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Thoughts on October playing time and roster spots

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With the ALDS kicking off on Friday, the Rangers are in the process of deciding how best to craft their roster and who to pick for the final couple of spots.

Among position players on the roster, the question seems to boil down to whether Andres Blanco or Esteban German will be the backup infielder, and whether the team will go with Matt Treanor as a third catcher or opt for an eighth reliever.

The rotation seems set, with C.J. Wilson leading off, the Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, and (if necessary) Matt Harrison and Wilson again for games four and five.

Six spots in the bullpen also appear to be locked down, with Neftali Feliz, Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, Darren Oliver, Mike Gonzalez, and Alexi Ogando pretty well guaranteed spots.

We were hearing over the weekend and earlier this week that the Rangers were committed to going with eight relievers, but now there seems to be some wavering, and it sounds like the team is considering going with just seven relievers.  For a short series, seven relievers should be plenty...I think the extra tactical flexibility you get with a fifth bench player outweighs the utility of an eighty reliever.

Mark Lowe's injury means that there are either one or two spots open for, with Michael Kirkman, Scott Feldman, Yoshinori Tateyama, and Darren O'Day all in the mix.  If they take eight relievers, I'm guessing Kirkman gets one of the spots, as he gives the Rangers another lefty for matchup purposes, along with someone who can pitch multiple innings, along with either O'Day or Tateyama -- probably O'Day.  If they go with a seven man bullpen, my guess at this point is either O'Day or Kirkman.  They could go with Feldman, to give them a long relief option, but Ogando being in the pen seems to lessen that need, since he should be able to go multiple innings.

Some uncertainty as to who would start among the position players could be impacting the decision about whether to carry seven or eight pitchers.  Its been assumed that Mitch Moreland would start at first base in the playoffs, at least against righthanded pitchers, but his playing time has dropped significantly in September, and you have to wonder if his starting job in the playoffs is in jeopardy.

The numbers for Moreland aren't pretty.  He has a .260/.321/.415 line on the season, good for a 92+ OPS.  He has an fWAR of 0.6 on the season, and a bWAR of -0.1...in other words, FanGraphs is saying he's been slightly above replacement level for the year as a whole, and Baseball-Reference has him pegged at replacement level.

It is the trend for Moreland that is particularly worrisome, though.  In 43 September plate appearances, he's posted a .174/.191/.261 line.  Since the All Star Break, Moreland has a .244/.302/.371 line.  Moreland has stopped taking walks and his power has disappeared.

I think there had been an assumption that Moreland, who doesn't hit lefties well, (.234/.298/.279 this season, .229/.299/.282 for his career) might sit against lefthanded pitchers in the playoffs, but it may be that he'll be on the bench regardless, with Mike Napoli or Michael Young playing first base, and Yorvit Torrealba behind the plate.  If that's the case, the Rangers probably would want a third catcher available on the bench.

Even if Moreland were to play just against righthanders, though, that would likely force Torrealba into the lineup against lefties.  Against any of the three possible opponents the Rangers would face in the playoffs, they'd have multiple games against lefties in a five game series, which makes this a much bigger issue.

There's a similar question about the outfield against lefthanders and righthanders.  David Murphy will start in left field against righthanded pitchers, and for a while in September, there was talk that he was so hot that he should start against lefties as well.  But Murphy has cooled down of late (13 of his last 48), and, like Moreland, he doesn't hit lefties at all (.215/.274/.234 this year, .253/.298/.349 for his career).

Thus, I'm expecting to see Murphy in the starting lineup against righthanders, but see Craig Gentry -- the team's best defensive centerfielder, and a righthanded hitter -- start in center against lefties, with Josh Hamilton moving to left and David Murphy available as a bench bat.