hitting .174 since the All-Star break with a .477 OPS, and has probably played himself off the roster.
His replacement? Detroit's prodigal son, Jhonny Peralta. Peralta's never played the outfield in his professional career -- majors or minors -- but he's currently in Lakeland taking a crash course. Expect him to make his major-league debut there next weekend in Miami, and suspension or not, to be starting some postseason games.
Despite his sins, which include forcing the Tigers to trade Garcia, Peralta is still an All-Star who hit .305 with power before his 50-game vacation.
CENTER FIELD: Austin Jackson still strikes out too much for a leadoff hitter -- he's on pace for 129 despite a stint on the disabled list -- and he perplexes fans with his refusal to dive for fly balls. Those are minor nitpicks for a player who is about to score 100 runs for the third time in a four-season career, and he's not about to lose his job now.
RIGHT FIELD: Torii Hunter's old enough to have homered at Tiger Stadium, and he's not the brilliant outfielder he was in Minnesota, but he's quickly become one of Detroit's most popular players -- both in the clubhouse and with the fans.
He's going to finish the season with a batting average around .300, 90 runs, almost 20 homers and a million jokes. He's gotten a lot of days off during the season in order to keep his aged legs fresh, but he'll play every day in October.
DESIGNATED HITTER: Martinez is hitting .371/.422/.498 since the All-Star break. Yes, it took him a couple months to get going after missing a year with his knee injury, but there's a good reason he's been intentionally walked four times in the last three games.
WATCHING ON TV: The Tigers have 16 players who have played in at least 20 games, and 14 of them are on this roster. The 15th is in Chicago -- Garcia -- and the 16th is Tuiasosopo. Like Quintin Berry last season, he wasn't able to make the adjustment once pitchers figured out what to throw him, and it is going to cost him a shot at postseason glory.
Despite the excited dreams of Tigers fans, Nick Castellanos is only in Detroit to get a first look at the majors. His first real shot at the big leagues will come in spring training.
STARTING ROTATION: No one questions the four names -- Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister. Scherzer and Sanchez should both finish in the top three of the AL Cy Young voting, alongside Yu Darvish, and Verlander is finally showing signs of ending his strange summer-long slump. That leaves Fister, who is 13-9 with a 3.71 ERA. There are teams going to the postseason who would be perfectly happy to have Fister as their No. 2 starter, much less No. 4.
LONG MAN: Rick Porcello is a league-average starter stuck on a team with the best rotation in baseball. He's going to spend his second straight postseason as the long man in Detroit's bullpen, and if things go well, he won't get to pitch more than the 1 1/3 innings he got in 2012.
MIDDLE RELIEF: There are three spots available, and two of them are waiting on sore elbows. Both Bruce Rondon and Phil Coke are scheduled to test their arms on Sunday, and if things go well, they will be pitching again this week in Minnesota.
If he's healthy, Rondon is a lock for the postseason, but Coke might need a good outing or two to solidify his playoff spot. The last time he pitched, Leyland acknowledged that he wasn't good enough to get major-league hitters out, so he needs to show that his elbow was the problem and that he's now healthy. If he does that, he's in. If not, the only other choice for a lefty specialist is Jose Alvarez, and he has an 8.38 ERA in seven career relief appearances.
The third spot belongs to Al Alburquerque. His ERA for the season is over 5, and he's a constant threat to walk someone or throw a wild pitch, but on his good days, his slider is one of the best pitches in baseball.
SHORT RELIEF: It's fair to say that, in April, no one was expecting this category to consist of Drew Smyly, Jose Veras and Joaquin Benoit. They are locked in, barring catastrophic injury. At the age of 36, Benoit has finally earned a closing job, and he's a perfect 22-for-22 since the end of the Jose Valverde experiment.
Smyly has gone from battling Porcello for the fifth rotation spot to pitching long relief to becoming a steady set-up man, while Veras has provided late-inning stability since the Tigers rescued him from the disaster in Houston.
WATCHING ON TV: Leyland doesn't seem worried about Rondon's elbow, so it is safe to expect him to be on October's roster. Coke is the biggest question mark, but if he is even close to healthy, he's going to be there. As bad as he's been at times this year, he's still the guy who closed out the ALCS last season, while Alvarez wasn't even a relief pitcher until last month.
Jeremy Bonderman isn't healthy, Darin Downs is a great story that might never get a chance to pitch in the postseason, and Luke Putkonen has the numbers to be on the roster, but doesn't have the wow factor of Rondon's 103-mph fastball or Alburquerque's physics-defying slider.