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Building a roster for the Wild Card game

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Wild Card games are more like September baseball...

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers
Domingo Santana would get a roster spot
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The one-game Wild Card playoff adds lots of excitement for baseball fans. The games have sometimes been truly wild affairs, and because teams are able to set their rosters for just one game there isn’t any reason to keep beyond the one piece of the rotation needed to start that day.

The Wild Card play-in game has been in place since 2012. In 2014 the Royals edged the A’s 9-8 in 12 innings, then went on to win the American League pennant, losing the World Series to the Giants. In 2016 Toronto walked off the Orioles on an eleventh inning three-run homer by Edwin Encarnacion for a 5-2 victory. Last season the Diamondbacks beat the Rockies 11-8 in a game that saw the D’Backs build an early 6-0 lead, then have to hold on and fend off Colorado.

And of course, there’s the 2014 San Francisco Giants, who won the Wild Card game and became the (so far) only team to take the play-in game and turn it into a world championship.

The purpose of this isn’t to dismiss the chances that the Brewers win the NL Central over the Cubs and avoid the play-in game altogether. The Wild Card game is just a more likely scenario.

So, how do you set your roster for a one game playoff? First off, the starting pitcher. Sure, he could get injured warming up or early in the game, but with the depth in the pen provided by open spots from other starting pitchers left off the roster, that wouldn’t be an issue. Except, of course, that presumably the starter is a better option to get outs for the first three, four, or five innings. Maybe six innings, I guess, but this is the Brewers we are talking about.

From there, you work backwards into which run getters you want to keep. In building our roster, it’s probably wise to look at how the Brewers have used players in the September portion of the schedule; that’s probably how they’ll use them for this game.

Close decisions can be based on the opponent’s bullpen, too. Do they have lefty specialists that can negate a left handed bat off the bench? Will they keep a dominant starter as a bullpen option? I don’t think either of those things will matter to the Brewers. Their options are pretty clear, and this one game roster feels like a (mostly) clear cut decision:

C - Manny Pina, Erik Kratz.

IF - Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw, Mike Moustakas, Orlando Arcia, Jonathan Schoop and Hernan Perez

OF - Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Ryan Braun, Curtis Granderson, Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana

I have no advice on whether Pina or Kratz starts at catcher. I can’t see logic in how it’s going right now, so I’ll leave that to Craig Counsell.

I have one spot left here, and my two choices have both been rather cold at the plate as of late. Eric Thames has been abysmal since the all star break, and his thumb injury combined with a lack of playing time seem to have robbed him of his ability to make contact with a baseball. His OPS in that time is .548, with 3 homers in 88 plate appearances. He has a whopping 40 strikeouts; that’s 45.5% of his plate appearances.

Our second option, Tyler Saladino, hasn’t been any better. In fact, he’s been worse, with an OPS of .503 for Milwaukee since his September call-up. He has fanned in 42.5% of his plate appearances.

Yikes. I guess that I’ll base my decision on who I’d want up in the bottom of the twelfth against a hard throwing righty, which is a likely scenario against the Cardinals, the Crew’s most likely opponent at this moment. I’m going with Thames.

Milwaukee seems to be setting up the rotation so that Jhoulys Chacin will get the start in the Wild Card game. So I’m going with that assumption. My bullpen would be:

RHP: Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, Corbin Burnes, Junior Guerra, Joakim Soria, and Brandon Woodruff.

Woodruff is my emergency starter/first inning reliever, although Burnes might be a better option. But Burnes might be needed in a late game or extra inning situation, so if I am manager he’s being saved for that.

LHP: Josh Hader, Xavier Cedeno, Dan Jennings.

I’m really hoping they don’t have to use Jennings, but feel that situation could arise.

So there you have it. I’m sure there will be complete agreement on this, with no alternate selections.

If (when?) a roster for the NLDS is needed, I’ll give my thoughts on that.

Winning tonight in Pittsburgh would be a nice step in that direction.