The Boston Red Sox survived a late charge from the New York Yankees to win the American League East, and now they have some tough decisions to make.
The Red Sox and the Houston Astros begin their best-of-five postseason series Thursday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. Boston is hoping for a better fate than in 2016, when the Cleveland Indians swept the Red Sox out of the ALDS.
Dave Dombrowski, John Farrell and the rest of the Red Sox baseball operations staff will have to put their collective heads together in order to build the most effective 25-man roster, and there are some potentially tricky decisions to be made.
Luckily for them, we’re here to help. Here’s our best 25-man projection.
Game 1 — Chris Sale
Game 2 — Drew Pomeranz
Game 3 — Eduardo Rodriguez
Games 1 and 2 are fairly obvious. Sale, despite any recent hiccups, is the guy the Red Sox acquired to be the man, so he gets the ball in Game 1 and should be an option to come back on short rest if needed. Pomeranz’s Saturday start solidified him as the No. 2, and it makes sense to load up on left-handers against the Astros, as Houston’s home OPS against left-handed pitchers was 64 points lower than against right-handers.
As far as Game 3 goes, there’s no clear-cut option given how unpredictable Rick Porcello, Doug Fister and Rodriguez were down the stretch. We’ll go with Rodriguez, however, because he has the highest ceiling of the three, at least at the moment. (We’ll just ignore the fact he’s allowed six runs in 6 2/3 career innings against Houston.)
Porcello, Fister, David Price, Addison Reed, Carson Smith, Joe Kelly, Robby Scott, Craig Kimbrel
Given the questions about the Game 3 starter, it makes sense to keep as many capable arms as possible, especially if Game 3 turns into a bullpen game of sorts. And if the Red Sox receive solid efforts from Sale and Pomeranz, then it’s easy to see going all hands on deck with a relatively full assortment of arms in the ‘pen. Even if the Red Sox get solid performances from their starters, expect Farrell to lean heavily on the bullpen, which looks to be the strength of this team entering the playoffs.
Price obviously is the potential X factor. He allowed just three hits in 8 2/3 innings as a reliever while striking out 13 of 32 batters he faced. The left-hander can pitch to hitters on either side of the plate, which gives Farrell a plethora of ways in which he could use the veteran.
C — Christian Vazquez/Sandy Leon
1B — Mitch Moreland
2B — Dustin Pedroia
3B — Rafael Devers/Eduardo Nunez
SS — Xander Bogaerts
LF — Andrew Benintendi
CF — Jackie Bradley Jr.
RF — Mookie Betts
DH — Hanley Ramirez
Nunez says he’s ready to go despite a nagging knee injury that he aggravated in his first game back last week, so that’s what we’ll go with. Finding him a lineup spot is a bit trickier, but he ultimately could platoon with Devers while also being used as a pinch-hitting option. And if Ramirez struggles, Devers (or Nunez) could be used as a DH if needed. Everything else is pretty much as expected.
Rajai Davis, Deven Marrero, Brock Holt
The bench might have featured the toughest decision. It came down to Chris Young or Holt. While it doesn’t seem likely Davis or Marrero get a ton of playing time, each delivers potentially vital late-game attributes. Davis is on the roster for his speed (and experience), while Marrero is the perfect late-game defensive replacement for either Devers or Nunez at third. Davis also makes Young a non-essential roster piece.
If Young was producing, he’d be a no-brainer, especially against a Houston team that features a premier left-handed starting pitcher (Dallas Kuechel) and a pair of tough southpaw relievers (Tony Sipp, if he makes the roster, and Francisco Liriano). But Young isn’t producing. At his best, he hits lefties really well, but his numbers actually were worse against left-handers across the board this season. Holt’s numbers aren’t much better, but his defensive versatility makes him a potentially valuable option, especially given injury concerns about Nunez and even Pedroia. Holt also scuffled entering the playoffs last season and was one of the only Red Sox hitters to produce in the Cleveland series (4-for-10, double, home run).
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
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