Note: The original version of this post excluded Steven Wright from the projected roster. That was a mistake. It has been updated with his presence.
The Red Sox got some late offense on Tuesday night against the Blue Jays, and with the eventual victory they clinched a guaranteed playoff position. Now, that is not the goal at this point and a spot in the Wildcard Game has been an assumption for months now. Still, making the postseason is not an easy feat, and the Red Sox have done it three years in a row now. That’s an accomplishment worth appreciating for a minute. Okay, now we can think about October. For the most part, the Red Sox playoff roster is a foregone conclusion, but there are a few interesting battles on the bottom of the roster to watch the rest of the month. Below is my current projection of what the roster will look like, though things can obviously change.
Position Players: Sandy León, Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler, Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Núñez, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Blake Swihart, Steve Pearce, Brock Holt, Rafael Devers, Tzu-Wei Lin
So, to start, I think the Red Sox are going to carry 14 position players and 11 pitchers. This would not be abnormal, and is in fact that way postseason teams usually go. With one fewer slot in the rotation, there’s really no need for the 12th pitcher, particularly with the additional days off included in October. Looking at the Red Sox specifically, 13 of those 14 spots seem like a guarantee to me, though I suppose I could be persuaded that Devers doesn’t have a guaranteed spot. Those first nine spots are the guys I think will be the starters for a Game One (unless they face a lefty, in which case Pearce would sub in for Moreland). Catcher and third base could potentially change, but at this point these are the favorites for starting spots.
As for the bench, most of it is familiar. Swihart is the backup catcher, and if Cora keeps managing like he has Swihart will find his way into late-game situations catching the relievers. Pearce is Moreland’s platoon partner and the top pinch-hitting option, Holt does a little bit of everything, and Devers is a high-upside play who can come in against a tough righty late in games. The final spot is where it gets a little more interesting. There are a few options here. Vazquez could be a third catcher, giving Cora a little more freedom to use Swihart in a more versatile role. Brandon Phillips certainly made an impression in his first game in a Red Sox uniform. Right now, though, I’m going with Lin. He’s been the go-to pinch-running option for this month, and that role can be crucial in a short series. Add in his potential as a defensive replacement late in games, and I think he has the edge. It’s far from a given, though, and this will be a battle to the end.
Pitchers: Chris Sale, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, Rick Porcello, Craig Kimbrel, Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Nathan Eovaldi, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree,
Bobby Poyner Steven Wright
The pitching isn’t quite as set in stone as the position player portion of the roster, and the bullpen is certainly the big concern as we look ahead to October. The rotation, however, has been set in stone for a while now, assuming health. Sale and Price are going to start the first two games of the first series, and there is no doubt about that. They are the clear one and two. Rodriguez and Porcello are the clear three and four, too, though the order is more up for debate. I would argue on talent that the order above is how they should be, but I wouldn’t argue too passionately against the idea of breaking up the lefties. Whatever order you want to put them in, this is going to be the four-man rotation, and all things considered I feel good about it.
As for the bullpen, well, I’m pulling on my collar like a bad actor in a 30-year-old sitcom. I think the back four is pretty clear. Kimbrel’s obviously the closer, and assuming Barnes will be able to come back fine from this hip injury he’s the clear set-up man. Brasier has clearly earned Cora’s trust and is a big late-inning arm who is getting used to coming in with men on base. Eovaldi is shifting to the bullpen, and his outing on Tuesday has me feeling better about him in one or two inning stints.
After this, I think the battle is on. Kelly has recovered well from a long, midseason slump and is back in Cora’s good graces. If he pitches well down the stretch, he has a spot wrapped up. Hembree is in the opposite direction, but he started high enough up to the totem pole that I don’t think he’s fallen off the roster completely. At least not yet. If he falters a couple more times this month, he’ll be gone.
Finally, Poyner is probably the biggest surprise here, and I’m not sure if this is just wishful thinking. The team loved him back in spring, though, and he’s looked good when given his chances. They’ve gone without a lefty all year, but in the playoffs those matchups matter more. I think they’re going to test Poyner all month, and if he pitches well he’ll be there in October. Brandon Workman was probably the hardest cut, and he will very much be in contention for a spot, particularly with Hembree . Keep an eye on Hector Velazquez and Brian Johnson , too.
So, yeah, I forgot about Steven Wright. He definitely makes this roster, and I think it’s probably at the cost of Bobby Poyner. That’s not set in stone, and I do believe that Poyner performing well down the stretch can earn him a spot, but for now Hembree still seems to be trusted in higher leverage spots. The way I see it, the final spot is down to Hembree and Poyner, and if the former has a few more bad outings over the last two-plus weeks of the year, he could very well lose his spot.