With Showalter in charge, have faith in postseason roster decisions

Buck Showalter

Buck Showalter (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun / September 4, 2014)

If there were such an academic discipline, Orioles manager Buck Showalter would have a Ph.D. in Roster Science.

He has spent the past three years manipulating personnel at the major and minor league levels so deftly that the Orioles have averaged more than 90 victories and been in playoff contention for all but a couple of weeks last September, despite never being accused of having the best talent in the American League East.

Clearly, he knows what he's doing, which should be comforting to Orioles fans who are waiting to see how he and executive vice president Dan Duquette configure the 25-man roster for the upcoming AL Division Series.

Every day of the 2014 regular season has been a challenge. The Orioles spent April with the infield in flux while they waited for Manny Machado to return from knee surgery. By the time he got back, Chris Davis was on the disabled list with an oblique injury; and the moment Davis returned, Matt Wieters fell off the active roster for the season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.

So, viewed against the backdrop of a regular season in which the Orioles were unable to field their optimum starting lineup for a single day, deciding who to take into October probably isn't all that challenging, though things could get a lot more complicated if the club gets past the divisional round.

Showalter and the rest of the Orioles braintrust have already had the luxury of a relatively lengthy evaluation period following the division-clinching game on Sept. 16. They'll meet again on Monday once they're sure who will be showing up at Camden Yards for Thursday's playoff opener, but any decisions based on the winner of the AL Central title were likely to be fairly nuanced anyway.

The roster situation for the division series figured to come down to whether Showalter was willing to go with a smaller pitching staff. That will determine how much flexibility he will have on his bench, where he might have to sacrifice an infielder or an outfielder to retain all the matchup options he has had available during the final month of the regular season.

He indicated on Saturday that he could go with as few as 10 pitchers because of the possible availability of his No. 3 and 4 starters in the bullpen in the first two games.

The format of the best-of-five series, which includes two possible days off, makes that a real option, especially with the three-day break between Sunday's regular season finale and Thursday's playoff opener. Still, the Orioles could retain most of their position flexibility with an 11-man staff, which is the way Showalter seemed to be leaning earlier in the week.

The main reason to go with 11 pitchers — or even 12 — would be to have more matchup possibilities in the middle and late innings, which is a significant consideration.

If Showalter goes with 12, there's little doubt who those 12 would be. If he does not, the club would have to deactivate at least one reliever and possibly two from a group that includes Brad Brach, Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland.

The fact that the Orioles are even considering a 10-man staff is an indication that Showalter wants as much flexibility as possible among position players, where a six-player bench would allow him to keep both Jimmy Paredes and Kelly Johnson and either designated base-stealer Quintin Berry or surprise minor league call-up Alexi Casilla.

The fact that the O's are considering putting Casilla on the roster is an indication that Showalter is far from satisfied with the current situation at third base. But Casilla is not a third baseman, so it probably makes more sense to use Ryan Flaherty there regularly and hold Casilla in reserve in case there is a problem at shorstop or second.

I'm not sure Showalter really needs Berry, since the club acquired some speed with newcomer Alejandro De Aza and David Lough has come alive at the plate down the stretch, giving the Orioles the combination of speed, defense and on-base capability the club had hoped he would provide from the start.

My take: Showalter will end up deciding to go with 11 pitchers and go into the first round of the playoffs with largely the same team that finished the regular season. The odd man out on the pitching staff will be either Brach or Matusz and Berry also will have to sit out the first round.

Ubaldo Jimenez did not make a compelling enough case in his last two starts to warrant serious consideration, but the Orioles could have a decision to make on Davis' status if they get past the first round. Since Davis' suspension includes eight postseason games, the length of the division series could determine whether the club might activate him for the American League Championship Series.

If the ALDS goes the distance, it's possible that Showalter would be willing to play short for the first three games of the ALCS, but it's inconceivable that the Orioles would activate Davis under any other circumstance.

It's even possible he will not be activated no matter how far the Orioles go in the postseason, but you can be sure Showalter would be happy to agonize over that decision on the eve of the World Series.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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