The Chicago White Sox are going to have some decisions to make when it comes to setting their playoff roster.
Among the more intriguing ones might be how they assemble their postseason bullpen.
While the relief corps has been the typical source of hair-pulling across the South Side — such is the way of things in baseball, regardless of the actual effectiveness of any given year's group — there's an ample number of arms who look like reliable postseason options. The bullpen might not have lived up the sky-high expectations that were set in the spring, but it's seen several guys round into shape.
You might think you know all the featured players at this point, but how about this for a late-season scene-stealer?
Evan Marshall hasn't pitched for the White Sox since the end of June. But with just a couple weeks left in the regular season, he's holding out hope he can be healthy enough to pitch in the most important games of the campaign.
Marshall's on the 60-day injured list right now, working his way back from what he described Wednesday as "a decent-sized tear of the flexor muscle in my elbow," certainly something that hinders the ability to pitch. But after taking some time away to celebrate the birth of his son, the right-handed reliever is expressing confidence that he'll be back in time to make some sort of impact on the White Sox' playoff run.
"It's feeling much better now," he said. "I'll start a catch program (Thursday), and assuming I didn't really lose anything during this sort of week that I haven't thrown, we'll ramp up pretty quickly the bullpens, long toss and then hopefully a live BP. And then back by the end (of the regular season) or back by the playoffs or if it's Round 2 of the playoffs. Whatever I can do to be around and help.
"We're down to a little over two weeks (in the regular season). What's the point of holding back? We've got the most important games of the year coming up, after we take care of business, the rest of the way. I think if this had happened at a different time of the year, if this was spring, I'd be erring on the side of caution. But there's a long offseason coming after we all, hopefully, take that next step and win it all or go deep in the playoffs. So there's no reason not to try and push my elbow to the limit."
Plenty of fans were expressing frustration with Marshall prior to his trip to the IL, his 5.60 ERA an indication that things haven't gone as well in 2021 as they did in 2020, when his ERA was a far more miniscule 2.38. But the right-hander has a track record that figures to make him a desirable addition to the White Sox' playoff roster.
But optimism does not equal availability, so it will take Marshall's recovery to answer the question of whether or not he'll be pitching in October.
As for who will be, again, the results have not always matched those preseason expectations. But there's still an outrageous amount of talent out there.
"Certainly, high expectations always, but baseball has a way of humbling you," Marshall said. "But you've seen people who have just locked down and come back to life. Like Aaron Bummer, he's always been amazing, but he's been so good lately. And Garrett Crochet and José Ruiz, guys like that who have absolutely taken leaps forward.
"We have such a deep group down there that when you have guys experiencing a little soreness, or somebody's thrown back-to-back nights, it's just next man up and we're not really losing a whole lot, as far as the talent goes."
Even top-of-the-line relief arms Liam Hendriks and Craig Kimbrel have driven fans mad at one point or another, and Kimbrel's bloated 5.82 ERA since joining the White Sox remains something to pay attention to every time he takes the ball. But those two are the biggest keys to bullpen success for these White Sox come October.
Certainly Bummer and Michael Kopech will be there, too. Ryan Tepera expects to get past his cut finger before the postseason starts, and his recent success makes for a fifth lock at the back end.
There will be fewer starting pitchers on the playoff roster than the regular-season roster, and Reynaldo López figures to be a very worthy inclusion among the relief group. He's been a new pitcher since coming up from the minors earlier this season, and he could be the kind of innings-eating weapon so often deployed in October, when the leashes are short on starters.
Marshall mentioned Crochet and Ruiz for good reason, as they've been used in numerous situations by Tony La Russa this season, to get outs in moments both high leverage and lower leverage. Every moment is a high leverage one come playoff time, but both guys have shown the ability, if not the consistency, to be counted on in those situations.
But Marshall is as attractive, surely, as those latter two names, giving the White Sox something to think on if he's healthy.
Now the White Sox will wait to see if he will be.