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The Dodgers’ playing time ‘balancing act’ of going for the NL West & preparing for the playoffs

A look at how final-week decisions could play out

Los Angeles Dodgers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

With a postseason berth already secured, but down two games in the division with five left to play, the Dodgers are balancing going for a ninth consecutive National League West title with making sure everyone is at their best heading into the playoffs.

“We’re going all in, even not playing one of our better players,” manager Dave Roberts said. “The health component, looking short and long term — specifically in this case, Justin — is important.”

Justin Turner is out of the lineup on Wednesday, as he was on Sunday in Phoenix. He’s not injured, but is hitting .262/.298/.286 in his last 12 games, since his last home run, on September 13. Since the beginning of August, Turner is hitting .226/.300/.371, an 85 wRC+.

“The word baseball players use is grinding. I’ve leaned on him a ton this year,” Roberts said. “Could he play? Absolutely. I just think to keep him fresh is best for the Dodgers, and for him. He wants to be in there. He’ll be ready when called upon.”

If Turner plays in the Dodgers’ final five games he’ll match his career-high 151 games played from 2015. He’s proved durable in his age-36 season, the first year of a two-year contract, leading the team in games (146), starts (131), and plate appearances (596) this year. He played in 75 percent of Dodgers games from 2017-20.

With Turner sitting at the start of Wednesday’s game, Chris Taylor starts at third base, one of six positions he’s started in 2021.

Dodgers-Padres lineups

Pos Padres Pos Dodgers
Pos Padres Pos Dodgers
2B Frazier (L) RF Betts
SS Cronenworth (L) SS Seager (L)
3B Machado 2B Turner
1B Hosmer (L) C Smith
LF Pham 1B Muncy (L)
CF Grisham (L) LF Pollock
RF Profar (S) 3B Taylor
C Caratini (S) CF Lux (L)
P Weathers P Scherzer

“When you plug in Chris Taylor, I don’t think you’re giving up anything. So I think it’s threading the needle, a little balancing act.”

Taylor is second to Turner in games played and a close third in starts and PA, integral to the Dodgers’ success this season. He’s also faded down the stretch, hitting just .186/.256/.300, a 53 wRC+ since August 1, including six hits in his last 62 at-bats.

Wednesday is just Taylor’s fifth start in the last 16 games after dealing with a pinched nerve in his neck. He’s over his neck troubles, but the Dodgers still need to manage AJ Pollock’s hamstring and Cody Bellinger’s cracked rib.

All three figure to see time in the outfield, along with Mookie Betts and Gavin Lux. Wednesday is Pollock’s fifth start in six games since returning from the IL, but he has yet to start more than two days in a row since coming back. Roberts said Bellinger would start on Thursday.

“There’s five very good major league outfielders, with the inclusion of Gavin. They all have their case to be in the lineup,” Roberts said Tuesday. “The way I want to look at it is there’s really no wrong way to set an outfield lineup for these next [five] days, and the postseason and beyond. My expectation is that they’ll all be ready when called upon.”

Lux is the one who thrust himself back in the picture this September, hitting .383/.482/.532 since returning from Triple-A. Wednesday is his sixth consecutive start in centerfield, and his 16th outfield start in the last 17 games. The only time during that span he didn’t start was when Lux was hit by a pitch on the forearm during pregame batting practice on September 17, when he was scratched from the lineup in Cincinnati.

If the Dodgers are able to advance to the division series, how they allocate playing time, especially in the outfield, will be interesting. Pollock should start as often as he’s physically able, which essentially leaves one outfield spot up for grabs.

For now at least, Roberts is holding his October cards close to his vest.

“There’s no one lineup that’s going to be set, versus left or versus right. Performance and recency matters,” Roberts said. “Certainly the body of work for a certain player and what they’ve done, whether it be this year or throughout their careers, the experience they’ve had, is baked in.”