Yesterday I gave you my thoughts on Toronto’s post-season roster, or the position players at least. As explained, given Troy Tulowitzki’s precarious health status (last night’s return in Tampa was encouraging but it’s notable he’s not listed in the expected lineup today) that it would make sense to have an extra bench player, specifically an extra infielder in case he wasn’t upto speed and couldn’t return in a significant or regular basis. Which left us with a roster of 14 position players and therefore, 11 pitchers. This could be a problem for John Gibbons and Alex Anthopoulos who’ve been working a squad of 15 or so pitchers very effectively since Sep.1. Without further ado, here’s who I think deserve to be there…
Starters: with the more leisurely pace of the playoffs, there’ll be enough off days to allow the Jays (and, of course, other teams except for perhaps the Wild Cards burdened with another game this coming week) to manage quite alright with just 4. Which in the Blue Jays case should be-
David Price – obviously the Game 1 starter. Dallas Keuchel’s 20 wins will probably earn him the Cy Young but a valid argument could be made for David, given his slightly better ERA than Keuchel and clutch performance down the line.
Marco Estrada – last month I made the point Marco was one of the 4 key players that have made it possible for the team to be in the post-season with their unexpected over-achievement. Going into this evening’s game, Estrada is officially listed as 5th in the American League ERA leader board. Even if you loosen up the criteria for qualifying a little, he’s still a rather stellar 6th among AL pitchers with over 100 innings. What’s more he’s getting better as we go along being 7-3 with a 2.78 ERA (and sub-.200 opponents average) since the All Star Game. Who saw that coming in March?
Marcus Stroman – perhaps his knee injury was a blessing in disguise; while other pitchers in his locker room and around the league show signs of fatigue, Stroman is basically in start-of-season shape and showing last year was no fluke. With him getting better every start and sitting at 4-0, 1.67, his 92mph fastball gaining velocity by the week, he deserves to be pitching big games. Sort of the 21st Century version of Juan Guzman.
there’s the easy part. The more challenging part is determining the final starter, and I must admit I’ve rethought my position and flip-flopped … maybe.
RA Dickey* – I had tended to favor putting RA into the bullpen, and have Mark Buehrle be the fourth man. Something about Buehrle fills me with more confidence than Dickey not to mention that it might seem that the soft-tosser could probably pitch out of the bullpen on successive days with little problem if needed. That said, the stats all align to make Dickey the better bet to start. After a rocky start, he’s settled down into one of the league’s more consistent starters (8-1, 2.80 , averaging almost 7 innings an outing since the All Star game) whereas Buehrle’s numbers have gone the opposite way. Not to mention that Dickey hasn’t shown an aversion to pitching against New York, unlike Mark, which would be a factor should the Yankees be our opponent. The one exception here- if Houston ended up getting in and being our ALDS opponent, I’d stick with the original plan. The ‘stros have teed off on Dickey’s knuckleball this year, keeping him winless and hitting at a .318 clip in two games this year, whereas Buehrle , although he lost his one start in Houston, pitched 8 pretty strong innings, allowing only 6 hits.
So if Price, Estrada, Stroman and Dickey are the four starters, we have room to take along 7 relievers. Here’s where the hurt feelings mentioned yesterday come into play, since there’ve been 9 or 10 bullpenners used regularly and reasonably effectively of late. Nonetheless, the seven to go are
Mark Buehrle– granted, not a reliever by trade but you don’t leave a 15 game winner, 200-career game winner behind. If Houston end up facing us, he’s a starter, otherwise, he can sit in the ‘pen and be ready in the early innings should the starter get knocked out before the fifth.
Roberto Osuna – obviously, despite a few hiccups in September, has been a remarkable closer for the team, showing no fear even though he’s still only 20 years old. Or perhaps because he’s only 20. Regardless, 69 games, a 74:14 K to BB ratio, 2.35 ERA , 20 for 22 in saves are numbers of a serious closer, not just a good rookie.
Brett Cecil – maybe it was altering his leg kick a little, as Pete Walker suggests. Maybe it was reliever relief at not being put into 9th innings. Maybe it was voodoo. Whatever the reason, Cecil’s gone from regrettable to remarkable in the bullpen. He’s not allowed an earned run in 29 games since the All Star- that’s consistent!
Liam Hendriks– at times the forgotten man in the bullpen but he’s been reliable all year long and as a former starter, can log more pitches if need be than most of his contemporaries. A good go-to guy should help be needed in the 5th or 6th, or in extra innings.
Aaron Sanchez – fallen a little bit out of favor with John Gibbons lately, but that might not be all his fault since his role has been changed frequently during the year…starter, middle relief, 8th inning “set up”. Sanchez has real problems against lefties – a .282 average and 9 homers allowed this year – but can command right-handers with his 95 mph fastball. He should be there and used in late innings, but only against right-handers. Should a southpaw hitter come up, if Brett Cecil isn’t around, bring on
Ryan Tepera – another one of the nice surprises for Toronto this season, he’s been solid all year long. Up until Friday he’d allowed only one hit in his previous 6 outings and limited opponents to a .178 average on the year. What puts him head-and-shoulders above some other righties like Steve Delebar is his ability to control left-handed hitting- just a .122 average. This allows the Jays to go with only one “conventional” lefty in the pen , seeing as how Tepera has out-performed Aaron Loup even against LH hitting.
Mark Lowe- has been rather “lowe key” since his arrival but has quietly got the job done, with a stellar 13:1 K:BB ratio in his first 21 games wearing the blue and white. Has limited righties to a .506 OPS. And a veteran with over 300 career games and playoff experience (mind you, for him that’s not been so good- he was blown out of games for the ’10 and ’11 Rangers) is always a good bet.
So there we have the 11 pitchers to get the Blue Jays to the promised land- or at least the ALDS. A healthy Troy Tulowitzki in the first round might been one less backup player was justified and allow for a 12th pitcher later in the playoffs. But for now, apologies to Drew Hutchison, Steve Delebar, Bo Schulz, even the classy, aging LaTroy Hawkins- you’re just not quite upto the task this time.
UPDATE: as of tonight NBC is suggesting that Mark Buehrle will simply retire after tomorrow’s game and not be in the playoff mix. this seems a shame as he’s such a classy veteran and has been a significant part of the Jays success this year. Nonetheless, if correct obviously that changes my above. If Buehrle is out, I’d include Aaron Loup to give another lefty in bullpen