Second Thoughts: The wild card roster
Although the Indians' expanded roster was able to celebrate a playoff berth after their clinching victory in game 162, the harsh reality is that this journey into October means the end of the road for a number of players. When the team gets to Progressive Field on Wednesday, once again, only 25 players will be in uniform.
Keep in mind that the roster decided on will be for the wild card game only. Teams are required to name a separate one for each stage of the postseason. In a win-or-game-home scenario, team construction will be different than in a series, due to the need for just a single "starting pitcher."
We know for a fact that Danny Salazar will be the starter. Plenty of the rest of the roster is easily determined, as well.
Because the Indians are expected to use a nine-man bullpen, that leaves two spots available.
I expect a pair of starters to occupy them. In the event that Salazar makes an untimely exit, piggybacking either of the two most well-rested starters, Scott Kazmir or Corey Kluber, makes sense. Truly, both of them could be effective options at any point during a game that will require all hands on deck. In Kazmir's case, he would instantly become the best left-hander out of the bullpen, and the Rays have quite a few left-handed and switch-hitting bats to account for.
Personally, Hill is about as far from a sure bet as possible, but he has made it this far, and I expect Terry Franconato employ him once again.
Additional options: Carlos Carrasco, Nick Hagadone, Zach McAllister, Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano
It could be argued that all five are far too unreliable to count on in such a game. I debated on McAllister over Kazmir, but both recent performance and opponent made Kazmir seem like the more logical choice.
On the offensive side, my 12 above, paired with the 10 pitchers, allows for three more players.
All three should be bench players. Because 10 pitchers are expected to be carried, and because of who is left on the 40-man roster after the 12 position player locks are accounted for, this almost becomes a process of elimination.
Matt Carson, Jason Kubel, Jose Ramirez and Kelly Shoppach remain. Kubel was already informed that he wouldn't be making the roster, so taking everything into consideration, Carson, Ramirez and Shoppach would round out the roster.
None of the three are going to strike fear in the hearts of the Rays, but they do fill valuable roles. Carson has done a little bit of everything in his short stint with the Indians, Ramirez immediately becomes a top-notch pinch-running option, and Shoppach is an emergency third catcher because of the likelihood that both Gomes and Santana will start.
Additional options: none
Lineup and bullpen management
The Indians will be opposed by Alex Cobb, who could very well be the best pitcher on a highly-talented Rays staff. He is one of the most underrated in the game, equipped with an elite changeup to go along with a good fastball and an adequate curveball. He tends to go fastball and curveball early in counts, and unleashes the changeup with two strikes.
No Indians hitter has much experience or success against him, so I am throwing head-to-head statistics out the window (and they almost always should be). Although Cobb dominated them in his first start of the season, they are the best changeup-hitting team in all of baseball by a large margin, collectively accounting for 28.6 runs against them.
I expect Francona to deploy his typical versus right-hander lineup, starting Chisenhall at third and Giambi at designated hitter. Chisenhall hasn't played much as of late, and Aviles has playoff experience, but there is some discrepancy in Cobb's right-left splits. He is much more susceptible to allowing both home runs and line drives to left-handed hitters, while striking out a smaller percentage of them. Chisenhall is also much stronger than Aviles against changeups, Cobb's best weapon.
Beyond that, I think it is safe to assume that Bourn, Brantley, Cabrera, Gomes, Kipnis, Santana and Swisher will round out the order.
Managing the bullpen in the late innings of a close game has to come down to matchups. Francona doesn't have a true closer now, and frankly, that is a blessing. If it takes three different pitchers to get the three final outs in a win, so be it.
Aviles has never played in the playoffs. Was with KC, then was part of Boston's collapse to miss the playoffs in 2011, and missed playoffs last year with Boston.
Raburn, of course, would be the casualty, and turn into the number one pinch-hitting option.
Aviles/Chisenhall seems like it will probably be a coin flip. I could see and would feel fine with either one, for differing reasons.
As for the lineup, I expect the Indians to go with a veteran crew and the top defense possible. The question is if Bourn can play. If he can't then he sits and Stubbs starts in center. But my guess is Aviles plays because of his defense and experience, even though Chisenhall might match up better with the righty.
Raburn and Chisenhall as Pinch Hitters, Stubbs and Ramirez as Pinch Runners/Defensive Replacements.
Not if Giambi and Chisenhall both play, as you suggest they will - that would be 10 hitters!