Along the right field line, a brain trust of general manager Mike Elias, manager Brandon Hyde and bullpen coach Tim Cossins sat in the stands at Camden Yards. They watched the Orioles compete against themselves in a simulated game, and through it all they deliberated about what to do this weekend in the American League Division Series.
Baltimore had 28 players on its expanded roster to end the regular season. The Orioles must cut the roster to 26 players again for the postseason, and they have until Saturday morning to do so.
”I’ve been in the postseason, but I haven’t run the game,” said Hyde, who experienced a World Series while on the Chicago Cubs’ coaching staff. “From bullpen decisions to the conversations I’m in with Mike right now about our rotation, our roster, those type of things, I’m really enjoying it. It’s a lot of fun, honestly, putting together this postseason roster.”
Hyde wouldn’t divulge the details of those conversations. He didn’t disclose who would take the mound Saturday against the Texas Rangers in Game 1, or whether he’d prefer more position players than pitchers on the 26-man roster.
Therefore, here’s a glimpse at the conversation inside the Camden Yards press box between Banner beat writers Danielle Allentuck and Andy Kostka.
The problem? There wasn’t much to argue over.
One can only assume it’s roughly the same conversation as the one Elias and Hyde are having.
For most of the week, I’ve been arguing that the Orioles should stick with 13 position players and 13 pitchers. But, with built-in days off and the length starters have shown lately, I now think they are better off going 14 position players and 12 pitchers.
There are, in my opinion, 13 position-player locks: catchers Adley Rutschman and James McCann; infielders Ryan O’Hearn, Ryan Mountcastle, Jordan Westburg, Gunnar Henderson, Ramon Urías, Adam Frazier and Jorge Mateo; outfielders Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander and Aaron Hicks.
Two of those — Mateo and Urías — could be considered borderline, but Mateo’s speed and Urías’ defensive versatility make them valuable.
That leaves one spot for two remaining players. Heston Kjerstad and Ryan McKenna have both been at workouts this week. One will make the team. The other will be on the taxi squad and travel with them in case an injury replacement is needed. Kjerstad has the power and has proved, in 13 major league games, to be an adept pinch hitter. His eighth-inning RBI double Sept. 28 helped the Orioles clinch the division.
He should have a long major league career ahead of him. McKenna, though, is more valuable right now. Unlike Kjerstad, McKenna can be trusted in all three outfield positions. Defense is important, and McKenna can be a key late-inning replacement. He’s not as powerful, but he did hit .254 in 88 games with the Orioles.
As for the pitchers, I think starters Kyle Bradish, John Means and Grayson Rodriguez are givens. Dean Kremer and Kyle Gibson too, although I could see one, particularly the latter, moving to the bullpen.
Relievers Yennier Cano, Danny Coulombe, DL Hall, Tyler Wells, Cionel Perez and Jacob Webb will be on the roster. I think Shintaro Fujinami too, even though some see him as a liability. But when he’s on he’s on. And Hyde will have a short leash on him when he’s not.
That leaves Jack Flaherty and Cole Irvin on the outside looking in. Look, they’ll likely have another starter like Gibson in the bullpen. They don’t really need another long arm. It’s a short enough series that, if they really need someone to eat up innings, they can pull a starter out of the dugout and pitch their Game 1 starter in Game 5 too.
As is so often the case, we’ve largely finished our argument at around the same place. Danielle opted for 14 position players and 12 pitchers, but I’ve stuck with 13 of both because, if there’s one thing Hyde and Elias value, it’s the correct pitching matchups.
The maximum allotment of pitchers, then, gives the best chance of manipulating matchups out of the bullpen, particularly if one of Baltimore’s starting pitchers is hit around early.
The other night, while talking with the On The Verge podcast, I played devil’s advocate with Fujinami. The hard-throwing righty, I said, could be a surprise choice to leave off the playoff roster because of the volatile nature of his outings. When he’s on, Fujinami is one of the best options out of the bullpen. The issue is it’s hard to know when he’s on, and it’ll be curious how Hyde opts to navigate a high-upside, low-floor pitcher. After all the hemming and hawing I did, I kept Fujinami on the postseason roster because of his potential to induce strikeouts and ground balls with a triple-digit fastball and nasty splitter.
But it was a near thing, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him an odd man out should Baltimore choose to employ 14 position players.
Because I went with 13 position players, that meant I left both McKenna and Kjerstad off the roster. In the world in which I kept 14 position players, Kjerstad would have gotten the nod over McKenna because of his pinch-hit potential and power threat. Home runs, especially in recent editions of October baseball, have proven to be a more streamlined path to success over small ball.
The pitching staff predictions for both of us are nearly identical. While Danielle left Flaherty off the roster (a brave decision, considering it would require Elias to admit the trade-deadline acquisition of Flaherty was a failed venture), I kept him on as part of a full nine-man bullpen. Cano, Pérez, Coulombe, Hall and Wells will likely be the high-leverage arms of choice.
And our rotation projection is identical. Bradish has earned the ball in the postseason after a season with a 2.83 ERA and 1.043 WHIP. Rodriguez has been dominant since returning in July from the minor leagues, posting a 2.58 ERA in his last 13 starts. Means, who only recently returned from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, has quickly showed why Baltimore should trust him. That leaves Kremer over Gibson, although that could be a toss-up considering recent results.