I’ve been wanting to write this post for weeks, but with the, you know, horrible slump and near epic collapse, it seemed in poor taste. So now, finally, I can do one of my favorite things, and start predicting some rosters. But first, by all means, please go visit Sons of Steve Garvey and check out their collection of celebration pictures from the clinching night, which they always kill the rest of us on – when they’re not hiding secret hints to their puzzles in my blog, that is.
So here, hopefully, is what the roster for the 2009 NL West Division Champion Los Angeles Dodgers (I will never get sick of writing that) could look like. As always, you get 25 active players, and it’s almost always a hitter/pitcher split of either 14/11 or 13/12.
Stone Cold Locks (pitchers)
9. Clayton Kershaw SP
10. Randy Wolf SP
11. Jonathan Broxton CL
12. George Sherrill RP
13. Ramon Troncoso RP
14. Ronald Belisario RP
15. Hong-Chih Kuo RP
10 guys to go! Let’s start with the obvious bench players – Brad Ausmus, Juan Pierre, and Ronnie Belliard. That gets you up to 18 players, 7 of which are pitchers. Time to beef up the pitching staff.
19. Chad Billingsley
He probably should be on the “locks” list, because not only do I think he deserves a playoff start, with Hiroki Kuroda missing the NLDS, there’s no way you can afford to not use Billingsley. He’s pitching in a simulated game on Monday, which would line him up for Game 3, but what’s really noteworthy are his two starts against the Cardinals this year. How many times have I said lately that I don’t mind if he’s outstanding for 5 innings because the bullpen is good enough to pick him up? Well, look at this line from MLB.com about Billingsley vs. St. Louis:
Billingsley started twice against the Cardinals this year. He took a strange loss in St. Louis July 28, pitching five scoreless innings, then imploding in a six-run sixth. But he rebounded Aug. 18 by allowing two runs in six innings of a 7-3 win.
If that’s what he is right now, fine. I’ll take five outstanding innings every time in the playoffs. You just can’t afford to skip him.
20. Jon Garland
From that same article about Billingsley, Joe Torre uses the dreaded word to praise Garland: “grittiness”. So you can guarantee that he’s going to make the roster, and possibly be the Game 4 starter. Garland’s actually been decent since coming to LA before blowing up in his last start against San Diego, and he’s got that “veteran-ness” Torre loves, including having pitched in a World Series, so he’ll make it.
Ideally, you’d like to sweep and not have to bother with Jon Garland at all, but if it comes down to Game 4 being an elimination game, the schedule is favorable in that you might not need to use a 4th starter. With Randy Wolf starting Game 1 on Wednesday, you could bring him back on 3 days rest on Sunday. You don’t really want to bring him back on short rest – he’s only done it once in his career – but it’s an option, if needed. More likely, Garland’s getting that start, though.
We’re now up to 11 hitters and 9 pitchers. Time to add a name that probably should have been on the “locks” list, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it:
21. Juan Castro
I can’t believe that a 37-year-old non-roster backup infielder who’s consistently one of the worst hitters in baseball is going to be such an unquestioned choice, but he’s your only backup shortstop. Belliard’s only played 10 games at SS in his career, and you certainly don’t want his glove there in a big spot, so it has to be Castro. Great. I guess?
22. James McDonald
This might seem like an odd choice, but Torre really seems to trust the guy. Besides, remember his performance in the NLCS last year?
One amazingly huge bright point, if not so much for this postseason as for next year and beyond: James McDonald. The kid – he’s still only 23, although Clayton Kershaw has skewed our perception of “kid” a little – was a last-minute addition to the playoff roster after getting all of five September innings in four games. Almost exclusively a starter in the minors, even his relief appearances for the Dodgers came with him entering the game at the start of an inning. But tonight, having not pitched in two weeks, he comes in as the fourth pitcher of the third inning of NLCS Game 2… with the bases loaded, Phillies fans going nuts, and slugger Burrell at the plate in Philly’s bandbox park. Recipe for disaster, right? But no! McDonald strikes out Burrell, and proceeds to go three more scoreless innings, striking out four others and giving up just two hits. What an absolutely phenomenal effort by this kid, and he’s really thrown his hat into the ring for a starting rotation gig next year – he’s unscored upon in 8.1 MLB innings.
He was pretty horrible in a few early-season starts, and as late as July 27, his ERA was still 5.34. Since then? He’s been great, with a 2.70 ERA and a 32/12 K/BB rate in 30 innings. He’ll make it.
3 spots left, and there’s 12 hitters and 10 pitchers. There’s going to be 11 pitchers at a minimum, so let’s fill one of those spots first. Competitors include Guillermo Mota, Vicente Padilla, Jeff Weaver, and Scott Elbert. Earlier in the year, I might have thought Weaver was more of a lock, but he’s been pretty forgotten in September, getting into just 5 games. So I don’t think he’s got much shot, especially since, as you’ll see, there’s already a few guys who can go multiple innings.
So it’s Padilla, Elbert, or Mota for this spot. You could make cases for all three, and I went back and forth a few times, but after yesterday’s game…
23. Vicente Padilla
My original version of this list had him as possibly getting the last spot, but most likely being left off. However, he was so awesome yesterday – 10 K in 5 IP – that I can’t see any way they leave him off, especially when they’re just going to look at the numbers, “4-0, 3.20″. I have no idea if he can be as effective out of the bullpen, though the idea of having him start to get loose in the 3rd inning of Billingsley’s start to be ready to enter in the 6th is an interesting one.
Padilla may have actually gotten himself back into consideration for a Game 4 start after his great outing yesterday and Garland’s lousy last start. I’d still rather have Wolf in Game 4 and Kershaw in Game 5 than either of these two, though. Even better, if that happens, at least we’ll have 3 guys in the pen (Garland, Padilla, McDonald) who can go multiple innings.
24. Jim Thome
This was actually a tougher call than you’d think, because I don’t think he really deserves a spot. He can’t run or play the field, he’s been injured, and he hasn’t even taken to pinch hitting all that well – just 4 for 17. That said, he’ll make the team because you don’t go out and trade for a Jim Thome, pay him $2 million for one month of work, and then not include him on the playoff roster. That’s why he will make it; the reason he should make it is simply because if the Dodgers do make it to the World Series, you absolutely want him to be your DH, and you can’t not include him on the first two rounds on the playoffs, not let him hit for three weeks, and then expect him to show up cold and hit in the World Series.
We’re now up to the last spot, and at 13 hitters and 11 pitchers, and this is going to be exceedingly though. Torre kept just 11 pitchers last year in the NLDS, but this year it’s not hard at all to think he’d want 12. However, Thome is exclusively a pinch-hitter, so you don’t want to be shorthanded in the field.
Competitors for this spot: Guillermo Mota, Scott Elbert, Mark Loretta, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Blake DeWitt. Time for some process of elimination…
I’d love to see DeWitt make the squad, but with three guys who can handle 3B already (Blake, Belliard, Castro) plus with how underwhelming he’s been this year, I just don’t see it happening. Out.
Mientkiewicz is definitely a “Torre guy”, but he was hurt the entire year and only ended up with 20 at-bats. I like his versatility, but he’s not going to survive a roster crunch like this. Out.
Mota’s had a bizarre season – horrible for two months, great for two months, then mediocre/injured for two months, and I originally had him on my list. But he’s pitched just four times since returning from the DL over two weeks ago, and got lit up in one of those times. With how strong the rest of the pen is and with Garland and Padilla likely both making it, I just don’t see room for him. Out.
Which brings us to Scott Elbert and Mark Loretta. Elbert has all the talent in the world, but but his 5.03 ERA doesn’t look very good. However, don’t forget that A) much of that is from his disastrous April stint, in which he allowed 5 runs in 6.1 innings, and B) ERA can be very misleading for relievers, due to their short outings. Since his return in July, Elbert’s held opponents to just a .191/.283/.277 line, and has been far more effective against lefties than righties. With St. Louis having such a hard time against lefties, as I said yesterday, it’s not at all a bad idea to have that third lefty in the pen.
Meanwhile, Loretta’s been nothing short of horrible. We’ve been calling him out for that all season. His .585 OPS is unacceptable for a guy who’s supposed to be a bat off the bench, and he’s not even hitting lefties that well. Sure, he can play 1st and 3rd, but if we’re taking him to be a 4th 3B, then I’d rather have DeWitt, who’s a superior fielder.
The one thing Loretta has going for him is that he’s a “veteran” who’s “been there before” and is a Torre guy. Make sure to note, though, that his “being there before” is just 3 games in the 2005 NLDS, in which he contributed a few singles as the Padres were swept out by the Cardinals. He has nothing to contribute, so the 25th spot should go to…
25. Scott Elbert
You need the third lefty against the Cardinals. You don’t need a veteran bat who can’t hit or really field, because you kind of already have that with Jim Thome. That said, I have absolutely no doubt that they’re going to take Loretta anyway.
So here it is, friends – what the 25 man roster against the Cards should be:
C Martin, Ausmus
IF Loney, Hudson, Blake, Furcal, Belliard, Castro, Thome
OF Manny, Kemp, Ethier, Pierre
SP Wolf, Kershaw, Billingsley
SP/longmen – Garland, Padilla
LH RP - Sherrill, Kuo, Elbert
RH RP – Broxton, Belisario, Troncoso, McDonald