September 1st and a Potential Play-Off Roster Preview

Playoffs? PLAYOFFS?

It's the only remaining exciting day left on the calendar, September 1, until the last day of the season.  Each team has about 30 games remaining on their schedules.  The Rays find themselves in a good position this year.  They have a record of 81-51, second best in baseball and only a mere 1 game back from the New York Yankees for the overall best record and division lead.  As the Wild Card leader, the Rays have a 7 game lead over division rival the Boston Red Sox.  The Red Sox and Rays only have 3 games left to play against each other, making it extremely difficult for them to catch up.  The Red Sox also still have a west coast trip left this year and their last 10 games are @NYY, @CHW, NYY compared to the Rays who have a final 10 of BAL, SEA, @KCR.  Needless to say, if you can't win those, you probably on't deserves to go to the playoffs.

Now, onto the Rays potential roster.

The Locks:

 

Player BA OBP SLG wOBA UZR
Evan Longoria-3B 0.297 0.372 0.514 0.379 8.4
Carl Crawford-LF 0.295 0.347 0.475 0.366 22.1
BJ Upton-CF 0.233 0.320 0.413 0.335 -0.6
Carlos Pena-1B 0.214 0.341 0.447 0.346 -0.1
Jason Bartlett-SS 0.249 0.325 0.339 0.299 -5.7
John Jaso-C 0.280 0.388 0.396 0.355 -2.0
Ben Zobrist-2B/OF 0.251 0.356 0.352 0.329 8.4
Sean Rodriguez-2B 0.259 0.310 0.410 0.320 5.9
Matt Joyce-OF 0.225 0.365 0.465 0.359 3.8

 

Well, nothing surprising on that list.  Those are the best 9 position players the Rays currently have on their 25-man roster.  With 6 of the 9 being everyday starters and Jaso/? being the catching platoon and Rodriguez/Joyce being the LHP/RHP platoon with Ben Zobrist playing the other position that is unoccupied for that game.  Barring any shocking incidences the Rays are set with a strong starting line up.

 

Pitcher IP WHIP HR/9 ERA BB/9 K/9 FIP
David Price-SP 164.2 1.26 0.66 3.01 3.55 8.42 3.46
Matt Garza-SP 171 1.17 1.10 3.53 2.68 6.84 4.20
James Shields-SP 171.1 1.39 1.52 4.73 2.21 8.46 4.23
Rafael Soriano-RP 52.1 0.80 0.52 1.72 1.89 7.74 2.82
Joaquin Benoit-RP 48.1 0.68 0.93 1.49 1.68 11.92 2.36
Randy Choate-RP 36.2 1.28 0.49 4.42 3.19 8.35 3.27
Dan Wheeler-RP 41.1 1.02 1.09 3.05 2.61 9.36 3.54
Jeremy Hellickson-? 26.1 0.76 0.68 2.05 1.37 8.54 2.76

The Rays have probably the best set of pitching in the American League.  It's young, strong, and dominant that can match up with anyone and come away with the victory.  The starting pitchers are the 3 mainstays in the rotation.  With Hellickson, you can go SP in an emergency or a solid middle reliever to help bridge the gap to Benoit/Soriano.  The rotation is set up right now to be Price, Shields/Garza, 4th starter, which is their best right now.

The bullpen is likely to continue its normal roles.  Benoit for the eighth inning, Soriano for the ninth, Choate/Wheeler to get Lefties/Righties out and Hellickson can just wreck havoc everywhere else.

Bubble Watch:

 

Player BA OBP SLG wOBA UZR
Brad Hawpe-1B/OF/DH 0.255 0.343 0.432 0.336 -3.1
Dan Johnson-1B/OF/DH 0.160 0.358 0.300 0.314 -0.5
Desmond Jennings(AAA)-OF 0.278 0.362 0.393 Good Plus Good
Dioner Navarro-C 0.21 0.291 0.286 0.262 0
Rocco Baldelli-OF/DH 0.273 0.292 0.477 ... Um..
Willy Aybar-INF/DH 0.236 0.309 0.351 0.294 0.7
Kelly Shoppach-C 0.186 0.307 0.314 0.287 -2

The Rays already have 9 nearly guaranteed players on the roster and are only looking for potentially 4 more to round out the roster, maybe 5 for the first round, but 4 for the ALCS most likely.  The first position that the Rays need filled is the second Catcher position to go with Jaso.  While Jaso can play against RHP, someone needs to take the LHP PA, and there are many LHPs in the American League.  While Shoppach is the current leader to be the other catcher, he has not impressed very much at the plate and the difference between Navarro & him behind it is likely minimal.  I still see Shoppach currently making the roster, but a poor September and a strong one by Navarro could make things interesting.

Desmond Jennings is a near lock to be there, as he its the same profile as Perez in 2008.  A speedy OF who can PH/PR and play some late inning defense.  As long as he does not get hurt or completely implode during his first taste of the Show, we may be able to see Death to Flyball outfield.

That leaves Baldelli, Johnson, Hawpe, and Aybar as the final players looking to make the last 2 spots.  With Aybar and Johnson already on the roster and Hawpe getting a place after tonight's game, it is extremely unlikely that Rocco can make the team unless someone else gets hurt.  His RH-bat would be helpful to have, but how much he has left is debateable.  Aybar is likely to take one of the 2, given his SH ability and can play the corner infield positions, leaving Hawpe and Dan Johnson to try and claim the 13th position player spot.  Given that Hawpe is a more experienced hitter and was put onto the roster so quickly does not bode well for DanJo's chances and without a Red Sox pitcher in the post-season, he's got to clearly outplay Hawpe to get in, otherwise, he's have to watch.

Pitcher IP WHIP HR/9 ERA BB/9 K/9 FIP
Wade Davis-SP 134.1 1.38 1.41 4.29 3.42 5.69 5.10
Jeff Niemann-SP 144.2 1.22 1.24 3.67 2.92 6.47 4.56
Jake McGee(AAA)-RP 14.2 0.55 0.00 0.00 0.61 14.10 W.OW
Chad Qualls-RP 10.2 1.31 0.84 5.06 4.22 5.91 4.42
Grant Balfour-RP 43.1 1.08 0.21 2.08 2.70 9.14 2.27

 

With Grant Balfour coming back from the DL, he's still not guaranteed a spot yet, but as long as he's healthy and his stuff is there, he'll be instantly put into The Locks category.  Speaking of players who are near locks, McGee would be the pitcher the Rays have lacked all year out of the pen.  A LHRP that can get both LHH & RHHs out would be a huge boost to Choate whose only a LOOGY.  If he can be our own Billy Wagner, just another toy from the toychest we call the bullpen.  It's his spot to lose with JP Howell out, he's just got to show he wants it.

That's 13 position players and 10 pitchers so far, so the last 2 spots come down to the 4th starter and another reliever.  Before their DL-stints, Niemann was clearly entrenched to be one of the 4, and probably the #2 in the playoff rotation.  But in his 2 starts since he's been back, he's struggled heavily and has let Davis inch his back into the conversation.  Niemann did show improvement tonight, but he needs to be back into true form as quickly as possible, but I don't see him as a workable reliever compared to Davis right now.

Could this mean that Qualls is on the outside looking in?  Not necessarily.  He is a groundball specialist, something the other relievers lack.  With Hellickson being prepared for his bullpen role, the 5th starter from Niemann/Davis could be let off the roster instead.  It all depends on how they each pitch in their last 5 starts.

Missing the Cut:

 

Players
Reid Brignac
Andy Sonnanstine
Dale Thayer
Leslie Anderson
Lance Cormier
Mike Ekstrom

These 6 may end up on the roster as the season comes to a conclusion, but don't seem to really have much of a chance to be seeing any post-season play.  The 4 pitchers on the list, Sonny, Ekstrom, Thayer, and Cormier, are mostly mop-up men in the bullpen.  They provide little upside and there is no need for long-relievers in the post-season as there are only 4 starting pitchers in the rotation.  Reid Brignac, though he's been on the roster the entire season, sees very little playing time.  Jason Bartlett is firmly entrenched as the starting shortstop and doesn't seem to be getting de-throned anytime soon-barring injury or Brignac getting more than 8ABs a week or a start even.  Reid Brignac could make it into the ALDS since carrying 14 position players is more common, but he's still not getting the chance to play enough.  If he gets the starts in September, he may surprise us, but until then, he'll have to wait until next year. Leslie Anderson isn't in the first wave of call-ups making it essentially impossible to make it, but still will hopefully see some action so he can be evaluated for the future.

 

A lot can change between now and October.  Players could get hurt, or poor play could force a difficult decision to play the hot hand.  But as far as we know with the roster and how it's constructed today, this is how we should expect it to look come play-off time.

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