As promised on Monday, today’s an off-day and the Dodgers are still in first place – by three and a half games! So let’s take a completely presumptuous look at what a possible playoff roster could look like. Teams are allowed to take 25 players, and it’s almost always a hitter/pitcher split of either 14/11 or 13/12.
You may have noticed there’s no middle infield listed yet, but that’s going to be a nightmare of epic proportions, what with all the bodies that have cycled through, so we’ll get back to that in a moment.
Remember, in a best-of-five (as the first round is) you don’t really need to go more than 3 starters deep if you don’t want to. There’s no question that Billingsley, Lowe, and Kuroda are going to be the guys, right? For Game 4, you can either bring back your #1 starter on short rest, or choose one of your bullpen arms with starting experience (Kershaw, Park, Penny, Kuo, etc.) to go. This will be important to remember later, and you can always reset the roster if you make it into the 7 game NLCS.
Okay. We’ve filled 16 spots, and so far it’s split evenly at 8 position players and 8 pitchers. That leaves 9 more spots, and some pretty big holes to fill. Let’s dig in to the biggest hole, the middle infield. Who’s going to be the shortstop? All signs point to Rafael Furcal being almost fully recovered from back surgery, and he’s likely to get at least a week or two of time before the season ends. If he shows just about anything, I can’t imagine that the Dodgers bypass the spark he could bring to a lineup. So let’s carefully assume he’ll be healthy on October 1st, and give him a spot:
17. Rafael Furcal SS
I think the odds are a little further that Jeff Kent is healed and ready to play, but he does have one big thing in his favor: he’s a Hall of Fame veteran who almost certainly is going to retire after this season. There is absolutely no way that Torre allows him to go out on the sidelines. If he can walk, he’ll be on the roster, if only to fill the Kirk Gibson Memorial Gritty Injured Veteran Playoff Pinch Hitting role.
18. Jeff Kent 2B
Now we’re up to 10 position players and 8 pitchers, with 7 more spots to go. Clearly, you’re going to need a backup at middle infield, and with the questionable health of both of them, you’re likely going to need more than one.
19. Nomar Garciaparra SS/3B/1B
Come on, don’t look surprised. Hell, I really should have put him in the “locks” category, because if he doesn’t hurt himself between now and the end of the season, there’s no way they’ll leave him off. In his favor, he can serve as a backup at three infield positions. Of course, he’s never really played second base, you need more than a “backup” for Kent with his gimpy knee, and in fact you might very well need a starting second baseman. Which means that the 20th player on our list is going to have to be….
20. Blake DeWitt 2B/3B
Okay. Now we’re at 20 players – 12 hitters and 8 pitchers. Let’s add two pitchers who are just coming off the DL, and who will certainly make it if healthy. The only reason I didn’t add them to the “locks” list is simply because we haven’t seen them prove it consistently in game conditions yet.
21. Brad Penny SP/RP
22. Takashi Saito RP/CL
3 spots to go, with 12 hitters and 10 pitchers. Now I know what you’re saying, Joe Torre said that Andruw Jones had a good chance of making it. And even though I’m trying to predict what they’re going to do, and not what I would do, I still don’t believe it. Torre will barely play him at all right now, and when he finally did get a start the other night he was 0-4 and showed no proof that he’s going to contribute. With the roster crunch we’re looking at, he can’t possibly make it. So no way. Let’s pick one more hitter and one more pitcher, coming to the accepted minimums for both, before seeing what to do with the last spot.
The candidates, as I see it, for the 13th pitcher are Clayton Kershaw, Greg Maddux, Scott Proctor, Scott Elbert, Ramon Troncoso, Eric Stults, and Jason Johnson. Here’s where it gets really, really tough. Process of elimination here, I suppose. I’m going to cross Johnson, Stults, and Troncoso off the list simply because they’re the least talented. Having a mediocre longman is great during the long season, but in a short playoff series, it’s definitely less important – especially when the pen will already have guys who can go multiple innings in Penny, Kuo, and Park. Next to go is Elbert, because even though he’s been pretty effective, if I’m going to have a rookie lefty out of the pen, I’m going with Kershaw over him. (Assuming that Kershaw isn’t totally abused in the next few weeks, the few innings he’ll get out of the pen or starting a Game 4 in the first round shouldn’t really be a concern.) Proctor’s the next to go, although that’s tough to assume because we all know Torre loves him. But frankly, he’s been bad and hurt most of the season, and the competition level on this staff is so high he just can’t compare. That’s a good thing.
Which brings us to Kershaw vs. Maddux. I mean, how do you choose? The best young pitching prospect in the game vs. one of the best pitchers to ever walk the face of the earth? You might as well flip a coin… and my coin lands on Kershaw. Neither one of these guys is guaranteed to get a start in the first round, and I think I’d rather see Kershaw come out of the pen to dominate an inning or two than Maddux, who hasn’t really been that great since coming to LA anyway.
23. Clayton Kershaw SP/RP
On to the candidates for position player number 13: Angel Berroa, Chin-Lung Hu, Mark Sweeney, and Delwyn Young. This is pretty tough, too. You’ve got Torre’s endless manlove for Mark Sweeney vs. the need for another guy who can play shortstop besides Furcal and Nomar vs. a switch-hitting 5th outfielder who’s probably the best hitter of the four. And NO, I will not consider Andruw Jones here. Much as it pains me to do it, Young is the first to go. You all know I love the guy, but he hasn’t shown all that much this year, and if you happen to need a fifth outfielder, Casey Blake has experience at both corners, with Nomar or DeWitt playing third. I have to think Hu goes next, because as valuable as I think a slick-fielding infielder would be in the late innings of a playoff game (Loney/Hu/Furcal/DeWitt would be such a good defensive infield), space is limited and Torre doesn’t seem to like Hu. Which leaves Berroa vs. Sweeney… look, you know how I feel about Sweeney. He’s completely useless, especially because he offers no value in the field. We’ll come back to him for the 25th man, but for right now I think Berroa wins a spot. I don’t feel comfortable leaving shortstop to just Furcal and Nomar, and Berroa’s basically been the starter the last two weeks, in which he’s admittedly not been completely terrible.
24. Angel Berroa SS
We’re now down to the last spot. So far, there’s 13 position players (2 catchers, 7 infielders, & 4 outfielders, plus Blake can play outfield too) and 11 pitchers. The question is, do you want a 14th hitter, or a 12th pitcher? The Dodgers have chosen to have the extra pitcher for most of the season, but in such a short series I don’t think that’s nearly as important. If it were up to me? My 25th man is Delwyn Young, because a switch-hitter is pretty valuable off the bench, and having him as a fifth outfielder means you never have to worry about putting Casey Blake out there, although a case could be made for Greg Maddux too. But come on, who are we kidding? We all know who they’re going to take.
25. Mark Sweeney PH
Yeah, I know – I’m horrified too. But since he somhow made it this far, nothing would surprise me about him being chosen for the roster. If they’re wise enough to tell Sweeney to take a hike, I think Maddux or Proctor are probably the next on their list. So my best guess right now, is that the roster will shape up like so:
Outside looking in: Delwyn Young, Chin-Lung Hu, Andruw Jones, Scott Elbert, Greg Maddux, Scott Proctor, Eric Stults, Ramon Troncoso, Jason Johnson
This is of course subject to change, because I imagine at least one of the guys I’ve predicted to be healthy (Kent/Furcal/Saito/Penny/Nomar) won’t be. But man, how incredible does that bullpen look? That’s just not even fair. Let’s see how close I am when they pick the real roster. Actually, let’s first hope they get to the point where they even get to pick a roster.
- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness