LOS ANGELES — As the Dodgers wind down their best regular season in at least 43 years, thoughts turn to the playoffs, specifically which players will make the postseason roster. Here is an educated guess at the 25 players who will be active for the Dodgers during the National League Division Series.
The Division Series is shaping up to be a divisional affair for the Dodgers, who will play the winner of the National League wild card game. The Diamondbacks have already clinched the first wild card position, and will host said game, on Wednesday, Oct. 4 at Chase Field in Phoenix.
Heading into Thursday, the Rockies lead the second wild card position by 2½ games over the Brewers and 3½ games over the Cardinals. Colorado is off on Thursday, but the other two teams play, with elimination numbers of two for Milwaukee and one for St. Louis.
It is unknown exactly how the roster will break down, and the far more likely determinant of this will be the roster and strengths of the Dodgers’ opponent. But here is how the rosters looked in the last four postseasons:
2013 NLDS: 11 pitchers, 14 position players
2013 NLCS: 11 pitchers, 14 position players
2014 NLDS: 12 pitchers, 13 position players
2015 NLDS: 11 pitchers, 14 position players
2016 NLDS: 11 pitchers, 14 position players
2016 NLCS: 12 pitchers, 13 position players
Regular position players
At this point, the pattern is pretty well established of how playing time gets distributed. Barring an injury — like a left knee contusion, for instance — or something unforeseen, the top of every Dodgers postseason lineup should include Chris Taylor in center field, Corey Seager at shortstop, Justin Turner at third base, and Cody Bellinger at first base.
Yasiel Puig is probably also an every day starter in right field, assuming no sudden trust or tardiness issues pop up again. That leaves three positions:
Dave Roberts has already said Kiké Hernandez will get the playing time here against left-handed pitching, against whom Hernandez is hitting .267/.368/.580 in 2017.
Since joining the Dodgers, Curtis Granderson has started 29 of 32 games against right-handed pitchers. If that doesn’t convince you of his cemented status as a platoon regular — despite Granderson hitting just .152/.288/.371 with LA — perhaps these words from Roberts will.
“The success that [Granderson] has doesn’t factor into how he treats his teammates or how he prepares each day. That’s what has led to his career. He’s very streaky, but his attitude has never wavered,” Roberts said. “For me, those are guys that you bet on. This game is so unpredictable, but a guy who prepares and his sole focus is to win baseball games, those are the guys you want to go into a series with.”
A slump in August cratered in September for Yasmani Grandal, who started the season’s final month just 1-for-34. That created an opportunity for more playing time for Austin Barnes, who is hitting .292/.412/.495 on the season.
“He’s seen the baseball well all year long,” Roberts said of Barnes.
But Grandal has turned it on again in the final weeks, including walking more, and is hitting .292/.379/.750 with three home runs in his last nine games. The general split here is Barnes starting against left-handers and Grandal against most right-handers. But it likely won’t be a straight platoon; Barnes should get some starts against right-handed pitchers. It might not result in a 50/50 split, but it could be close. Either way, this will be a tandem effort.
“The body of work between our two catchers, and with the defensive metrics, I got them at the top of all of baseball,” Roberts said.
In the last 17 games, Barnes has started seven times behind the plate, including five times against righties, plus another start at second base.
The split here likely won’t be a straight platoon, with the Dodgers judicious about giving 38-year-old Chase Utley regular rest. So expect Logan Forsythe to start against some right-handers in addition to against all southpaws, against whom he is hitting .295/.424/.459.
Utley has started 14 of 27 games in September, while Forsythe 11 times at second base this month plus five more games at third base.
We are already at 11 position players, so there’s only room for two, maybe three more players here. Whatever chance Adrian Gonzalez had of cracking this group ended on Wednesday, with back tightness shutting down his season.
The lock here is Andre Ethier, who has battled back from a bad back that sidelined him for the first five months of the season, the second straight year he was limited to only September and October duty.
Ethier is hitting .267/.333/.500 since his return, playing 19 of 27 games in September, totaling 33 plate appearances. Both of his home runs have come as a pinch hitter, his likely role in October.
“Andre has come off the bench the last two or three years,” Roberts said. “It’s a tough role, one of the toughest in baseball. To have done that obviously that helps him.”
As for the 13th position player, let’s take a look at how the playing time has been distributed down the stretch for a few candidates:
- Joc Pederson: 12 games (6 starts), 23 plate appearances in September, including 11 PA in the last 17 games. He’s 2-for-17 with six walks this month. Advantage: can play all three outfield spots, including center field.
- Kyle Farmer: 5 games (1 start), 6 plate appearances. He’s 2-for-6. Advantage: adding a third catcher frees up Barnes or Grandal to be used more liberally as a pinch hitter or otherwise without worrying about burning the backup catcher (similar to Barnes’ role with Carlos Ruiz on board in 2016).
- Charlie Culberson: 12 games (2 starts), 12 PA. He’s 2-for-12: Advantage: can play every infield position, including shortstop. But barring something unforeseen, Seager will likely play every meaningful inning in the postseason, and the Dodgers also have Taylor and Hernandez to fill in at shortstop if absolutely necessary.
- Rob Segedin: 7 games (2 starts), 12 plate appearances. He’s 3-for-12 with two doubles. Advantage: might be the best option among right-handed pinch hitters.
- Alex Verdugo: He started the first four games of his career, all in San Diego, and has barely played since, with 10 PA and no starts in the last 23 games. He showed up late in San Francisco. He has no realistic shot here.
Clayton Kershaw will start Game 1, obviously. The Dodgers haven’t committed to the order of the rest of the rotation just yet, but it will be some combination of Yu Darvish, Rich Hill, Alex Wood and Hyun-jin Ryu.
Ryu starts Friday in Colorado, while Darvish, Hill and Wood will get ready for the NLDS with some sort of simulated game during the four off days at Dodger Stadium in between the end of the regular season and the start of the Division Series.
The big decision here will be how to utilize Ryu and Wood, with the former more suited for starting and the latter coming off the best season of his career in the rotation but with a second-half slide and experience in the bullpen. Essentially, the question comes down to would you rather use Wood for one game in the series, or potentially two or three high-leverage situations in a five-game series?
There is also the chance that Kershaw starts on three days rest again in Game 4, just as he has done in each of the last four Division Series. The NLDS schedule allows for such a maneuver, with the No. 2 starter able if needed to start Game 5 on regular rest. Admittedly, this made more sense when Zack Greinke was the Drysdale to Kershaw’s Koufax, so this could depend on how much faith the front office has in Darvish, if he is in fact the No. 2.
Kershaw in his four playoff starts on three days rest has allowed 11 runs (9 earned) on 17 hits in 25⅔ innings — a 3.16 ERA — with 34 strikeouts and six walks.
Note: I’m not counting his 2016 NLCS Game 2 start as short rest since it was five days after his last NLDS start, though with his seven-pitch save in NLDS Game 5 in between serving more as a glorified bullpen session in between starts.
In the starts immediately after the start on three days rest — only two here, with series losses in 2014 and 2015 — Kershaw has allowed one unearned run on four hits in 13 innings, with 11 strikeouts and two walks.
Kenley Jansen and Brandon Morrow are the true locks here, with the rest depending on matchups.
“When you’re looking at the four teams that are a possibility [in the NLDS], you can argue how to construct a bullpen in a couple different ways with those four lineups,” Roberts said. “For us to make a decision doesn’t really make much sense right now.”
The Dodgers didn’t trade for Tony Watson to not use him, so he’s likely a lock, too. Tony Cingrani has been fantastic, pitching himself into contention with a 3.00 ERA, 26 strikeouts and only five walks in 18 innings. Left-handed batters are 4-for-28 (.143) with a walk and 13 strikeouts against Cingrani since he joined the Dodgers.
“The slider has been better. The fastball command has been very good. He’s been able to locate it to different quadrants,” Roberts said of Cingrani. “With Tony, it’s a bad visual for a left-handed hitter.”
Three lefties are a distinct possibility, and Luis Avilan has been effective all season, posting a 2.93 ERA and 26.8% strikeout rate. Lefties are hitting just .195/.290/.280 against Avilan this season in 93 plate appearances. Avilan said he’s concentrating only on what he can control, even if he sells himself a little short.
“I’m not thinking playoff roster, because I’m not a guy who is going to change the playoffs. It’s not like I’m one of those guys who has to be there, like Kenley or Kershaw,” Avilan said. “I want to finish strong and healthy, and will wait for their decision. I’d be happy to be on the playoff roster.”
The struggles of Pedro Baez have been well documented, with his September swoon likely leaving him on the outside looking in come October. Ross Stripling has also struggled in September, allowing runs in four straight appearances on the last road trip. Stripling has been a relief stalwart all year in multiple roles, though the potential inclusion of both Kenta Maeda and Hyun-jin Ryu may make Stripling’s long-man role redundant.
Maeda is getting relief work in the final week of the season in preparation for October. For what it’s worth, in three relief appearances this season, his average fastball is 93.44 mph per Brooks Baseball, compared to 92.24 mph as a starter. Right-handed batters are hitting just .216/.257/.392 against Maeda this season, making him ideal for matchups.
Josh Fields has been mostly effective all year long, and seven of his last eight appearances have been scoreless.
The wild card is Walker Buehler, who has impressed in his limited major league experience. Whether he can pull a 2008 David Price — to use a fellow Vanderbilt pitcher as a comp — or even a 1978 Bob Welch (as suggested by Ken Gurnick of MLB.com), remains to be seen.
“[Buehler’s] shown me that he’s continuing to slow the game down. The stuff really plays — the fastball, the curveball, for the most part slider,” Roberts said. “I’m going to continue to put him in higher leverage situations and see what we got.”
With the versatility of several of the position players, I’m leaning toward the idea that the Dodgers will carry 13 hitters instead of 14, instead using the final spot for an extra pitcher, allowing for more aggressive use of the bullpen.
I think Ryu is carried as a starter, with Wood in the bullpen, and while I’m perfectly on board if Kershaw starts Game 4 again on three days rest I’m not sure if that will happen.
Four left-handed relievers seems like a lot, and is probably where this roster guess falls apart, but for now I’m sticking with it.
Dodgers NLDS roster guess
|Starters (4)||Bullpen (8)||Catchers (3)||Infielders (5)||Outfielders (5)|
|Starters (4)||Bullpen (8)||Catchers (3)||Infielders (5)||Outfielders (5)|
|Clayton Kershaw||Kenley Jansen||Yasmani Grandal||Cody Bellinger||Yasiel Puig|
|Yu Darvish||Brandon Morrow||Austin Barnes||Logan Forsythe||Chris Taylor|
|Rich Hill||Alex Wood lhp||Kyle Farmer||Corey Seager||Curtis Granderson|
|Hyun-jin Ryu||Tony Watson lhp||Justin Turner||Kiké Hernandez|
|Tony Cingrani lhp||Chase Utley||Andre Ethier|
|Luis Avilan lhp|