Let’s not overthink this.
The Texas Rangers, all Pythagorean numbers notwithstanding, were the best baseball team in the American League for 162 games.
As manager Jeff Banister ponders over these next three days, therefore, there is little reason to fret over footspeed that may or may not be used, or a pitching arm that may or may not get to throw a complete playoff inning.
It’s time to go with what got the AL West champs this far. Because though it makes for salty web clicks and radio talk show fodder to dissect the question of who will be the 25th man on the postseason roster, the World Series likely will be won or lost by someone with the dirt of the regular season fully under their fingernails.
In the interview room Sunday, after the season’s 162nd game, a 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, Banister was asked to map out his next 24 to 48 hours.
“A lot of planning,” Banny began.
Yeah, sure. Scouting provides a vital lifeline in the MLB postseason. Teams dispatch their scouts for weeks to observe possible playoff opponents and note their nuances.
The New York Yankees, perhaps because they had so much practice, have always been masters of it. They knew, for instance, in the 1996 AL Division Series that Rangers first baseman Will Clark had a bum elbow and couldn’t throw Derek Jeter out at home.
Teams know who’s hot and who’s not.
But this isn’t the World Series. Yet. Pitchers won’t bat in the ALDS. Pinch-hitters are likely seldom to be used.
The roster’s bench players, therefore, tend to be there for insurance, not to imitate Roy Hobbs.
In 1996, just saying, the Rangers carried Warren Newson and Damon Buford on their postseason roster. They combined for one at-bat.
The Rangers’ 2010 roster included Jorge Cantu (0 for 4), Julio Borbon and Jeff Francoeur.
So don’t overthink this.
“I respect every single player in this clubhouse,” Banister said. “I will not announce anything at this point.”
So let us all guess together. Banister appears to be leaning toward an eight-man bullpen for the ALDS, which means 13 position players.
That would mean Mitch Moreland, Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Jurickson Profar, Carlos Gomez, Nomar Mazara, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, Ian Desmond, Ryan Rua, Jonathan Lucroy and Robinson Chirinos.
Yes, Mazara’s bat has faltered in the season’s second half, and he’s sure to be tested by whatever quirk the advance scouts saw. But even at 21, he can handle his first baseball October. He’s earned his place in the dugout.
The same goes for Rua, who can play a little first base if — ahem — the incumbent first baseman, Moreland, has another postseason as he did last year (0 for 13). Rua is also 8 for 8 this season in stolen base attempts.
There’s your pinch runner, manager Banister.
The Rangers will be playing the wild-card winner, either the Baltimore Orioles or the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rangers have always seemed at home at closet-sized Orioles Park at Camden Yards.
Toronto’s dome, not so much. Plus, there’s the baggage from last postseason and Odor’s TKO over Jose Bautista.
Wouldn’t Banister just rather play the Orioles and not have to deal with a possible sideshow in Toronto? The manager had a good answer for me.
“I think our focus supersedes anything we might encounter in any location,” Banister said. “We don’t get to choose whom we play. We don’t get to choose where we play. We just earned the opportunity to play someone, somewhere.
“Who that is, we’ll take it and go play the game of baseball. And we’ll stay focused and dedicated to what we need to do, and I’ll leave it at that.”
The postseason awaits. There is planning to be done and scouting reports to sift through.
But the ALDS roster? Go with the guys with dirt under their fingernails.