By Jeff Louderback
In baseball, the postseason is not a certainty until that playoff spot is clinched. Red Sox Nation painfully discovered this point during the collapse in September 2011. Unlike 2011, the Red Sox are well-stocked with a talented starting rotation, and they have a 5.5-game lead over second place Tampa Bay with 21 games left. It is safe to say that, whether or not they win the American League East, the Red Sox are going to the playoffs. Chances are, it will be as AL East champions.
As the Red Sox draw closer to wrapping up at least a wild card spot, it is time to start exploring options for the playoff roster.
There are obvious choices, which include starting pitchers Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster. Closer Koji Uehara and relievers Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow and Brandon Workman (who is pitching in high-leverage situations) likely to be on the roster.
That composes nine spots.
Among position players, Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia, Stephen Drew, Will Middlebrooks, Shane Victorino, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, Daniel Nava, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross are obvious. So is David Ortiz as the DH.
That brings the total to 21.
If he is healthy, Clay Buchholz will be part of the pitching staff, likely bumping Dempster to a relief role. Manager John Farrell would then be apt to choose two more arms among left-handers Drake Britton, Franklin Morales and Matt Thornton, and right-hander Rubby De La Rosa.
My projection is either Morales or Thornton and Britton or De La Rosa.
That makes 23.
The additional bench players could include recently acquired outfielder Quintin Berry (who can pinch-run and serve as a late-inning defensive replacement at all three outfield spots) and one of recently acquired infielder John McDonald or infielder Brock Holt for the extra infield spot.
Xander Bogaerts, who can play shortstop and third base, is another possibility. Also, the Red Sox could go with just 11 pitchers instead of 12 and add another position player, perhaps allowing Berry, McDonald and Holt or Bogaerts to make the initial post-season roster.
If the Red Sox choose to carry 11 pitchers instead of 12, chances are the potential impacted starters (Doubront and Dempster) would be kept for relief roles and a reliever like Britton or De La Rosa would be the odd man out.
Of course, health will determine the decision, and 21 games remain on the regular season schedule. There is no guarantee Buchholz will be healthy. Ross has battled concussion symptoms, so Ryan Lavarnway could be needed.
I prefer the route of 11 pitchers and an extra position player. Bogaerts should get the nod if they also add McDonald.