With the Texas Rangers starting their Wild Card Series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, October 3, for the first time since 2016, we have the excitement of speculating as to who will be on the playoff roster.
The playoff roster is set at 26 players, with no more than 13 of those players being pitchers. While, technically, the rule is that players have to be on the 40 man roster or the 60 day injured list as of August 31 to be eligible for the postseason roster, players who are in the organization but not on the 40 man roster can be added to the postseason roster to replace a player who is on the injured list. Thus, for example, Evan Carter, Matt Bush and Jake Latz are all going to be postseason eligible, even though none of them were on the 40 man roster on August 31.
In addition, the roster is set for each series in turn, so if the Rangers win the Wild Card Series, they can change their roster for the ALDS.
So let’s run down my initial guess as to who will be on the Wild Card roster.
Catcher — Jonah Heim, Mitch Garver, Austin Hedges
Infielders — Nathaniel Lowe, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Josh Jung, Josh Smith
Outfielders — Evan Carter, Robbie Grossman, Leody Taveras, Adolis Garcia, Travis Jankowski
Starting pitchers — Jordan Montgomery, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney
Pseudo-starting pitchers — Dane Dunning, Martin Perez, Cody Bradford
Relievers — Jose Leclerc, Aroldis Chapman, Will Smith, Josh Sborz, Chris Stratton, Brock Burke, Jonathan Hernandez
Okay, let’s discuss...
On the position player side, the Rangers have basically been rolling with ten regulars over the last couple of weeks, with Evan Carter and Robbie Grossman platooning in left field and Mitch Garver at DH. I see no reason to expect that to change in the playoffs.
So the question then becomes, who is on the bench, and do the Rangers use a five man bench or a four man bench? There’s an argument to be made that you want to use a five man bench in a short series, since there simply aren’t that many games to be pitched, and you are using less than a full five man rotation — in this case, a three man rotation.
I think that normally is what makes sense. However, for this weird Texas Rangers team, I think you need the 13 man pitching staff. Part of that is because you really only have two true starting pitchers you’ll be rolling with in the series — Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi. And Eovaldi, returning from injury, has thrown five innings just twice since going on the i.l. in mid-July. Game three (if necessary) will presumably be started by Andrew Heaney, since Dane Dunning pitched Sunday on short rest, but will for all intents and purposes be a bullpen game. So you are going to need multiple guys who can pitch multiple innings.
The other issue that you have is that you have literally no one in the bullpen who inspires confidence. Jose Leclerc has been solid over the last month or so, and is probably the guy you trust the most right now...which speaks volumes about the state of the bullpen. Aroldis Chapman can’t go in back-to-back games, and is erratic. We have no idea what we are going to get from Will Smith or Josh Sborz on any given night. Chris Stratton may be broken.
So you kind of have to have a little more bullpen depth because you may end up having to yank someone after three batters because they clearly don’t have it. The box of chocolates Rangers bullpen is such that you want to be able to have extra options if you have to pull the ripcord on a bad reliever quickly.
I’m not real confident that I have the names right. Dane Dunning may not be on the roster, having just pitched on Sunday on short rest, or he could end up starting a potential Game Three on short rest. Jonathan Hernandez is a name that might result in some rolling of the eyes, but in his last five outings he has struck out seven and walked no one in 5.1 IP. Josh Sborz just returned from the injured list and is an unknown, but when he’s been on this year, he’s been really good.
The two pitchers I have not making the cut, but that I could see getting serious consideration, are Matt Bush and Grant Anderson. Bush, of course, ended up being added to the active roster over the weekend, and he was warming on Sunday, though he hasn’t appeared in a game. Anderson has enormous splits, but he could be a weapon in the late innings against a team like the Rays, who platoon quite a bit, if the Rays have already flipped their platoon and have subbed out their lefty bats for their righthanded hitters.
It is also possible that the Rangers drop one of the pitchers — Cody Bradford or Dane Dunning, maybe — and keep an extra position player.
I have the Rangers going with 13 position players. In part that is because of the potential need for quantity in the pitching staff due to the lack of quantity. In part that is because the Rangers aren’t likely to utilize their bench much. Other than the left field platoon, it isn’t likely that anyone is going to be asked to pinch hit. To the extent your bench is used, it is going to for pinch running or if someone gets hurt and has to come out.
Thus, we have Travis Jankowski, Josh Smith and Austin Hedges as the bench guys. Jankowski and Smith are speed and defense guys. Each is a viable pinch running option, Jankowski can play all the outfield positions, and Smith can play all the infield positions. Hedges allows you to pinch run for Heim without losing your DH by having Garver move from DH to catcher, or pinch run for Garver without worrying about not having a catcher if Heim gets banged up.
This scenario would mean no Ezequiel Duran on the Wild Card roster. That’s a steep drop from a guy who was a key part of the lineup for much of the season, but the opportunity to use Duran in a short series are limited. His value would be as a righthanded bench bat, and the chances of the Rangers needing that are slim — it would essentially be a scenario where, say, Grossman starts against a lefty, Carter comes into the game against a righthanded pitcher, and then a lefty is brought in to face Carter. Or Travis Jankowski pinch runs and stays in the game, and a lefty is brought in to face Jankowski. Possible? Sure, but pretty unlikely.
Duran gives you flexibility in being able to play both the infield and the outfield, but he doesn’t play the infield as well as Smith or the outfield as well as Jankowski, and isn’t going to be a pinch running option. In a three game series, he gets squeezed out.