The Pittsburgh Pirates submitted their playoff roster to Major League Baseball, and it includes every player on the active roster and disabled lists, and that is important for any team.
“You typically do try to set your roster with the core of 25 that you’d look for in the postseason on August 31,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said recently. “I wouldn’t read too much into it, [but] we were aggressive with a couple moves last year to get a couple young pitchers up that we felt were gonna be in a good position for us.”
Let’s review who those Core of 25 are, plus DL players:
Once again, anyone in the organization on Aug. 31 is eligible for a postseason roster. But if you want to look for the players most likely to appear for the Pirates in the playoffs, that chart is a good starting point.
For answers to most of your playoff roster questions (I hope), you can refer back to my piece from earlier this week. But here’s the gist: for most postseason series the Pirates will likely take 22 guys from the chart above, then will have 3 spots to use based on the opposing matchup.
Okay, so let’s try to lay down some projections for the playoffs.
Starting Lineup (vs. RHP)
- LF Starling Marte
- 2B Neil Walker
- CF Andrew McCutchen
- 3B Pedro Alvarez
- 1B Justin Morneau
- RF Marlon Byrd
- C Russell Martin
- SS Jordy Mercer
Adjust the order as you see fit; lineup order is overrated. But those are eight spots right there. Then you have…
Bench (vs. RHP)
- C John Buck
- 1B Gaby Sanchez
- 1B/RF Garrett Jones
- SS Clint Barmes
- OF Jose Tabata
We can add a position player or two later, since teams will sometimes go with more than 13 hitters in a playoff series, but that group of five is most likely to be in every playoff series.
- RHP A.J. Burnett
- LHP Francisco Liriano
- RHP Charlie Morton
- LHP Wandy Rodriguez
Okay, so this is where it gets tricky. Most playoff rosters operate a four-man rotation. That is mostly due to the schedule, which normally only gives teams a day off when they are traveling, and the fact that most teams who are good enough to make the playoffs have at least four good starters.
The question is, who would be in that Pirates rotation after Burnett and Liriano? If Rodriguez is healthy and able to make starts before season’s end, he should likely be involved. But beyond him, you could see a competition between Morton, Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole for the last spot. Cole’s number of innings are a factor, but beyond that, manager Clint Hurdle may simply go with the hot hand.
- RHP Jason Grilli
- RHP Mark Melancon
- LHP Tony Watson
- LHP Justin Wilson
- RHP Vin Mazzaro
Each reliever here has an ERA below 2.75 and a WHIP below 1.20 this year. There will be more relievers than them (which we will get to in a moment), but it is easy to see Hurdle using this group as his first five men out of the bullpen in a playoff round.
Who Takes the “Flex” Spots?
Okay, we are at 22 players right now, so we can get to the flexible spots for the three injured players.
“We’ve got the substitute spots where we can run some guys in and out by series,” Huntington said. “So you look for matchups and you look for what a guy does to help you win.”
Here is a rundown of eligible players to flex in and out, and what situations would make sense for the Pirates to use them:
Right-handed reliever with good stuff
- Gerrit Cole
- Jared Hughes
- James McDonald
- Bryan Morris
- Stolmy Pimentel
- Ryan Reid
Each one of these pitchers averages at least 93 mph on his fastball, with Cole clearly having the highest four-seam speed of the bunch. Each has his merits in a playoff series, and all have the ability to pitch multiple innings. If you are looking to overpower hitters, go for Cole or Pimentel. If you need ground balls and quick outs, Morris and Hughes can do that.
I know any mention of “James McDonald” and “playoff roster” in the same sentence is going to send segments of the population into an uproar, but let’s keep McDonald in mind if he returns to pitch a few innings in September. You may leave your anger in the comments, if you would like. It improves our SEO.
- Brandon Cumpton
- Jeanmar Gomez
- Kris Johnson
- Jeff Locke
Obviously Cole and Pimentel are starters as well, but their youth and innings counts will make starting in October a tough proposition.
Locke would be the top candidate to start, and he could easily out-pitch Morton and Rodriguez in September and earn a place in the playoff rotation. But even if he doesn’t, Hurdle has to feel comfortable tabbing him for a spot start if needed. The other three have all shown their stuff for the Pirates and could pitch several innings effectively.
Either Johnson or Locke could be added for a postseason series against St. Louis, given the Cardinals’ poor hitting versus left-handed pitching.
- Russ Canzler
- Chase d’Arnaud
- Josh Harrison
- Tony Sanchez
- Jerry Sands
The top two candidates to grab a playoff roster spot would be Harrison and Sanchez. For either one, it depends on what you need.
Harrison has more Major League experience, speed and position flexibility. Sanchez crushed left-handed pitching in Triple-A and would be the all-important emergency catcher. Perhaps Sanchez will stay off the roster and only added if Martin or Buck gets injured.
- Andrew Lambo
- Felix Pie
- Travis Snider
One would expect all three men will see at-bats for the Pirates in September against right-handed pitching, so each has the opportunity to prove himself. Any one is a viable option as a bench bat against a playoff opponent that carries a lot of righty relievers, but Pie is the only one who can effectively play all three outfield spots and bring speed as a pinch-runner.
Those are the names the Pirates can turn to in October. The only question left is, where will the Pirates find themselves when the calendar turns to that fabled championship month?