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Thinking through the Dodgers’ final roster decisions for the NLDS

MLB: SEP 21 Diamondbacks at Dodgers Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Dodgers have only a few personnel decisions to make for the National League Division Series, and with the roster not due until Tuesday morning, they have earned the right to take their time.

“We’re fortunate we get the weekend to kind of take it all in and figure it out,” Andrew Friedman told reporters at Dodger Stadium Friday. “I think we’re savoring this weekend more after what we went through last year.”

Last season saw the Dodgers vie for the division until the final day of the regular season, only to settle for 106 wins in second place and a date in the wild card game before playing San Francisco in the NLDS. Los Angeles did not have home field advantage last year except in the wild card game, but this year every Dodgers series will begin with two games at Dodger Stadium.

In the first year of a 12-team playoff format ushered in with the new collective bargaining agreement, the top two seeds in each league get a bye directly into the NLDS, which this year comes with five days off between the regular season and Game 1 of the playoffs.

The Dodgers are using that time to evaluate a trio of injured regulars. Chris Taylor missed the final five games of the regular season with neck stiffness and had a cortisone shot last Monday, but in seemingly every interview since, Dave Roberts has hinted that even if Taylor would only be ready for part of the Division Series he’d still make the roster. So let’s consider him a lock.

On the pitching side, Dustin May is working his way back from lower back soreness that sidelined him for the final two weeks of the regular season. If he’s ready — after making only six major league starts this season since returning from Tommy John surgery — May is likely in the Tony Gonsolin zone of not yet fully stretched out, and at most would be a three- or four-inning candidate during the NLDS.

Blake Treinen only pitched in five games this season, first missing four and a half months with a torn scapula in his right shoulder. Then after pitching twice in September landed back on the injured list with more shoulder soreness. He last pitched in a game on September 5.

If May or Treinen are deemed healthy enough, they will likely be active for the NLDS. But whose spots would they take?

Julio Urías and Clayton Kershaw will start the first two games — Dave Roberts said both pitchers know which game, but that hasn’t yet been publicly revealed (Bill Plunkett has more at the Orange County Register) — with Tyler Anderson and Tony Gonsolin after that.

In the bullpen, Evan Phillips, Chris Martin, Tommy Kahnle, Yency Almonte, Alex Vesia, and Brusdar Graterol have all pitched regular in high-leverage situations, which gives us ten pitchers. Andrew Heaney pitched bulk outings in relief in his last two times out, and is needed in case Gonsolin is limited, so that makes 11.

If both May and Treinen are healthy, there are your 13 pitchers. If not, you have Caleb Ferguson if the Dodgers want another left-hander (or David Price, though he didn’t pitch in any of the last five regular season games), and deposed closer Craig Kimbrel from the right side. Left-handers hit .261/.354/.423 against Kimbrel this year.

On the position player side, assuming Taylor is active there are a dozen locks, as we’ve talked about all year. Since the start of September, ten players started at least 20 games, plus Gavin Lux, who missed two weeks with a neck injury and started 14 games, and back catcher Austin Barnes and his 13 starts. They are the roster locks.

The decision comes down to Hanser Alberto or Miguel Vargas. Both haven’t hit much though in limited duty. Pitching exploits aside, Alberto brings defensive versatility in the infield, though with Taylor and Lux both healthy, Alberto becomes almost redundant.

Vargas is one of the Dodgers’ best hitting prospects, so his inclusion on the roster would be a show of faith in case the Dodgers need some extra thump late in a game or two.

This isn’t a perfect way to judge how a postseason decision might be made, but since the start of September, Vargas has played more than Alberto.

Since September 1

Vargas: 16 games, 9 starts, 42 plate appearances
Alberto: 12 games, 6 starts, 28 plate appearances

Since Lux returned after missing two weeks with his own neck injury, the gap in playing time between Vargas (six starts, 25 PA) and Alberto (three starts, 14 PA), though nearly all of that came after the Dodgers already clinched a bye into the NLDS, so take with a grain of salt.