October 5, 2006
Hitter-Pitcher Spread: 14-11
Bench Assets: If Jim Leyland pinch-runs for Pudge late in a game, Vance Wilson's a thoroughly useful backup catcher. Omar Infante is the Tigers' best reserve, hitting .277/.325/.415, and he's good enough to spot at four different positions. After that, you get into the "why are they here?" players, where only Leyland sees value, and only the opposition wants to see them on the field.
Tactically Useful: Infante plays second and short well enough to start for many teams, but he can also pick it pretty well at third, and has experience playing in center if need be. Second baseman Placido Polanco's bat handling skills have been lauded all season by the Ted Sizemore-mancrush set, but in addition both Wilson and center fielder Curtis Granderson are effective bunters. However, despite some aging vets, none of the Tiger regulars is particularly likely to hit into an inning-killing deuce.
Glaring Postseason Weakness: The choices about who's on the bench after Wilson and Infante basically seem to have been made with no actual thought about the utility of the players available. Perhaps it all spins out of the blind devotion to Sean Casey, but how do we explain the presence of the equally worthless Neifi Perez and Ramon Santiago at the back end of the bench? Of course, the club's options were limited: Matt Stairs was acquired too late to be eligible for the postseason roster, while Dmitri Young was cut for puppy-eating or some other undiscovered (and undiscoverable) nonsense. So, Dave Dombrowski blew it as far as identifying and acquiring a worthwhile veteran lefty bat, the signal mistake in an otherwise fine season. But why not at least carry Chris Shelton instead of Santiago? Circumstances where you might play Shelton at least exist-against a lefty, or if you pinch-ran for the sluggardly Casey late in a game, or if you got tired of Casey's uselessness at the plate. Shelton helped this team get here by his early exploits this season-does that really cut less ice than Ramon Santiago's confirmed posession of all of his fingers and toes? If not Shelton, why not Brent Clevlen instead of Santiago? With Marcus Thames handling the DH duties, the only actual reserve outfielder on the club is the lefty-swinging Alexis Gomez. A right-handed fifth outfielder would at least be handy, not to mention potentially critical when Granderson is routinely emasculated by lefties (.218/.277/.395). Keeping Santiago ahead of both Shelton or Clevlen is indefensible, and as much on Leyland as Dombrowski.
The Funky Stuff: Beyond the obvious mistakes, nothing too funky. The Tigers flubbed their opportunities to shore up the roster in July and August, and instead employed guys like Mike Hessman down at Toledo, the kind of minor league vet you can't really use. It would have been a nice gesture to put Mike Maroth on the roster instead of Zach Miner, especially since Miner's spent the months since the All-Star break getting pasted (6.71 ERA).
Twins ALDS Roster
Bench Assets: Arguably the best bullpen in baseball on the basis of how good the unit has been since adding sidearming demi-god Pat Neshek, but you already knew about that. Jason Kubel, but he really ought to be starting instead of Jason Tyner at DH versus right-handed pitchers. Unfortunately, Ron Gardenhire seems to have forgotten about Kubel's June slugging exploits that helped light a fire under this lineup long before Ozzie Guillen started jabbering about piranha attacks. Mike Redmond seems wasted considering there's almost no reason Joe Mauer shouldn't start every postseason game, but if we get into a really long extra-inning game, baseball's best backup catcher might come into play.
Tactically Useful: Although he's mostly going to be reserved for DH work againt lefties, Phil Nevin could be plugged into any of the four corners if Gardenhire gets into any particularly messy scorecard situations. Similarly, Michael Cuddyer could play first or third in an emergency. If Jason Bartlett gets any more spacey or if either of the starting middle infielders get hurt, Nick Punto can move over from third for either of them. That would put Luis Rodriguez on the field, and while he didn't do as much at the plate this season, he can pick it at third.
Glaring Postseason Weakness: Nothing major. Although it would have been nice to find a way to squeeze Alexi Casilla onto the roster for pinch-running purposes, they could always plug Kubel into the lineup and reserve Tyner for that role. Maybe it's a matter of playing on carpet, but the Twins ground into a good number of double-plays, leading the majors with both 198 Twin killings and hitting into the deuce in 16.6% of their opportunities. That might crimp all the talk of how fundamentally sound this ballclub is, though, so I suspect you won't hear much about it on TV.
The Funky Stuff: There's the massive roll of the dice with Brad Radke's shoulder, but I suppose the man's earned his shot at getting carried off on his shield. I really dig their decision to keep Glen Perkins as the pen's second lefty after only 5.2 big league innings-he's got a solid fastball, a full assortment, and as a pitcher with starting experience in the minors, beyond complementing situational southpaw Dennys Reyes, he gives Gardenhire an alternative to Matt Guerrier in long relief situations.
Yankees ALDS Roster
Bench Assets: Outfielders, outfielders, and more outfielders. Even with Gary Sheffield playing first instead of his more usual right field, Joe Torre still has both Bernie Williams and Melky Cabrera on the bench. Williams hurt southpaws this season, stomping them at a .323/.387/.549 clip; that might get him a start against Kenny Rogers. If any of the starting pitchers has to make an early exit-or breaks down, a concern for all of the non-Wang starters-then Cory Lidle stands ready to step in.
Tactically Useful: Using Cabrera as a pinch-runner, possibly for Jorge Posada. The circumstances that might put Miguel Cairo on the field would probably involve some sort of misfortune, but the man can bunt.
Glaring Postseason Weakness: The bullpen crew in front of the great Mariano the Invincible. Kyle Farnsworth is no Jeff Nelson, and Mike Myers is no Mike Stanton. Myers wasn't quite effective this year, as lefties slugged .443 against him, while Farnsworth's reputation for combustibility is well-deserved. In contrast, some people treat Scott Proctor like a punchline, but he's been the reliable rubber-armed middle man a team with a fragile rotation needs-a latter-day Gene Nelson, if you will. Ron Villone isn't firing on all cylinders-Torre seemed to only belatedly remember that he was on the roster, used him heavily in August, only to see the big lefty surrender 33 runs in 32.1 innings after 8/1.
There are a few defensive questions. Sheffield's a former third baseman-heck, as a prospect, he was originally a shortstop-so he should be an improvement over Jason Giambi's convincing impression of a spavined crab, but the possibility of a mental error or a flubbed rundown should be something to worry about. Johnny Damon isn't going to freeze a lot of baserunners on balls hit to him. Depth is an issue, insofar as an injury to Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, or Robinson Cano would almost certainly force Miguel Cairo into the lineup. That would mean there's only eight guys to pitch around to get to an easy out.
The Funky Stuff: Picking Andy Phillips over Craig Wilson. While the lame excuse offered was that Phillips is their defensive replacement at first who can also play second and third, he's not especially nimble at any of those positions, and with no reason beyond injury to pull any of the starters at second, short, or third (and with Cairo available in emergencies at all three of them), you could just as easily argue that Wilson's utility as a third catcher is even more valuable. The flexibility argument is really just an excuse; Phillips' being here is more matter of it being his turn after years spent in the boondocks waiting for his turn, and the sense of being aggrieved that goes with that. (Sort of like Slovakia, only smaller.) Joe Torre's sense of propriety about these things might warm the livers of some whisky-soaked New York scribes, but the misfortune is that Torre couldn't see past Wilson's unhappy couple of months in pinstripes, and instead recognize that he's a lefty masher who can play first, the outfield corners, as well as catch in a pinch.
Among the pitchers... Brian Bruney? Perhaps nobody's more surprised than Bruney himself, but Octavio Dotel blew his shot at the postseason, and somebody had to be the eleventh pitcher. Bruney cooks with gas, though, and given an opportunity, might earn a claim on a spot in next year's bullpen.
A's ALDS Roster
Bench Assets: Outfield reserve Bobby Kielty can put the hurt on lefties (.325/.358/.607), although Ken Macha instead started Mark Kotsay against Johan Santana in Game One-we'll see if that happens in Game Five (should it be necessary), but otherwise, Kielty will have to settle for being a threat against relievers Dennys Reyes and Glen Perkins. Dan Johnson might get brought in to play first base late in a game, although the clear preference is to leave Nick Swisher alone.
Tactically Useful: Being able to move starting left fielder Jay Payton to center or right if Mark Kotsay or Milton Bradley get hurt; being able to shuttle Swisher between first and left. All in all, not a lot of chicanery potential.
Glaring Postseason Weakness: Nobody you'd consider a pinch runner worthy of the name, which might matter when a thunder-footed Frank Thomas is on base late in a game; A's fans are still haunted by postseason baserunning antics of Jeremy Giambi, Miguel Tejada, and Eric Byrnes. Beyond that, the shortage of lefty relief help, and the risk of trying to get by with Marco Scutaro's limited range at shortstop every day.
The Funky Stuff: They're short of middle infielders, a situation made worse by yesterday's injury to Mark Ellis. D'Angelo Jimenez goes from being the Cancer of Cincinnati to your Rangers Opening Day second baseman (only because of an injury) to... playoff starter? Jimenez did play a little bit of short in Sacramento, but instead of another utility infielder, the team's carrying Hiram Bocachica. Although Bocachica started five games at third in Sacramento this summer, he's really only an emergency infielder-you have to go back to his time in Toledo in 2003 to find him playing an infield position for any length of time, and he was brutal in twenty games at second for the Mudhens. He's athletic enough to serve as a pinch-runner, but frankly, Freddy Bynum would be a lot more handy. They've already lost Mike Rouse on waivers, so if Ellis can't play in the ALCS and if Bobby Crosby isn't healed up, the A's have a problem.
The other interesting development is that despite a first-round matchup with a Twins team heavy on lefty hitters, the A's kept only Joe Kennedy among their portsiders, reducing Brad Halsey and Scott Sauerbeck to spectators. Instead, Ken Macha's carrying both Joe Blanton and Kirk Saarloos in long relief roles, which seems redundant at first glance. However, although the Admiral finished sixth on the team in WXRL, Halsey also wasn't all that effective against lefties: .317/.405/.519. Bass-ackwards lefties might make for a fun in-season weapon and starting pitcher, but in the playoffs, they don't really make for great bullpen bugbears. Besides, do you really need to frighten off Jason Tyner? Unfortunately, neither Blanton nor Saarloos were all that effective against lefties either.
Dodgers NLDS Roster
Bench Assets: Nobody has as much talent on their bench as the Dodgers, and not simply because they're short a pitcher. James Loney and Andre Ethier will both be cornerstones on future good Dodger squads, and Julio Lugo provides some necessary insurance against a Jeff Kent reinjury. Loney is similarly inactive until your next Nomar Garciaparra breakdown, while Ethier has to cool his heels waiting for the Legend of Marlon Anderson to get played out. Beyond that trio, the Dodgers have professional pinch-hitting monster Olmedo Saenz ready for action-he's hit .263/.333/.491 in the role this summer alone.
Tactically Useful: Between Lugo, Loney, and Wilson Betemit, there's almost no double-switch that Grady Little can't make involving his starting infielders-and still have Ramon Martinez in reserve. Will former starter Chad Billingsley get used as a situational righthander? He held righties to .213/.317/.360. Jason Repko will no doubt get called upon to fulfill some of the odd jobs-defensive replacement for Anderson, pinch-hitting, pinch-running even.
Glaring Postseason Weakness: This is about as wide-open as a pitching staff can get these days as a matter of choice. Four of the six relievers are former starters, the Game Two starter (Hong-Chih Kuo) began the year as one of the team's situational lefties. The question is whether the short staff can be an asset or a liability-it isn't like Brett Tomko and Aaron Sele have been all that useful in the pen, and Mark Hendrickson didn't exactly blossom in situational lefty work. Basically, there's the risk that Little can potentially run out of pitchers, especially if somebody doesn't look so good from the start (like Brad Penny yesterday). To safeguard against that, he should exploit his extra position player and solid depth by relying on double-switches designed to throw the pitcher's spot as far from coming up as possible. Will he, though?
I suppose there's also the matter of having to break out that special edition Wes Chamberlain chest protector to keep Anderson from hurting himself in the outfield-the former second baseman combines Alex Sanchez's unnatural instincts with a Terrence Long-like ability to take the wrong route to wrong place.
The Funky Stuff: It's unfortunate that Joe Beimel learned that a hotel room doesn't have to have a unhappy hooker in it to be a dangerous place, because it shorted the Dodgers a lefty reliever who's been handy all season. The ripple effect is that it encouraged Little to throw Penny into the pen for the first two games of the series, the sort of thing that even more unfortunately encouraged Little to learn the now-consistent lesson that if you're in for a Penny, you're in for a pounding. Penny's only managed to log a lone quality start in his last ten, and that was against the hapless Cubs. You have to wonder about Penny's being hurt much worse than just the back pain he's admitted to.
Mets NLDS Roster
Bench Assets: Endy Chavez, and that's literally about it. The lone significant bit part, Chavez has shown enough contact ability to hit with runners aboard, and has enough speed to be an on-base pest should he be brought off the bench to lead off an inning. He's also a significant defensive asset, something that matters with Cliff Floyd in left.
Tactically Useful: Some people might complain that he's carrying three lefty relievers, but given the circumstances and some of the righthanders in this pen, I think it makes sense. Aaron Heilman is the primary setup man, and Billy Wagner the closer, but the other six relievers need to be seen as situational chess pieces. Roberto Hernandez and Guillermo Mota have both had major problems with lefties this season, and submariner Chad Bradford has been similarly vincible in past seasons. So while it might seem excessive, if Willie Randolph wants to be more La Russian than La Russa, mixing and matching Bradford/Hernandez/Mota with the lefty trio of Pedro Feliciano, Royce Ring, and Darren Oliver. I expect Feliciano and Ring will be reserved for situational use, with Oliver perhaps getting more general middle relief duty, as needed. After charting his way through the game with that front half-dozen, he can turn the eighth and ninth over to Heilman and Wagner. It's going to make for some long, boring innings, bogged down in pitching change after pitching change, but it's the logical outcome of modern sensibilities about pen management and the Mets' lack of a starter beyond Tom Glavine who doesn't make you cringe.
Glaring Postseason Weakness: The rotation, to state the obvious. The Mets got by with John Maine in Game One, but will they be so lucky with Steve Trachsel and Oliver Perez? Perez is the real stunner, considering that he only managed to give the Mets that one complete-game shutout of the Braves, and five other starts that did nothing to add to the luster of Rick Peterson's genius status as a pitching coach.
Beyond Chavez, the bench isn't worth much more than perfunctory pinch-hitting from what's left of Julio Franco and Michael Tucker. Franco wasn't all that useful against lefties (.227/.282/.273), which makes me wonder if he doesn't need the pitcher's velocity to put a charge in the ball any more, and Chris Woodward was useless as Jose Valentin's platoon partner, so the Mets basically lack anybody on the bench to answer a situational lefty brought in against them. Keeping Lastings Milledge would have made all sorts of sense, but the Mets were stuck with the decision to devote twelve spots to pitchers by Omar Minaya's decision back in August.
The Funky Stuff: Normally, I'm given to complaining about teams carrying a twelfth pitcher, but by happy coincidence, it's worked out for the Mets. As a compensation gesture for the losses of first Pedro Martinez and then Orlando Hernandez, there's no begrudging Randolph his druthers on this. It's something of surprise to see Perez, but then it's obviously a surprise to see Ring too.
Cardinals NLDS Roster
Bench Assets: What might be a handicap for some managers has been, in Tony La Russa's hands, a source of strength. The Cardinals have as free-wheeling an outfield situation as you could imagine. Jim Edmonds can't be counted on too heavily while he's still recovering from a concussion, but exploiting the differing virtues of Chris Duncan, Juan Encarnacion, Scott Spiezio, So Taguchi, and John Rodriguez has given the Cards a menu of offensive and defensive possibilities. Between the seven players available in the outfield, he's got people who can field, a few who can run, some who can get on base, and some who can slug. All told, it's a testament to La Russa's flexibility and ability to cobble together a solution.
Tactically Useful: Spiezio can play first, second, third, and the outfield, so if he gets swapped in at any point, he still provides La Russa with all sorts of lineup-juggling potential. I guess it's handy that Aaron Miles wasn't a disaster as a substitute shortstop-it made it easier to forego carrying a glove-only reserve. Between Ron Belliard's struggles at the plate and David Eckstein's health, you can count on seeing Miles play.
Glaring Postseason Weakness: Taking a chance on Jason Marquis isn't just too rich for most people's blood, it's a locked-and-loaded coronary waiting to happen. If they can close out the series with a Game Four win by Chris Carpenter, no problem, but right now, they're in danger of staring Marquis in Game Five-it's either that, or Jeff Suppan's first start on three days' rest of the season. Beyond that, both Tyler Johnson and Randy Flores seem to belong more to the Joe Klink class of situational lefties that La Russa has relied upon, and less like one Rick Honeycutt's better incarnations. I suppose it's also a problem that they can't pinch-hit for their catchers twice or more in a game, a pity considering their multiplicity of useful outfielders. However, the Cardinals seem nothing if not comfortable letting Yadier Molina do his usual Ausmusian exploits at the plate.
The Funky Stuff: Will Duncan go back to being an albino mini-Bonds, the way he was in August, or will he settle for his more Mike Laga-like exploits of the season's final month? Amidst an otherwise nondescript collection of relievers, the question is whether or not Adam Wainwright is merely the first among equals, or if he's about to become a household name. Don't be surprised by the latter, although I'd also keep an eye on some October heroics from Josh Kinney.
Padres NLDS Roster
Bench Assets: Josh Bard's ready to start, but instead he's sharing the job behind the plate with Mike Piazza. Despite a variety of potentially good alignments, the Pads have wound up with a pretty odd assortment on the bench. They've got Todd Walker, whose best virtues are his bat against right-handed pitching, and his glove safely gathering dust. If you believe that Ryan Klesko's healed up enough to swing a bat well, he's an equally dangerous pinch-hitting option-but also from the left side.
Tactically Useful: Russell Branyan can play all four corners, but he's going to see most of his time at third. Walker can play first when he isn't starting ahead of either Branyan or second baseman Josh Barfield. If they were really solid on Khalil Greene, they'd be able to use Geoff Blum as their defensive replacement at third, but then you're left asking what Mark Bellhorn is for.
Glaring Postseason Weakness: A shortage of outfielders, a catcher too many, and a multiplicity of guys they'll use at third but probably shouldn't. Take Bellhorn, for example-he doesn't hit well enough to want to use him, yet there he was, being asked to pinch-hit against a lefty, when the Pads could have instead had young right-handed slugger Ben Johnson up there, at the very least chasing Tyler Johnson to the showers and forcing La Russa to counter. If Bellhorn's primary role is as a pinch-hitter and not as a notional defensive replacement for Branyan or Walker, then he really shouldn't be here.
Then there's the bullpen, which seems to have been stocked with an eye towards service time instead of usefulness. Why both Rudy Seanez and Chan Ho Park are here, while Brian Sweeney is watching defies thoughtful explanation. There's no guarantee that Park is even healthy enough to pitch, let alone a positive answer as to whether you'd want him to out of the pen if he is.
The Funky Stuff: The Padres are like that newbie in a war movie, loaded down with impedimenta they don't need for emergencies that only rarely arise. Clay Hensley was their third-best starter, but somehow, that's not good enough. They've got a third catcher they'll essentially only use when they have a lead, without necessarily having the players who can help get them that lead. They've got an ex-famous possibly healthy DH-to-be in Klesko sticking around to pinch-hit, which is fine, except that it's instead of an actual fourth outfielder. Do you really need Klesko when you already have Walker, and you're short of legitimate outfield reserves? What happens if Mike Cameron runs into somebody and has to leave the game?
The problem is that Bruce Bochy and Kevin Towers didn't have somebody gruffly reminding them that the focus should be on utility and the things that will keep you alive. Instead, the brain trust remembered that Klesko was an important part of some Padres teams that didn't win anything, and that a defensive replacement at catcher is a neato thing to have. On a roster already crowded with a shortstop (Khalil Greene) who can't really swing a bat just yet, and a very-done Bellhorn, you've got a team with a number of dead roster spots when it shouldn't.