There are still decisions to be made. Red Sox manager John Farrell has said that he will spend the next few days huddling with team officials to determine the final shape of the 25-man roster for the American League Division Series, a process that will be shaped, in part, by the identity of the opponent.
Still, there have been some breadcrumbs in recent days to offer direction to the effort to forecast the Sox postseason roster.
-- Farrell said that the team is debating internally whether to keep 10 or 11 pitchers on its postseason roster. On Monday, bench coach Torey Lovullo (in an appearance on WEEI) noted that the team's confidence in its starters suggests a general comfort with the idea of a shorter bullpen.
“The teams that go pitching-heavy, say four starters and seven or eight relievers, are typically the teams that might not have the starting pitching strength that we have. We feel very, very good about the four guys that are going to be getting the nod. Everybody knows that is clearly one of the strengths of our ballclub. So on the backside, we may not need eight guys in the bullpen. We may not need seven guys in the bullpen,” said Lovullo. “So I think that’s what they’re trying to define right now, if it’s going to be six, seven — I don’t think it’s going to be eight guys in the bullpen — because of how well our four starters can do. They can pitch very deep into ballgames.
“I know that the teams that have had the most success have used three, possibly four relievers. With the structured days off, these guys are going to be getting rest. So a heavy, thick, full bullpen may not be needed, but a pinch-runner, an extra pinch-hitter, an extra guy off the bench, a third catcher may be needed. So we’re trying to define that. We’re trying to define how many guys we need in the bullpen, and weigh that against what our needs are from an offensive standpoint.”
-- The team has seen enough from Jacoby Ellsbury in center to believe that it doesn't need to dedicate a postseason roster spot to providing an insurance policy for him.
-- Closer Koji Uehara will be used for saves of more than three outs, with Farrell saying that the right-hander could be used for six-out appearances. That, too, could allow the team to shorten its bullpen.
As mentioned in the first crack at this, all of this is subject to change, particularly once the Sox identify their actual ALDS opponent. But, based on what we know, here is a best guess as to the nature of the Sox postseason roster.
STARTING ROTATION (4)
Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy
No surprises here. Lackey appears set to pitch in Fenway Park for Game 2, a reflection of his dominant numbers this year at home, where his ERA is roughly half what it is on the road. Buchholz and Peavy are slated to pitch in a simulated game on Wednesday, a reflection of the fact that they'll have a longer layoff prior to their anticipated appearances in Games 3 and 4.
Koji Uehara, Craig Breslow, Franklin Morales, Junichi Tazawa, Brandon Workman, Ryan Dempster
Omissions: Matt Thornton, Felix Doubront, Drake Britton, Rubby De La Rosa
This is where the Red Sox start to get into some of the fascinating big picture questions that will shape their roster. Uehara and Breslow, of course, are the Sox' most reliable late-innings options. It's easy to see scenarios where they could be asked to carry the entire workload for the seventh through ninth innings in games where the Sox have the lead. Between that possibility and the comfort that Lovullo mentioned with the likelihood that the Sox starters will be able to work deep into games, that could give the Sox a fairly significant degree of comfort if they carry 10 pitchers.
But might they get caught short if they do so? It's certainly possible. In the last 10 years of ALDS series (the NLDS is a very different animal, given the absence of the DH and the need that creates for pinch-hitters), six of 40 teams have used more than 10 pitchers in a series -- 15 percent of teams.
Had Doubront looked like a weapon, he would have been an interesting possibility, a pitcher capable of locking down lefties while also having the ability to offer length. But his five-run, four-out performance, accompanied by repeated claims of discomfort with the bullpen, likely slated his chances. Britton and De La Rosa are live arms, but don't yet have sufficiently reliable strike zone command to justify a roster spot, particularly for shorter roles.
That leaves Thornton. If there were a player or players against whom he had an outrageous track record, his candidacy would benefit. But it's a) tough to find a key contributor on either the Indians or Rays whom he's just dominated and b) as John Farrell noted on Sunday when Brian Roberts doubled off of Thornton, there are players against whom Thornton has strong career track records who are making solid contact against him in 2013.
On the Indians, Jason Kipnis is 0-for-5 against him with a walk and two strikeouts. But he batted just twice against him this year, with a strikeout and a flyout to deep left -- hardly overpowering. Jason Kupel is 3-for-16 with nine strikeouts, but Kubel has been told he won't be on the ALDS roster.
On the Rays, David DeJesus is 4-for-23 with two doubles and five strikeouts (.174/.408/.261) against Thornton, Ben Zobrist is 1-for-6 with a homer and a walk, and Luke Scott is 0-for-5 with two strikeouts against him. As a guess, the Sox might be more inclined to carry Thornton if they do face the Rays, but still, the idea of Thornton as a weapon is a somewhat uncertain one.
DESIGNATED HITTER (1)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Ross
Omission: Ryan Lavarnway
Saltalamacchia and Ross are both likely to see starts in the postseason, with Ross being a particularly important figure if the Sox end up facing the Rays, given the presence of left-handers David Price and Matt Moore.
As for Lavarnway, there is an argument to be made for carrying him. He showed the ability to put up professional at-bats during sporadic big league playing time this year, and he'd offer the Sox protection/depth if they elected to pinch-run or pinch-hit for either Saltalamacchia or Ross, both of whom have pronounced platoon advantages (Saltalamacchia thriving against righties, Ross against lefties).
But the fact that Lavarnway saw action in just two games -- both times in the late innings -- during the season-ending road trip, and that he played in just three of the team's final 18 contests, suggests that the Sox weren't grooming him for a defined postseason role, barring an injury to one of their other two catchers.
Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia, Stephen Drew, Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts
Omissions: John McDonald, Brock Holt
Napoli, Pedroia, Drew and Middlebrooks would appear locks to start. Though Bogaerts finished just 1-for-11 in his final five games of the regular season, team officials were thoroughly impressed by the quality of his plate appearances and defensive work while receiving irregular playing time.
And, of course, Lovullo offered this morsel about the nature of the Sox' bench composition:
"Five games, you're looking for lightning in a bottle. You're looking for magic coming off of your bench. I think John Farrell was the first one to say it out loud to all of us, that when you're carrying extra players, you need someone who is going to go in there and pop this game wide open. You're going to go in there with somebody who is going to go in there, take one swing of the bat and make something magical happen to rewrite that day's story," said Lovullo on Road to October. "I don't think you're necessarily looking for a defensive replacement. I think the one specialty that you're looking for is the guy that can steal a game. If there is a weak link on defense, then you do need a defensive replacement. But if you look, we're pretty solid all the way through. I think we were a little bit above average in our fielding percentage in the American League. I think we're a pretty tight team on defense. So what John said made a lot of sense: You're looking for that quick strike. You're looking for that three-run home run with somebody coming off the bench. Or if somebody is filling the need if there's an injury, or if there's a perfect match-up, you want that guy to come in there and thump the baseball."
That, in turn, suggests the idea of carrying a player like Bogaerts on the roster over someone like McDonald, a superb defender who would provide protection but who does not represent the game-changer.
Perhaps more significant than whether Bogaerts will be included on the postseason roster -- seemingly a no-brainer at this point -- is the matter of whether there's a chance he could end up taking starts from Middlebrooks if the Sox' everyday third baseman continues his season-ending struggles. In his last 15 games, Middlebrooks hit .138 with a .153 OBP and .259 slugging mark, walking once and striking out 18 times in 59 plate appearances. It was a stretch reminiscent of his early-season struggles, rather than his impressive rebound following his mid-season stint in Pawtucket.
Daniel Nava, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, Quintin Berry, Jackie Bradley Jr.
Nava, Ellsbury and Victorino should be the team's primary outfielders, with Gomes likely getting starts against left-handers and both he and Carp having opportunities to play the role of game-changing pinch-hitters. While Napoli seems locked in as the Sox' primary first baseman, it's certainly possible that Carp could see action at first against particularly tough righties.
Berry, at this point, is a no-brainer. He went 3-for-3 on his stolen base attempts, twice swiping bags when it was obvious that he was being brought into the game as a pinch-runner for that express purpose.
So why Bradley over, say, Lavarnway, McDonald or Thornton? For starters, Berry is likely a single-use option in the late innings, so if the team needed a second pinch-runner, Bradley would be able to offer that. Moreover, as an excellent defender capable of playing all three outfield positions, he would appear to be the player who would give the Sox their greatest roster versatility.