By Wednesday at the earliest, the Red Sox could clinch back-to-back division titles for the first time in their history. And if that happens, manager John Farrell will narrow his focus to several interesting roster decisions that must be made for the American League Division Series against either the Astros
By Wednesday at the earliest, the Red Sox could clinch back-to-back division titles for the first time in their history. And if that happens, manager John Farrell will narrow his focus to several interesting roster decisions that must be made for the American League Division Series against either the Astros or Indians.
The Red Sox have several position players and relievers on the bubble, and here is a look at the key decisions ahead:
1. Which lefty to take after Price?
Now that the decision has been made for David Price to be a reliever for the remainder of 2017, he will be Farrell's most talented lefty in the bullpen. But Price will be a multi-inning pitcher and not someone Farrell brings in to face a lefty hitter in the middle of the frame.
That likely leaves a spot open for Robby Scott or Fernando Abad to be the second southpaw. Scott had a brilliant first couple of months of the season, but he had some struggles in the middle and even spent some time at Triple-A Pawtucket. Overall, he did his job, holding lefties to a .129 average and a .559 OPS entering Monday.
Abad has pitched mainly in low-leverage situations this season, but he has a solid 2.93 ERA in 46 appearances. Abad has also been strong against lefties, limiting them to a .197 average and a .593 OPS.
2. Which starter will be left out?
Of Eduardo Rodriguez, Rick Porcello and Doug Fister, one of them will be on the outside looking in when Farrell names his ALDS rotation. A manager typically goes with four starters in the postseason. Rodriguez's stuff is so good that he'll be on the roster no matter what. But his role at this point likely appears to be as a starter given how well he has pitched of late.
Given Boston's strong stable of righties, it could be hard for Porcello or Fister to make the roster as a reliever. Porcello (41-36, 4.13 ERA) has a longer track record of success for Boston, but Fister (4-2, 2.60 ERA) has a history of strong performances in the postseason. Porcello versus Fister will be a story to follow in the coming days as two veterans and long-time friends make their final starts of the regular season.
3. Which righty reliever will get squeezed out?
The Red Sox are likely to carry seven relievers in the ALDS. The certainties to make the roster are Craig Kimbrel, Addison Reed, Joe Kelly and Price. Assuming Farrell takes a second lefty, that leaves a group of six righties vying for the final two spots: Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Carson Smith, Richard Hembree, Blaine Boyer and Austin Maddox.
Barnes (67 appearances) and Hembree (60 appearances) got the most work of that group during the regular season, but both have lacked consistency at times this season. In Barnes, Farrell has a strikeout pitcher. Hembree keeps the ball down and can induce double plays.
Then there is Smith, who just recently made his comeback from Tommy John surgery and is a wipeout righty specialist. The question concerning Smith is if his arm is built back up enough for the type of frequent usage a manager can count on in October. Smith was unscored on in his first six appearances back in action, and he has gone on back-to-back days once.
Workman also returned from Tommy John surgery this season and had a strong second half. Farrell often recalls how dependable Workman was as a rookie in the 2013 postseason (0.00 ERA in seven outings). One red flag with Workman is that he has been homer prone, giving up six in 38 innings. Maddox is the youngest and least experienced of the group, but entering Monday, he hadn't given up a run in his first 11 Major League outings. The veteran Boyer has quietly done his job this season when called on, notching a 3.86 ERA in 30 appearances.
4. Can Marrero or Travis make case?
The alignment of 11 pitchers means that the Red Sox would take five reserves beyond their starting nine. One of those spots goes to catcher Christian Vazquez. Another belongs to Eduardo Nunez, who will likely start more games in the postseason than he sits provided his right knee is healthy enough. Look for outfielder Rajai Davis to win a spot as a pinch-runner.
The front-runner for the fourth spot is veteran outfielder Chris Young. A core member of the clubhouse, it would be surprising if he doesn't win a spot, despite his surprising struggles against lefties (.189, 1 HR) this season. But if the Red Sox elect to go in a different direction, September callup Sam Travis could get a look. Entering Monday, Travis was a .395 hitter in 38 at-bats vs. southpaws. Travis is a first baseman, but the Red Sox have Davis to back up in the outfield.
The last spot is between Brock Holt and Deven Marrero for backup infielder. Though Holt has struggled at the plate this season and spent much of the first half dealing with vertigo, Farrell has a lot of trust in his ability to play the game the right way.
But Marrero could be a better fit for this year's ALDS roster for a couple of reasons. The first is that rookie Rafael Devers has struggled at third base recently, and Marrero would be a perfect fit as a defensive replacement late in games. The other is that Marrero has thrived against lefties this season, slashing .314/.357/.647 with four homers and 13 RBIs.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.