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Two Big Roster Decisions

Weather permitting, this should be another fabulous night of baseball -- though probably not as fabulous as last night, with those three walk-off finishes to three critical games in a span of an hour. And oddly, all five teams still fighting for playoff spots (Mets, Phillies, Brewers, Twins and White Sox -- and yes, I'm leaving out the still-mathematically-alive Astros) play at home tonight.

But let's talk about another issue to pay attention to elsewhere: the major roster decisions facing the Red Sox and Rays. Here is a look at each:

*Rays: Price or Percival For Final Bullpen Spot?

In lefty phenom David Price, the Rays have a potentially dominant "secret weapon" type of reliever -- akin to Francisco Rodriguez in 2002 or Joba Chamberlain last year -- who could come out of the bullpen and give them two or three shutdown innings at a time. He's only been in the majors for two weeks (much like Rodriguez in '02), so almost no one has faced him before -- a huge advantage for the pitcher.

But to get Price on the roster, the Rays would probably have to leave off veteran Troy Percival, whom teammates regard as indispensible in the clubhouse and on the bullpen bench, and who has already received two epidural shots in his back just to keep pitching down the stretch. (This was described to me by one team official as some "NFL-type stuff--give me the shot and get me back out there." In other words, there is no telling what long-term damage Percival is doing to his body by merely masking the pain with these shots.) He returned last night following the second shot and pitched a scoreless inning.

The next three games could be crucial in the decision-making process, as the Rays want to see whether Price and Percival are capable of pitching in back-to-back games -- a pre-requisite for playoff-roster inclusion. For Price, the question is there because he is a starter and has never pitched out of the bullpen. For Percival, the question is one of health.

Assuming both prove themselves capable, and no other solution becomes available, which guy would you pick?

*Red Sox: Byrd Or Wakefield As Fourth Starter

Boston's top three of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka might be the most formidable of any playoff team, but what about the fourth spot? Neither Paul Byrd nor Tim Wakefield, a pair of veterans with solid postseason resumes, have pitched particularly well down the stretch -- but Byrd has been slightly better, going 4-2 with a 4.78 ERA since joining the team in August, while Wakefield is 3-3 with a 7.14 ERA since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 26.

What about sending one of them to the bullpen? Well, putting Wakefield, a knuckleball specialist, in the bullpen complicates things, since Red Sox starting catcher Jason Varitek almost never catches him, which would necessitate either a mid-game change at catcher whenever Wakefield entered -- taking Varitek out of the game for Kevin Cash, Wakefield's personal catcher, or a potentially disastrous scenario where Varitek must catch Wakefield. Byrd, meantime, hasn't pitched out of the bullpen since the 2004 NL Division Series.

Again, if the choice was yours, who would you pick? (Tom Heleba -- as a member of the Nation, feel free to take a stab at this one at your leisure.)

By Dave Sheinin  |  September 26, 2008; 4:50 PM ET
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If I'm the Sox, I keep Wake as the starter and put Byrd in the pen. Why? 2 Reasons:

1) Wake needs his own personal catcher, the only way you can do this without having to recraft the whole lineup is to have him as a starter.
2) Wake is either on, or awful. It takes one inning to see that. If he's on, great, leave him in. If not, pull him, bring in Byrd, and you're all set. To do that in reverse would allow Wake to lose a game for you with one of his patented "if you hit the ball, it's gone" nights.

If I'm the Rays, I would have a really tough time. My head says Price. He just looks dominant, and combine that with no real scouting on him, it could be devastation to other lineups. BUT Percival has been your man, he's an old guy who probably doesn't have much left in the tank, he has helped transform a young pitching staff of (his words) "a**holes" into, arguably, the best 1-5 in the sport. His veteran influence during October is why he was signed. Barring injuries, I think I take Troy, but with the ones he has, I gotta go Price.

Posted by: NattyDelite! | September 26, 2008 6:20 PM | Report abuse


Thanks for the invite to respond. Without a doubt Tim Wakefield should be designated Boston's No. 4 in the postseason rotation because of the reason you just mentioned -- the catching situation. But there are other factors at well. Game 4 of the ALDS would be at Fenway, where Wakefield has excelled this season (7-4, 3.28) as opposed to the road (3-7, 5.14).

But from what I've seen, the Angels -- with the best record in the AL -- are likely to opt for the ALDS B schedule, which starts on Wednesday instead of Thursday, giving all the starters an extra day off. That means that both teams could use their Nos. 1 and 2 twice in the series on regular rest, and in turn their No. 4s might never see the field.

Posted by: Tom Heleba | September 26, 2008 6:43 PM | Report abuse

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