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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Taking a stab at projecting the Tigers' 2013 playoff roster

[Note: This is just a *projection* and is not to be assumed to be concrete. The Tigers have until noon the day of the first game of the series — in this case Friday, Oct. 4 — to submit their final playoff roster. They have not made any roster public, as of yet. This projection is based on knowledge of the situation.]

DETROIT — Things have a way of working themselves out. 

When the Tigers began preparing themselves for the chance that they’d have to put together a postseason roster, they made certain moves before the Aug. 31 roster deadline that set them up to make this week’s decisions easier.

But it appeared like there were still going to be some tough choices to make, to get down to the best 25 for the playoffs.

Now that the final month of the regular season has played out, and injuries to Phil Coke, Bruce Rondon, Jeremy Bonderman and Danny Worth have put those players’ availability in question, the decisions look much simpler.

If Coke — last year’s surprise postseason closer — is not recovered from a sore elbow he says he’s been dealing with all season, then no decision will have to be made, trying to predict how effectively he may or may not pitch. If he’s healthy, it’s a toss-up between he and Darin Downs (or maybe Jose Alvarez) for the second lefty role in the bullpen. Now, that spot could very well belong to Downs, who was a late add to the active roster, midway through September.

If Rondon’s healthy — he’s dealing with a sore elbow, as well — he’s on the roster. If not, that probably means that Luke Putkonen is, or possibly Evan Reed. Bonderman might have had a puncher’s chance at that last relief spot in the bullpen, but a sore thumb limited him to two appearances in September. And neither of them were anything to write home about.

Same thing with Worth, who could’ve been the last man on the bench, to be used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, if not for a displaced shoulder that ended his season. That job probably falls to Hernan Perez, who’s the speediest option left, with no Avisail Garcia or Quintin Berry on this year’s team.

All of those decisions worked themselves out.

Even the one tough one remaining — the platoon in left field — seems not to be as nail-biting a decision as it might have been earlier.

Andy Dirks hit a respectable .278 in the second half, and is the best defensive player of the available options. His .268 average and seven homers against right-handed starters is good enough to keep him in the lineup more often than not.

His partner for most of the season, however, may have slumped his way off the postseason roster.

Matt Tuiasosopo finished the season on an 0-for-23 skid, and didn’t have a hit in 20 September at-bats, striking out 13 times. After a four-home run July — which left him still hitting just a notch below .300 — he hit .140 the rest of the way to finish at .244. That’s a long drop after hitting .350 as late as mid-June, and .329 at the All-Star break.

Rookie Nick Castellanos does not get the nod there because has not — or not yet, anyway — hit for what will eventually be his trademark, extra-base power. All five of his hits in 18 September plate appearances were singles. That, and he doesn’t really have another attribute that would lend itself to a reserve role: he’s not speedy enough to be used as a pinch runner, and he’s not a defensive replacement for anyone.

That leaves shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who looks likely to get a second chance, after the expiration of his 50-game suspension for violating the league’s Joint Drug Agreement.

Peralta was 3-for-12 with a double in his three-game audition in Miami, after a short stint in Instructional League to learn how to play the outfield. Before his suspension, he was hitting .305 with 11 home runs and 29 doubles before his suspension, and his .352 average against lefties still ranks ninth-best in baseball.

No question, it’s his bat that should earn him a second chance.

All the Tigers need Peralta to do is not be horrendous in left field, and his bat should compensate for any shortfall in defense. He also can play third or shortstop in a pinch, too, should the Tigers need that in a game, giving them as much positional flexibility as Tuiasosopo would bring.

If the Tigers do indeed put the recently suspended Peralta on the postseason roster, probably the only way Tuiasosopo makes it on as well, is if the brain trust doesn’t want to have both Perez and Ramon Santiago — nearly identical players, as far as skill set, although Perez is far faster — on the bench.

Backup catcher Brayan Pena and utility man Don Kelly are no-brainers to make the squad, especially Kelly, who will be the best defensive option in the outfield, coming off the bench.

On the pitching side, the four-man rotation of (in no particular order) Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister is set, pushing Rick Porcello to the bullpen for the second straight postseason. Porcello will give the Tigers an option to use in long relief, or in a jam where a ground-ball out is the best option.

Al Alburquerque may have been on the fringe several weeks ago, but he’s pitched well enough lately (a 0.00 ERA in his last nine appearances, 11 strikeouts, three walks, .037 batting average allowed) to be assured of a spot. His strikeout rate (12.9 per nine innings) is the best on a strikeout happy staff, and — when he’s right — he gives the staff an option that can get out lefties (.228 average) as well as righties (.202 average). His midseason binge of home runs allowed are the biggest concern.

Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly and Jose Veras are the triumvirate at the back end of the bullpen, leaving the last two relief spots as the only real decisions.

ELIGIBILITY NOTE: Of the 25 players on the projected roster below, three were not on the active roster as of the Aug. 31 deadline — Putkonen (sent down that day, to bring Coke back), Downs and Peralta. All three were members of the organization, so they can be swapped out for three disabled list slots the Tigers have (Luis Marte, Octavio Dotel, Worth). Perez was added to the roster on Aug. 31, as well, making him eligible. The roster can also be changed between series, adding any eligible player, as well as mid-series, to replace any injured player.

Max Scherzer, RHP
Anibal Sanchez, RHP
Justin Verlander, RHP
Doug Fister, RHP

CL: Joaquin Benoit, RHP
SU: Jose Veras, RHP
SU: Drew Smyly, LHP
LR/MR: Rick Porcello, RHP
MR: Al Alburquerque, RHP
MR: Luke Putkonen, RHP
LOOGY: Darin Downs, LHP

1B: Prince Fielder
2B: Omar Infante
SS: Jose Iglesias
3B: Miguel Cabrera
C: Alex Avila
DH: Victor Martinez

CF: Austin Jackson
RF: Torii Hunter
LF: Andy Dirks
LF: Jhonny Peralta

C: Brayan Pena
UT: Don Kelly
UT: Ramon Santiago
PR: Hernan Perez


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