Roster-Depth Issues That Could Cost MLB Teams in the 2013 Postseason
While roster depth can certainly be most important as teams battle for 162 regular games and often lose key players along the way, a lack of talent at any particular position can still be exposed in the postseason.
The Nationals' decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg late in the 2012 season factored into their NLDS loss to the Cardinals as Edwin Jackson and Jordan Zimmermann each had rough starts. After two wins to start their NLDS matchup against the Giants, Cincinnati ran out of gas and lost three straight to a much deeper squad.
The 2012 Orioles, one of the biggest surprises of the year, were able to take the Yankees to five games in the ALDS. But in the end, they just didn't have enough hitting—they combined for a .498 OPS in the series—to get to the next round. Same with the A's, who didn't have enough offensive firepower to get past the Tigers and their dominant starting rotation.
For these playoffs, the Dodgers will have to cope with the loss of star center fielder Matt Kemp, who is out for the year with an ankle injury, and with his backup, Andre Ethier, who is battling an ankle injury of his own and might only be available for pinch-hitting duty, if that, in the NLDS.
With Skip Schumaker the likely replacement, the Dodgers lineup isn't the same. When half of your lineup consists of Juan Uribe, A.J. Ellis, Mark Ellis and Schumaker, it's hard to think you're World Series-bound.
Here are some other key roster-depth issues that could come back to hurt four playoff teams.
Athletics' Rotation Depth
While a lack of offense hurt the A's in last year's ALDS matchup against the Tigers, their downfall in the 2013 rematch could be their starting pitching.
They have a capable four-man rotation led by veteran Bartolo Colon, who will face off against Max Scherzer in Game 1. The 40-year-old has had a terrific season and heads into his first playoff start since 2005 on a roll. He has a 1.25 ERA with four walks and 34 strikeouts in his last six starts.
Colon obviously isn't the concern. But Game 2 starter, Sonny Gray, will be facing off against Justin Verlander, who has more postseason starts than the 23-year-old rookie has as a big leaguer. And while Gray's been impressive, for the most part, he's already gone over 180 innings on the season and has failed to pitch more than five innings in four of his last seven starts.
The bullpen will likely play an integral role in this one.
Jarrod Parker (pictured), who will face off against Anibal Sanchez in Game 3, was terrific for a majority of the season. After a terrible fifth start (8.10 ERA through April 25), he posted a 2.89 ERA over his next 24 starts. But he allowed seven earned runs in two of his last three starts of the season, making it a complete mystery which pitcher will show up in the postseason.
The 24-year-old could be wearing down as he approaches 200 innings pitched on the season.
If they can make it to Game 4, the A's will go to 24-year-old Dan Straily, who has had a solid rookie season (3.96 ERA in 27 starts) and appeared to be getting better down the stretch (2.00 ERA in last six starts). In an earlier matchup with Doug Fister, who would take the mound for Detroit, Straily allowed just one run on six hits as the A's won 14-4.
Fister had one of his worst starts of the season, allowing seven runs on 13 hits.
But he had three great starts in last year's postseason, including a Game 2 win against Oakland, and will be a tough matchup. Straily, on the other hand, has never pitched in the playoffs or this late in the season, and it's hard to say what to expect.
Losing to the Tigers in five games during last year's ALDS has to bring extra motivation, not to mention experience, this time around. But if the young pitching staff doesn't bring its A-game, it could result in an even quicker exit.
Braves' Second Base Depth
The Braves were seeking bench help in July and August, which was necessary for depth and just in case second baseman Dan Uggla (pictured) struggled down the stretch. The lone acquisition was light-hitting Elliot Johnson, who was claimed off waivers from the Royals.
And "struggled" doesn't begin to describe Uggla's performance at the plate since he returned from a disabled-list stint as he recovered from Lasik eye surgery in late August.
In his last 24 games, the 33-year-old was only 8-for-60 with one homer, 15 walks and 25 strikeouts. His problems started before the layoff, though. He was in a 2-for-41 slump before being placed on the DL. Despite the lack of options to replace him, the Braves had no choice but to leave him off of the NLDS roster, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
Uggla's likely replacement in the NLDS will be Johnson, who had a .676 OPS with eight stolen bases in 32 games after being acquired.
While that's much more than what Uggla was giving them, it's probably one of Johnson's most productive stints of his career. He's not a very good hitter. In fact, it's highly likely that the Dodgers are glad to see Johnson in the lineup as opposed to Uggla, who is 5-for-19 against them with three homers on this season.
Cardinals' Right-Handed Hitting Depth
The loss of Allen Craig (pictured) with a foot injury for at least the NLDS will likely play a major factor in one game, which could quite possibly be the difference in the series. That would be Game 3 when left-hander Francisco Liriano takes the hill for the Pirates and the Cards will need as many good right-handed bats in the lineup as possible.
While Liriano has been tough on all hitters this season, he's nearly untouchable against left-handed hitters.
Matt Adams, who is replacing Craig at first base, has had a terrific rookie season. But he won't have a chance against Liriano. Jon Jay will struggle. Even Matt Carpenter, who has an .820 OPS against lefty pitchers this season, will have a tough time against Liriano, who has dominated St. Louis in three starts this season (3-0, 0.75 ERA, 24 IP, 10 H, 5 BB, 20 K).
Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday have combined for seven hits in 20 at-bats—six of the hits have been singles, one has been a double—against the 29-year-old. The rest of the team is a combined 6-for-69. Craig is 0-for-9 with five strikeouts, but at least he has a fighting chance against Liriano, which is more than we can say for the majority of the lineup.
If the Bucs can win one of the first two games in St. Louis, they'll have serious momentum leading up to Liriano's start in Game 3.
Tigers' Left Field Depth
If the A's can somehow outplay the Tigers and advance to the ALCS, Detroit could come to regret its decision not to find a more productive left fielder before the postseason. Perhaps it was Andy Dirks' strong month of August (.821 OPS) and the impending arrival of top prospect Nick Castellanos.
Or, at the least, it appeared journeyman Matt Tuiasosopo would be a solid option after he had a 1.071 OPS and six homers in the first half of the season.
Those three combined to do very little in September, however, with Dirks back to a .673 OPS in the month, Tuiasosopo going hitless in 20 at-bats and Castellanos hitting five singles in 18 at-bats. It's no wonder the Tigers will likely turn to Jhonny Peralta in left field.
Despite missing 50 games due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension and never having played in the outfield during his professional career, the 31-year-old Peralta was reinstated from the restricted list and placed into the starting lineup as the left fielder for the final three games of the season. He went 3-for-12 with a double.
While it wouldn't be a surprise if Peralta gives the Tigers a boost with his bat, they should be worried about a potential misplay by an inexperienced outfielder costing them a playoff game.
Jose Iglesias may be a future Gold Glove winner at shortstop, but I'd prefer Peralta there for the 2013 playoffs if it meant that Avisail Garcia, who was traded to the White Sox for Iglesias earlier in the season, would be the team's left fielder.