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Thoughts on the World Series Roster

With four days remaining until the 2009 World Series begins, the Phillies haven't indicated what if any changes they might make to their roster. In the Division Series against Colorado, the Phils went with thirteen position players and twelve pitchers, including eight relievers; as things played out, Charlie Manuel's first dips into the bullpen were to call upon starters Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ anyway, and the position-player shortfall necessitated ace Cliff Lee to be used as a pinch-runner. Against the Dodgers in the NLCS, Manuel went to fourteen position players and eleven pitchers, replacing Brett Myers with Eric Bruntlett; while Jayson Stark reports that Myers might be back in the mix for the Fall Classic, Bruntlett did see some high-leverage action as a pinch-runner, scoring the key tying run in Game Four on Jimmy Rollins' game-ending double in the ninth inning. 

Both the 13/12 alignment for the NLDS and the shift to 14/11 for the following round made some sense. Because of recent injuries, Manuel wasn't sure what he had in Myers, Scott Eyre, or Antonio Bastardo for the first round, so there was some strength in numbers. But for the Dodgers series, the more forgiving calendar--two off-days in what turned out to be a five-game set--greater confidence in Eyre, shifting Happ to a relief role, and the return of Chan Ho Park made it safer to go with 11 arms. On the other hand, Bruntlett's added value was solely as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement; as we've noted at several points this season, there's a legitimate case to be made that at least three or four Phillies pitchers would represent a more dangerous pinch-hitting option.

For this final series, it seems safe to assume that 11 positional spots (the eight regulars plus Paul Bako, Ben Francisco and Matt Stairs) are absolutely set, plus ten pitchers (the five regular season starters, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Eyre, Park, and Chad Durbin). That leaves four spots: Bruntlett, Miguel Cairo and Greg Dobbs for two or three bench positions, and Bastardo, Myers, Kyle Kendrick, Tyler Walker and Clay Condrey for one or two pitching openings. (I'd like to believe John Mayberry Jr., who offers speed, outfield defense, and power against lefties, is getting some consideration as well, but I don't think he is.)   

Dobbs probably has a bench spot even though he's 0 for 4 in the postseason went just 3 for 18, with no extra-base hits, after coming off the disabled list in mid-September, and is still evidently unable to play in the outfield. He bats lefthanded, and neither the Yankees nor Angels as deep in lefty relievers as the Dodgers are. Cairo seems to have impressed Manuel with his versatility and professionalism, though he too is hitless in the 2009 playoffs; for his career in the postseason, however, he's a .303 hitter in 77 at-bats. Bruntlett you know about; his defensive versatility and decent speed are assets, even if they're redundant with what Cairo brings to the table. 

On the pitching side, Bastardo's fate might depend upon the opponent. The Angels have only one left-handed hitter, Bobby Abreu, among the players who have started games for them this postseason, but four switch-hitters; the lefty Bastardo could be useful in turning around Chone Figgins and Kendry Morales, both considerably weaker bats from the right side. The Yankees, by contrast, have Robinson Cano and Johnny Damon as regular lefty bats, plus switch-hitters Jorge Posada, Mark Teixeira, and Melky Cabrera--but of the five, only Damon shows anything close to a significant dropoff against southpaws (.776 OPS compared to .889 facing righties). As Stark notes, Myers was effective against the Yankees in a victorious eight-inning start back in May. As for Condrey, Walker, and Kendrick, the value in adding any of them would be depth and perhaps a one- or two-batter tactical option. 

Were it my decision, I'd probably go with 12 pitchers against either team. This is sabermetric blasphemy, but unfortunately, the Phillies don't have a last-bench-bat option who seems at all likely to make a positive difference in a big spot--at least not if Mayberry isn't in the discussion, and arguably not even if he is. The first 10-11 position players--the starters, Francisco, Stairs, and probably Dobbs--will have to generate the needed runs.. Against the Yankees, I'd leave Bruntlett and Bastardo off the roster and add back Myers and Condrey if the latter is healthy, Walker if he isn't. Against a relentless offense like New York's, though, there's some benefit to numbers, particularly considering the elimination of the off-day between Games Four and Five in the Series. If LA can win two more games and finish an improbable comeback, I'd keep Bastardo and probably switch out Bruntlett for Myers.