To steal a bit of terminology from the filmmaking industry, baseball's next great on-screen drama is currently in the pre-production phase -- the distribution (TV) deals have been inked, the pool of potential cast members and filming is being whittled down, and the framework of the October script is being finalized. And as far as the Rangers are concerned, we're less than 72 hours away from reaching finality on the questions of (a) who the Rangers are going to face in the divisional playoff round, (b) when they'll be facing them, and (c) where they'll be facing them, with the two likeliest Game 1 scenarios still being Rangers-Yankees in New York or Rangers-Red Sox in Texas.
Which is all well and good, because it's fun to speculate about which team would least impede the Rangers as they attempt to carve a path back to the ALCS -- but when you really get right down to the heart of the matter, I'm not convinced that any one potential first-round opponent (New York, Boston, or Tampa Bay) is vastly preferable to another, or that it would necessarily behoove Texas in the grander scheme of things to go full throttle out in Anaheim in an attempt to try and lock in the No. 2 seed. Yeah, I'd like to get a first-round crack at a wavering Red Sox ballclub as much as the next guy, but not at the expense of a less-than-fully rested ballclub, and until the seeding has been determined and the final matchups have been decided, there just isn't that much worth discussing obsessively here.
But what about the Rangers' divisional-round playoff roster?
That, too, is somewhat at the mercy of the matchup game, at least to the extent that the back end of the playoff roster may end up being filled out with the two players best equipped to situationally handle the Rangers' first-round opponent ... but, otherwise, the 25-man playoff roster itself is almost completely finalized, and I believe we can feel pretty confident in forecasting what it's going to look like upon its release in a few more days' time:
|Texas Rangers Projected ALDS Roster|
|SP||C.J. Wilson||11/18/80||4.8||5.7||2001 Draft, 5th Round (#141)|
|SP||Colby Lewis||08/02/79||1.9||1.9||Free Agency (01/25/10)
|SP||Matt Harrison||09/16/85||3.7||3.8||Trade, ATL (07/31/07)|
|SP||Derek Holland||10/09/86||2.7||3.4||2006 Draft, 25th Round (#748)|
|LR||Alexi Ogando||10/05/83||3.5||3.4||Rule 5 Draft (12/08/05)
|MR||Mike Gonzalez||05/23/78||0.0||0.1||Trade, BAL (08/31/11)|
|MR||Michael Kirkman||09/18/86||-0.5||-0.2||2005 Draft, 5th Round (#159)
|MR||Yoshinori Tateyama||05/09/79||0.1||0.1||Free Agency (11/30/10)|
|SU||Darren Oliver||10/06/70||1.7||1.3||Free Agency (12/22/09)
|SU||Koji Uehara||04/03/75||0.1||0.0||Trade, BAL (07/30/11)|
|SU||Mike Adams||07/29/78||0.7||0.4||Trade, SDP (07/31/11)|
|CL||Neftali Feliz||05/02/88||1.5||0.7||Trade, ATL (07/31/07)|
|C||Mike Napoli||10/31/81||5.3||5.4||Trade, TOR (01/25/11)|
|C||Yorvit Torrealba||07/19/78||0.7||1.3||Free Agency (11/29/10)
|IF||Elvis Andrus||08/26/88||3.5||4.2||Trade, ATL (07/31/07)|
|IF||Adrian Beltre||04/07/79||5.0||5.6||Free Agency (01/05/11)|
|IF||Andres Blanco||04/11/84||0.1||-0.2||Trade, CHC (03/27/10)
|IF||Ian Kinsler||06/22/82||5.1||7.1||2003 Draft, 17th Round (#496)|
|IF||Mitch Moreland||09/06/85||0.0||0.5||2007 Draft, 17th Round (#530)|
|IF||Michael Young||10/19/76||2.6||4.1||Trade, TOR (07/19/00)|
|OF||Endy Chavez||02/07/78||0.8||1.6||Free Agency (02/15/10)|
|OF||Nelson Cruz||07/01/80||1.5||2.0||Trade, MIL (07/28/07)|
|OF||Craig Gentry||11/29/83||1.4||1.9||2006 Draft, 10th Round (#298)|
|OF||Josh Hamilton||05/21/81||3.7||4.1||Trade, CIN (12/21/07)|
|OF||David Murphy||10/18/81||-0.4||1.2||Trade, BOS (07/31/07)|
This roster projection assumes some kernel of underlying truth to the reports of Ron Washington and Mike Maddux opting for an eight-man bullpen over a 14th position player, who would almost certainly be third-string catcher Matt Treanor. I, for one, really can't see the point in carrying eight relievers in a short playoff series where (a) off days are sprinkled about liberally by the scheduling gods and (b) the relievers at the back end of your bullpen are even likelier to go unused than they usually are, as the full high-leverage complement of Neftali Feliz, Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, and Darren Oliver is probably going to be available to Washington/Maddux during any given first-round playoff game.
Moreover, leaving Treanor at home would leave the Rangers without a backup catcher in the event that they wanted to start both Yorvit Torrealba (at catcher) and Mike Napoli (at first base or DH) against a left-handed starter -- an idea with substantial merit, given Mitch Moreland's horrendous offensive slide and pre-existing struggles against southpaws (121 PA, .236/.300/.282 this season). There would, however, be a sort of workaround: start Napoli at first base instead of designated hitter, which would allow him to slide over behind the plate in the event of a freak Torrealba injury (and allow Moreland to come off the bench and play first base) without losing the designated hitter for the game.
With that in mind, however, Napoli appears to have seized the reins as this team's starting catcher (his 13 starts behind the plate this month compared to Torrealba's seven starts is quite telling in that regard), and for all the problems that trail any attempt to directly tie a catcher's value to the performance of his pitchers, the reality of the matter is that the Rangers' pitching staff has been more adept at avoiding runs, striking batters out and preventing walks this season with Napoli behind the plate. Thus, I expect that we'll end up seeing less of Torrealba and more of Moreland than we would prefer to see at this critical juncture in the season, and that we'll end up hoping for the best.
As far as the outfield is concerned, Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is reporting this morning that Ron Washington intends to play Josh Hamilton in center field and Nelson Cruz in right field throughout the playoffs, with some combination of David Murphy, Craig Gentry, and Endy Chavez holding down left field. You would think that Gentry's premium defensive chops in center field and right-handedness combined with Murphy's atrocious showing against southpaws this season (116 PA, .208/.267/.226) would render a Hamilton/Gentry/Cruz alignment the logical choice against left-handed starters, but all current indications are pointing away from such an alignment.
In the bullpen, you have Feliz, Adams, Oliver, Uehara, and Mike Gonzalez as locks, Alexi Ogando as probable, and two out of Yoshinori Tateyama, Scott Feldman, Darren O'Day, and Michael Kirkman grabbing the final two spots. There's no point in carrying two sidewinding right-handed specialists, so one of the decisions comes down to Tateyama vs. O'Day -- and for all of his struggles against lefties this season (who he really shouldn't be facing in the first place), Tateyama has proven himself dominant against same-handed batters (26.0 IP, 26 K, 4 BB, 1 HR), so along he comes for the ride. The Feldman vs. Kirkman battle, meanwhile, is probably decided to a large extent by the Rangers' intended role for Ogando, as Feldman would be rendered completely superfluous if Texas had designs on using Ogando in a multi-inning/long-relief role.
For whatever it's worth, the Rangers have already finalized their post-season starting rotation, and apparently won't be modifying it further based on opponent. I still harbor a vague suspicion that Ogando might be a better rotation option than Colby Lewis at this point (although Ogando can still function as a solid long-relief hedge against another Lewis meltdown), and I'm still not thrilled about the idea of throwing Lewis ahead of both Derek Holland and Matt Harrison ... but if this were to come down to using Lewis against the Yankees in either Game 2 at Yankee Stadium or Game 4 at the Ballpark, I might just have to go with the option that keeps him away from the Ballpark's pitching rubber.