By the time the Dodgers submit their NLDS roster on Friday morning, Oct. 7, they will have had nearly two weeks to comb through every potential permutation plus the ins and outs of their matchup against the Nationals.
Ultimately, on the final 25 there will probably be very few surprises. Here is a look at what I think the NLDS roster will look like.
Several of the questions can be answered by looking at how the players have been used by manager Dave Roberts. Josh Reddick for instance has started 35 of 36 games in right field against right-handed pitchers since joining the Dodgers, and the only such game he didn’t start was because of a late scratch with a jammed middle finger.
Yasiel Puig since his return from Triple-A Oklahoma City has started all eight games against left-handed pitchers, and has started once in 17 games against right-handed pitchers. His role seems clear.
The return of Puig has diminished the role of Rob Segedin, another potential right-handed bat off the bench. Segedin has started just three times in September, including twice at first base, which wouldn’t happen barring injury during the playoffs.
Kiké Hernandez since returning from the disabled list on July 31 has starts all 18 games against left-handed pitchers — 15 times in center field, two games in left field and once at second base — and never against righties.
The role of second right-handed pinch hitter, if not catcher Carlos Ruiz, figures to be between Segedin and Charlie Culberson, the latter a better defender and at more premium infield positions. Though with Corey Seager and Justin Turner likely to play just about every inning in the postseason, the defensive versatility might not be needed.
Should the Dodgers need a backup shortstop just in case, Hernandez could fill that role even though he hasn’t played in the infield since Aug. 22.
Andrew Toles, hitting .311/.363/.505 113 plate appearances, has started 10 of the last 15 games against right-handed pitchers.
Andre Ethier has started three times in 17 games since his activation from the disabled list, once at designated hitter, and hasn’t started since Sept. 15. His role in the postseason, it seems, would be primarily as a pinch hitter.
Julio Urias, who starts Thursday night for the Dodgers in San Diego, seems like the Game 4 starter, though manager Dave Roberts wouldn’t fully commit to that on Wednesday.
“I do see [Urias] on the postseason roster in some capacity," Roberts said, per Carlos Callazo of MLB.com. "But outside of that I just don't know where, and I can't say how it's going to end up for him.”
I think Ross Stripling gets the call as the long man in the bullpen.
Around midseason, the idea that Adam Liberatore wouldn’t be a lock for the postseason would have been weird. His entire body of work this season has been very good, with a 3.02 ERA, 2.93 FIP and opposing hitters batting .208/.294/.315. But since the All-Star break, in all of 58 plate appearances, opponents have hit .314/.397/.490.
Liberatore has five straight scoreless appearances, including appearances in close games -- ahead two runs, tied, and down one.
Fellow southpaw Luis Avilan has nine scoreless appearances in September, striking out nine of 27 batters faced (33.3%), doing his best to Joel Peralta his way onto the postseason roster.
Alex Wood is another option, and has two perfect innings since his return, though he has only appeared in two of seven games.
If the Dodgers go right-handed, Josh Fields has allowed two runs (one earned) in September, with opposing batters hitting .172/.314/.310.
Josh Ravin has made a wonderful impression, with opposing batters 0-for-20 against him in September with one walk and nine strikeouts, but that will have to carry over into 2017 because his 80-game PED suspension makes Ravin ineligible for the postseason this year.
With two off days for travel in the best-of-5 NLDS, there is ample time for a bullpen to rest, with no more than two days in a row, and less of a need for an eighth reliever.
I think Ethier’s double and home run over the weekend was enough proof of life for him to claim a pinch-hitting role in October.
I’ll pick Avilan over Wood, but either way I think the Dodgers will carry three left-handed relievers to deal with Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy.
Given that the final spot isn’t the primary right-handed pinch hitting role, I think Culberson’s defensive versatility gives him the edge over Segedin, and the walk-off division clincher didn’t hurt, nor have Culberson’s seven hits in his last 10 at-bats.
Factoring all that in, here is my guess at the 25-man NLDS roster:
Catchers (2): Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Ruiz
Infielders (5): Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Charlie Culberson
Outfielders (7): Howie Kendrick, Joc Pederson, Josh Reddick, Yasiel Puig, Andrew Toles, Kiké Hernandez, Andre Ethier
Starting pitchers (4): Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias
Relief pitchers (7): Kenley Jansen, Joe Blanton, Pedro Baez, Grant Dayton, Adam Liberatore, Ross Stripling, Luis Avilan