NEW YORK — The Red Sox have not yet clinched the American League East, so manager John Farrell answers every question about the team’s playoff roster with a well-practiced statement about his concern being only for the next game.
Behind the scenes, of course, Farrell and his coaches are working with the baseball operations staff to determine which 25 players will be in uniform on Oct. 6, the first game of the Division Series.
The Sox have six games remaining in the regular season starting Tuesday in New York and those games could influence the final spot in the bullpen and who starts at third base.
Here’s a look at how the Sox could line up for their first playoff series since 2013:
RHP Rick Porcello, LHP David Price, LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, RHP Clay Buchholz.
Porcello, a leading contender for the Cy Young Award, earned the right to start Game 1. He is 22-4 with a 3.11 earned run average.
For the moment, Price is scheduled to pitch in Game 162 on Sunday. If that stays the case, he would pitch Game 2 on regular rest. Price has a 3.56 ERA when he pitches on four days’ rest this season, 4.76 when he pitches with five or more. So it’s best to keep him on turn.
Price made fools of those who decided in May that he couldn’t handle Boston. He has a 3.34 ERA in his last 23 starts. If the series goes to a fifth game, the Sox would have the choice of Porcello or Price.
Buchholz and Rodriguez offer proof how much can change within a season. Buchholz went nearly three weeks without getting in a game in July. But the team is 6-1 in his last seven starts, with Buchholz posting a 3.43 ERA and 1.25 WHIP.
Rodriguez was 1-3 with an 8.59 ERA in his first six starts and earned a demotion to Triple A Pawtucket. He is 2-4 with a 3.10 ERA in 13 starts since.
Drew Pomeranz is a candidate for the rotation but wouldn’t be needed in a best-of-five series. He goes to the bullpen.
Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler, Robbie Ross Jr., Matt Barnes, Pomeranz, Fernando Abad, Heath Hembree.
Kimbrel has the ninth inning and Uehara the eighth. Both have been outstanding this month. Ziegler and Ross are co-owners of the seventh inning.
With the days off built into the postseason, the rest of the bullpen is not quite as vital as it is during the regular season. But a long reliever is helpful in case of some sort of emergency. Pomeranz can fill that role.
Hembree’s value has gone somewhat unnoticed this season. Righthanders are hitting .195 with a .588 OPS against him. He’s the best choice as a situational righthander.
The decision between Abad and Robby Scott is a difficult one. But Abad should be fine if used correctly. Lefthanders are hitting .153 against him this season and that includes 3 for 23 (.130) since the Red Sox obtained him.
Scott is a nice story and he’s not afraid to throw strikes. But it would be a risk to take a pitcher with limited experience instead of Abad, who has been in the majors for seven seasons and has experience, albeit limited to one batter, in the postseason.
If Abad comes in to face lefties and lefties only, he should flourish.
Joe Kelly and Junichi Tazawa are difficult omissions but they’re not better options than Barnes or Hembree at this point.
Designated Hitter (1)
It’s fitting that Ortiz will end his career in the postseason. He is a career .295/.409/.553 hitter in 82 postseason games with 17 home runs and 60 RBIs.
When he is considered for the Hall of Fame in five years, Ortiz’s postseason heroics will be high on his résumé. Ortiz is hitting .370 with a 1.140 OPS this month. There are no signs of him wearing down.
Sandy Leon and Ryan Hanigan.
In spring training, the idea of Leon being the Game 1 catcher in a postseason series would have been dismissed. He was fourth string. But Leon has an .866 OPS in 74 games and pitchers have a 3.94 ERA working with him. He’s in a terrible slump at the moment (3 for 34, 12 strikeouts) and could use some extra rest this week.
It’s unclear what criteria will go into selecting a backup. Hanigan knows the staff better but Bryan Holaday offers at least the potential of some offense. The Sox are 21-8 when Hanigan starts and he has seven games of postseason experience. He seems like a safer choice.
Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi, Chris Young.
No decisions are needed here. Betts and Bradley have been two of the best players in the league all season. Benintendi (righthanders) and Young (lefthanders) will platoon in left field.
Young has 13 games of postseason experience. The rest of the group has none.
Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Travis Shaw, Brock Holt, Aaron Hill.
Third base is the only question. Shaw has hit .208 with a .638 OPS since June 5 and that invites Farrell to use Holt with Hill starting against lefties. Holt is 8 of 24 with three extra-base hits and six runs in his last eight games. Hill is 7 of 20 this month.
Ramirez has crushed the ball in September (.341 with 10 home runs and 26 RBIs) and is a .356 hitter in 13 career playoff games. He could shine come October.
Bogaerts had an .893 OPS in 34 postseason plate appearances in 2013. Pedroia is a career .247 postseason hitter, .238 in 2013.
The Red Sox will not carry a pinch-running specialist this time around. Outside of Ortiz, their starters all run the bases well. Holt, Benintendi, or even Hill could pinch run if needed.