With one series yet to be played, and the top seed in the American League all but wrapped up, the Boston Red Sox are now looking to the postseason.
For a team as successful as this year's Red Sox, picking the postseason roster can a tough task. With so many deserving names contributing to the team's 96-63 record, there will certainly be some quality players excluded.
So without further ado, let's delve into the prospective Red Sox roster for the 2013 postseason.
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Shane Victorino, RF
3. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
4. David Ortiz, DH
5. Mike Napoli, 1B
6. Daniel Nava, LF
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
8. Stephen Drew, SS
9. Will Middlebrooks, 3B
The Red Sox have scored the most runs in the regular season, and will look to continue that success in the playoffs.
Boston breathed a collective sigh of relief when Jacoby Ellsbury returned to the lineup Wednesday. The free-agent-to-be will give the Red Sox speed and productivity at the top of the lineup. Along with Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, the Red Sox have as dangerous a top-of-the-order as any team in the league.
Mike Napoli has been inconsistent this season, but he provides the perfect protection behind Ortiz in the order. Behind him Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes or Mike Carp can be slotted, as each of the three has enjoyed success with Boston this year. After whoever fills in there, Jarrod Saltalamacchia will probably hit. The catcher has been very solid at the plate this season, sporting a spiffy .272 batting average to go along with his 14 home runs and 64 RBI.
The fierceness of their lineup hardly relents at the bottom, as the left side of the infield comes to the plate to complete the Red Sox order. Stephen Drew has been impressive for most of the season, and has delivered timely hitting and solid defense at shortstop.
As disappointing as things went for Will Middlebrooks early in his second big league season, the sophomore third baseman has been clicking at the plate lately. Since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket on August 10, he has hit .298 and slugged eight home runs. Look for him to continue that success into the playoffs.
Jonny Gomes, OF
Mike Carp, OF/1B
David Ross, C
John McDonald, SS
Quintin Berry, OF
Some of the biggest questions the Red Sox need to decide in the next week regards their bench. They have a deep roster, and one of the consequences of that is that tough decisions need to get made around this time of year.
Should the Red Sox decide to carry seven arms in the bullpen, they will be allowed only five spots on the bench. However, given the depth of their position players, they might choose to only carry six relievers so they can have six position players on the bench.
The obvious choices for the bench are Gomes, Carp and Ross. The former pair have been stalwarts of the lineup for the entire season, and have been the driving force behind a lot of the team's success. They can be plugged in to the lineup as either starters or pinch hitters. And Ross has such an excellent rapport with the pitching staff and starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia that it would be a travesty to leave him off in favor of Ryan Lavarnway as Boston's backup catcher.
For the final two (or perhaps three) bench spots, the leading candidates are outfielders Quintin Berry and Jackie Bradley Jr., and infielders Xander Bogaerts and John McDonald.
Berry would provide the Red Sox with a speedy pinch runner on the bench. In his brief career, Berry has stolen 22 bases and is yet to be caught. Red Sox fans know the value of that kind of speed from Dave Roberts' time with the team in 2004. With a .189 average in his first big league season, Bradley does not seem ready to help Boston in the postseason, but his future remains bright.
John McDonald could grab the final spot on the bench from 20-year-old Bogaerts, as McDonald has a fantastic glove and could be used late in games for his defense alone. Bogaerts would not be a bad choice for the roster, but he has hit just .256 during his limited time in Boston, and will probably be more of a factor on the 2014 Red Sox than on this version of the team.
Although the Red Sox don't field a 20-game winner or a former Cy Young winner, as do their playoff counterparts in Detroit, they have as deep a rotation as you could hope for.
In fact, the four likely postseason starters were up for debate not too long ago. Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster both pitched reasonably well for most of the season, and many fans felt their performances warranted postseason rotation consideration.
However, with the acquisition of Jake Peavy, the recovery of Clay Buchholz and the reemergence of John Lackey as a reliable arm in the rotation, the Red Sox simply have their rotation set for them.
The only question is the order in which the pitchers will appear. Jon Lester seems the best candidate to take the ball in game one. Over his last twelve starts, the lefty has recorded a 2.29 ERA to complement his 7-2 record in that span. He has pitched deep into games, going at least seven innings deep in eight of those twelve starts, so he is a good bet to save the bullpen for later in the series.
Buchholz will likely get a much-deserved game two start, as his 11-1 record on the season and 1.60 ERA are mind-numbingly good.
Between Lackey and Peavy, the Red Sox have two excellent choices for their third starter. Lackey has rebounded remarkably from Tommy John surgery, going 10-13 with a 3.52 ERA on the season. Peavy has been successful since joining Boston's rotation on August 3, going 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA in his 10 starts with the club.
Lackey might get the slight edge to start the third game over Peavy, if only because of his past postseason successes in the 2002 playoffs, when he helped the Anaheim Angels claim their lone World Series title. Peavy has had limited opportunities in the postseason, but has not fared well. In his two postseason appearances, Peavy has gone 0-2 with a 12.10 ERA. Those numbers shouldn't concern Red Sox fans too much, however, as his last postseason start was seven years ago, and because the sample size is too small to make a big deal out of.
Koji Uehara, RHP
Brandon Workman, RHP
Ryan Dempster, RHP
Felix Doubront, LHP
Craig Breslow, LHP
Matt Thornton, LHP
Junichi Tazawa, RHP
The bullpen probably contains the most question marks as to who is going to be on the postseason roster. The Red Sox might choose to carry only six relievers, in which case Doubront will likely be the odd man out, as he has not had enough experience pitching out of the bullpen.
Dempster has been a closer in the past, and the Red Sox have used him in the bullpen over the past week, so he should be a great addition to the unit. The advantage of having a guy like Doubront in the bullpen is that he can play the role of mop-up man, and save the rest of the bullpen on a day when the starter gets punched out early. Dempster could conceivably fill that void too, but his skills would be best utilized during key situations, as he has proven he can come through big in those.
The biggest asset the Red Sox have in their bullpen is closer Koji Uehara. Since June 10, the 38-year-old pitcher has surrendered just two earned runs. He has notched 48 innings in that span, which makes his ERA an incredible 0.38 during that timeframe.
The team has been gifted a career year by Breslow, as the lefty has posted a 1.87 ERA in his 59 appearances out of the bullpen this season. He has been good throughout his career, but at age 32, this is the best season he has posted in five years.
Junichi Tazawa has been a dependable piece for the Red Sox, and is also an automatic for the postseason roster. His 2.94 ERA demonstrates his effectiveness, but at times he can be erratic. Over the month of September, the Red Sox have limited Tazawa's innings to 7.1, and during the month his ERA sits at 4.91. Hopefully the righty will be more like he was earlier in the season when the calendar flips to October.
Brandon Workman has been a nice power arm for Boston, but his results have to be measured against his 5.05 ERA. It will be hard to rely on him heavily in the playoffs, but his ability to get timely strikeouts should come in handy during the playoffs.
Finally, the former Chicago White Sox pitcher Matt Thornton will probably wrap up Boston's postseason roster. Thornton can come in and give the Red Sox a good arm to use against lefties, as the pitcher allows lefties just a .274 on-base percentage. He is another guy who cannot be relied on too heavily, as his 1.86 WHIP demonstrates. Any guy letting hitters reach base at such a high rate should be relegated to specialist duties exclusively when appearing in the playoffs.
With such a deep 25-man roster, the Red Sox have a chance to compete against any prospective opponent in the pool. After the travesty that was the 2012 season, it will be very refreshing for Red Sox fans to watch their favorite team enter the most exciting sports month of the year as the AL East champion and a legitimate World Series contender.