It’s not quite that time yet, but it’s getting closer and closer — the time when MLB rosters are trimmed back down to 25 players for the 10 teams lucky enough to have their season continue. As it stands, the Los Angeles Dodgers are a heavy favorite to reach the postseason.
So with 12 games remaining on their schedule, it’s time to begin thinking about who will make the cut. As usual, the playoff roster is handled differently than the regular season roster.
For one, the strategy is much different. You’re not playing to win 162 games, you’re playing to win three of five and/or four out of seven. There’s more pinch-hitting, more rotating of pitchers, less starters in a rotation, etc.
Of course, you’re also playing against a particular team for the entire series. So if an opponent is heavy on a certain type of pitching, or plays a certain brand of baseball, that gets factored into the decision-making process.
So with all of this in mind, which players are fighting for a spot on the postseason roster as the regular season draws to a close?
Last year, the Dodgers went into the National League Division Series against the Mets with 14 position players and 11 pitchers. At first glance, there are plenty of players we can assume will be among that group (assuming they remain healthy): Joe Blanton, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal, Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen, Howie Kendrick, Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Joc Pederson, Josh Reddick, Carlos Ruiz, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Chase Utley.
That would leave spots for five position players and six pitchers hanging in the balance. Some decisions will be easier than others, but let’s review important battles.
Outfielders: Andre Ethier, Kiké Hernandez, Yasiel Puig, Rob Segedin, Andrew Toles
With the versatility of Kendrick, it seems like the Dodgers could take multiple back-up outfielders to fill out their bench. But who doesn’t make the cut?
Hernandez, Puig and Segedin are here because the team can’t hit lefties and they (sort of) can. Segedin is the long shot, but he hit lefties well during his time with Triple-A Oklahoma City (.354/.426/.626).
Puig is probably the favorite because he has been good lately, while Hernandez offers an extra back-up in the infield. As far as those who hit righties, Ethier and Toles appear to be in competition.
Stacie Wheeler at Dodgers Digest recently compared the two outfielders. Last year, the Dodgers took three extra outfielders and two extra infielders.
In theory, the team could take four of these five, plus Kendrick (already included above) and still have one extra spot to play with. It’s interesting to note that the club’s official depth chart lists Segedin at first base.
Perhaps the Dodgers keep Hernandez, Kendrick and Segedin as super-utility pinch-hitters?
Starting pitchers: Brett Anderson, Jose De Leon, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Brock Stewart, Ross Stripling
It seems safe to assume the Dodgers will carry four starters into the postseason, and with three solidified, who gets the final spot?
Anderson, Kazmir and McCarthy are currently on the disabled list, but remain hopefuls for the playoffs. Anderson made a rehab start for Oklahoma City last week and is expected to come off the DL this week
McCarthy recently threw simulated games at Camelback Ranch, and will throw another on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. Meanwhile, Kazmir, attempting to recover from thoracic spine inflammation, developed a blister after a simulated game.
Among those who can actually throw baseballs at the moment, De Leon, Stewart and Stripling appear to be the best options.
De Leon has been good thus far in two starts, going 11 innings with a 5.52 ERA and 12 strikeouts. His biggest issue has been allowing three home runs. Because of De Leon’s injury earlier this season, it appears as if De Leon won’t be limited innings-wise down the stretch.
Stripling has also been serviceable, pitching to a 4.12 ERA in 20 games (14 starts). It’s not great, but it’s fine — and makes for a not-that-terrible backup option. Stewart is the long shot but in his last two starts (10 innings pitched), he has allowed just three earned runs while striking out seven.
Bullpen: Luis Avilan, Pedro Baez, Jesse Chavez, Louis Coleman, Grant Dayton, Josh Fields, J.P. Howell, Adam Liberatore, Josh Ravin, Julio Urias, Alex Wood
With five bullpen spots remaining, this figures to be the most hotly-contested space on the roster. Not to mention if one of the pitchers listed above gets kept around as a reliever.
The guess is that Urias is a safe bet, as is Dayton based on how well he has pitched (22 innings, 32 strikeouts, four earned runs). Liberatore was unhittable in the first half of the season (0.61 ERA) but all-too-hittable in the second half (10.80 ERA), which is why he has made just four appearances since Aug. 29.
The Dodgers will need some lefties in the bullpen, so Howell, Avilan, Urias and Liberatore figure to be competing for a couple spots. Norris was previously included in this group, but he was designated for assignment to create room on the 40-man roster for Wood’s return.
Plenty can change between now and the end of the season, but for now, it looks like these are the battles to watch down the stretch. Who do you like to make the roster as of this moment?