With the American League playoff teams set, we asked our SweetSpot Network bloggers to address each club's biggest roster decision entering their Division Series ...
Rays: The Rays' uneven play in September seemingly leaves several big decisions heading into October. But neither the playoff rotation (Joe Maddon has already committed to a four-man playoff rotation that, based upon his consistent support for Jeff Niemann, will be Shields, Garza, Price and Niemann) nor the makeup of the bench (Dioner Navarro, Rocco Baldelli, Brad Hawpe, Dan Johnson, and Desmond Jennings are all similarly limited players) seem as if they will be surprises.
No, the biggest decision heading into October is what to do with emotional leader Carlos Pena. If it weren't for a putrid May (.233 OBP, .250 SLG), his September 2010 (.278/.231, two home runs) would be the worst month of Pena’s career, resulting in a temporary stay on the bench. Maddon even spent two afternoons working with Pena in the cage, hoping that a different approach might break his slump ... and it worked (Pena walked and homered in the Rays' playoff-clinching win Tuesday night). Obviously, the Rays don't want a scuffling Pena adding an automatic out to the lineup. But I suspect that Pena's power potential -- not to mention the psychology of the situation -- will force Maddon’s hand into putting No. 23 on the lineup card in virtually every game.
-- Mark Heilig, The Ray Area
Rangers: Of the (very) few remaining areas of postseason roster uncertainty for the Rangers, first base is probably the biggest. Jorge Cantu will likely start against any lefty opposition, but a small-sample-sized hot streak -- and a lofty defensive reputation -- for Chris Davis rallied some support for carrying him over the average-hitting Mitch Moreland as the primary playoff first baseman. Just one problem with that: Davis has a lengthy track record of pronounced failure. He's been banished to the minors three times in the last two seasons (all due to a failure to hit), and it's hard to fathom how the Rangers could roll the dice on such a persistently unreliable player going into one of the most important series in franchise history.
-- Joey Matschulat, Baseball Time in Arlington
Twins: By clinching early, the Twins have had the luxury of spending these last two weeks of the regular season setting up their postseason roster. The rotation and lineup are firmly established, but one question lingers: What is the status of Justin Morneau?
Arguably the AL’s MVP front-runner when he went down with a concussion in early July, Morneau hasn’t played since. Recent reports have him feeling better and better, but with the long layoff there’s essentially zero chance he’ll be written into the starting lineup for a playoff game.
If he’s well enough to swing and run, though, could the Twins use him as a bench weapon? Jim Thome was initially signed to fill that role but is now a starter. Even a rusty Morneau is probably a better pinch-hitting option than anything else the Twins have.
- Nick Nelson, Nick's Twins Blog
Yankees: The Yankees' rotation, after CC Sabathia, represents the biggest decision the organization faces. The logical assumption is CC-Andy Pettitte-Phil Hughes to start the first three games. If the Yankees start on the road, however, that puts Hughes at home for Game 3, where he's been less effective. Starting Hughes in Game 2 would give Pettitte more time to rest his back and allow Hughes to battle on the road. The Yanks' Game 4 starter -- assuming CC isn't taking the ball again -- remains the biggest issue, as A.J. Burnett has been awful and Javy Vazquez continues to prove that he's unreliable (at best). Ivan Nova just might be the Yanks' Game 4 starter ... at least for the first four innings, as he seems to hit the wall in the fifth. In all likelihood, however, Burnett will be the Yankees' No. 4 starter.
- Jason Rosenberg, It's About the Money
(Later today, the National League's prospective playoff teams ...)