Okay, Now We Can Talk About the Dodger Playoff Roster

celebration_2013-07-30Though it’s been a topic of conversation for some time, I’ve been trying to avoid thinking ahead to the playoff roster until the division was clinched. Now that it is and the Dodgers have a quiet day off as they head to San Francisco… okay, now it’s time. For the NLDS 25-man roster, barring injury, I consider 23 guys to be total locks:

Hitters (13)
C — A.J. Ellis
C — Tim Federowicz
1B — Adrian Gonzalez
2B — Mark Ellis
SS — Hanley Ramirez
3B — Juan Uribe
IF — Nick Punto
IF — Michael Young
LF — Carl Crawford
CF — Matt Kemp
RF — Yasiel Puig
OF — Andre Ethier
OF — Skip Schumaker

Yes, Punto and Young are locks. You can make some half-hearted arguments against each, but don’t even bother. Punto is obviously the only other shortstop option should Ramirez get injured — always a very real possibility — and you just don’t go out and get Young’s “veteran presence” and then not have him on the playoff roster; he has, anyway, in an extremely limited sample size, been relatively useful as a Dodger. As for Ethier, we can argue who actually is the “fourth outfielder” on a day-by-day basis — my vote might just be for Crawford — but of course all four make it if healthy.

Schumaker… well, he’s not a lock on my roster, but I would be surprised if he’s not on the team’s roster, just because of his intriguing ability to cover second base (terribly, of course) as well as all three outfield spots.

Pitchers (10)
SP — Clayton Kershaw
SP — Zack Greinke
SP — Hyun-jin Ryu
SP — Ricky Nolasco
CL — Kenley Jansen
RP — J.P. Howell
RP — Ronald Belisario
RP — Paco Rodriguez
RP — Brian Wilson
RP — Chris Withrow

On these… yes, Wilson is a lock if only due to a 0.79 ERA. He’s not as good as that, of course, but he’s been good enough. I have real concerns about Belisario, but I still have a pretty hard time thinking that they would actually leave him off entirely.

So that’s 23 guys, and that leaves two spots left. If it were up to me, I would take just 11 pitchers, because you don’t need a fifth starter, but that’s not always how it plays out. Washington kept 12 pitchers on their NLDS roster last year, and so did St. Louis and San Francisco, while only Cincinnati kept 11. In the American League, Baltimore and Oakland kept 12, while Detroit and New York kept 11; obviously, there’s some consideration about schedule leading up to the Division Series for those teams, including whether they had to come out of the wild card game, so keep that in mind.

The Dodgers kept 11 pitchers for both the 2008 and 2009 NLDS rosters, though that was a while ago and under Joe Torre, so it’s not super relevant. However, Ken Gurnick reported that Mattingly “hinted at a total of 11 pitchers,” so take that for what it’s worth.

Anyway, there’s 10 pitchers above, so at the very least, one more is coming. Our remaining competitors are: Chris Capuano, Carlos Marmol, Brandon League, Edinson Volquez, Peter Moylan, Stephen Fife, & Onelki Garcia.

Let’s cross Moylan, Fife, & Garcia off right away, and actually let’s throw Capuano on that list too, because there’s really just not a role for him here and that groin injury still doesn’t sound like it’s healed.

92topps_brandonleagueThat leaves Marmol, League, & Volquez, and… this is actually harder than you’d think. I feel like every time I look up, Volquez has been awful, and that’s probably because he’s allowed five homers in just 23 innings. But he’s also got a 22/5 K/BB, and that’s really, really good, especially for a guy who usually has to battle with his control. He’s also got almost no experience out of the bullpen, so his role would only be as a long man, just in case a starter blows up or gets injured. If you need a long man, you’re so happy to have one. If you don’t, it’s a wasted roster spot.

We’ll table that for a minute and move on to the duo of failed closers, League & Marmol. League briefly looked like he had managed to pull it together in July, when he held opponents to a .200/.263/.286 line and had seven consecutive scoreless outings. But in August, he allowed a .947 OPS, and in September, it’s been .985, and he’s allowed 23 baserunners over his last 11 outings, and would we even be discussing this if not for his contract or unless there were literally no other ambulatory relievers? No, right? Sorry, Brandon. You’re out.

As for Marmol, he’s pulling his usual act, striking out a ton of guys (24 in 19.1 innings as a Dodger) while walking nearly as many (17.1). I prefer him over League, I suppose, because he could get a strikeout in a big spot, but he’s also far too terrifying to use in a big spot. Which means you’re using him in low-leverage situations, and then maybe isn’t it just better to have a guy who can go multiple innings like Volquez? I think I might go 24) Volquez, but I think the team will go 24) Marmol.

We’re now down to the 25th spot, and here’s where it gets interesting. Do you take League or Marmol/Volquez as a 12th pitcher? Do you take the obvious choice, Jerry Hairston, just because he’s a flexible veteran who has “been there before” and has been on the team all season? Or do you think outside the box and add a younger, one-dimensional tool like Dee Gordon (speed) or Scott Van Slyke (power)?

92topps_jerryhairstonMy expectation — my fear, really — is that they’ll go with Hairston. That’s even though Hairston has been awful this year – .216/.271/.281 — and just unplayable in the second half, at .152/.200/.190. His value has been that he can play all over, and that’s fine when you are crushed by injuries and need him to play third base one night and right field the next night and first base the next night, etc. But everyone’s healthy now, so there’s not much need for him in the outfield, and the acquisition of Young really diminished his remaining role, because Young plays first and third as well. If Young’s not here, maybe we’re not having this conversation about Hairston.

Besides, Van Slyke can play first and the corner outfield spots, too, so the question there is, does Hairston’s ability to play third outweigh Van Slyke’s ability to come off the bench and put the ball out of the yard? I’m not even a big Van Slyke fan, but for me, it’s not even close. Behind Uribe, Young & Punto can both play third base. There’s no argument to be made that Hairston is a more dangerous hitter, and you don’t need a fourth third baseman. This choice seems obvious.

But there is a question about whether Gordon might be more useful, because we’ve already seen what kind of an impact Billy Hamilton has had in Cincinnati, almost exclusively as a pinch-runner. Speed like that can be such a disruptive presence, and I think we’re all envisioning the spot where Adrian Gonzalez is the runner in a tie game and he either has to run himself or his replacement is someone like Young, who is hardly speedy. Gordon should never, ever, be allowed to field, or probably to bat, but the idea of having him around to run every night is appealing.

Still, I lean towards Van Slyke, if only because if Crawford & Schumaker are on the bench, you can bring in some speed, while there’s really no one who can provide power. So for me, it’s 25) Van Slyke. There’s an argument for 25) Gordon. And I worry terribly that it will be 25) Hairston.

Of course, there’s still more than a week to go, so I’m sure this will all change when four more injuries pop up. They always do.

What’s Left For the Dodgers to Do In the Regular Season?

kemp_arizona_celebrateEveryone out of the pool yet? Good. Arizona journalists still whining endlessly about class? Even better. While that fake controversy surges on, there’s actually still another game today, and it’s not in Phoenix, it’s in San Diego. As Bill Shaikin noted yesterday, the next truly meaningful Dodger game will take place on October 3, when Clayton Kershaw kicks off Game 1 of the NLDS. That was two weeks from yesterday, yet the Dodgers still have nine more games left, heading off to San Diego and San Francisco before coming home for a season-ending three-game set against Colorado.

I’m guessing that we’re going to see some hilarious lineups between now and then, with a whole lot more Dee Gordon and Chili Buss than anyone is really prepared to deal with, and that’s okay. That’s the spoils of clinching so early — you get to do things like that while some other teams are pulling their hair out just trying to survive.

Still, it’s not all fun and games and pools, because the waning moments of the season can still be useful. Here’s how:

1. Get everyone healthy.

This is priority number one for any team headed into the playoffs, but it’s especially so for the Dodgers. We’ve seen what this lineup looks like with Hanley Ramirez and friends in it, and we’ve seen what it looks like when Scott Van Slyke is your main power hitter. So make sure Ramirez’ back is as healthy as it could be, and the same for Carl Crawford. Don’t push Adrian Gonzalez‘ quad. Get Andre Ethier‘s ankle in good shape. And those are just the injuries that we know about, because you all know that Ronald Belisario or Nick Punto or A.J. Ellis or someone is nursing some sort of ache that isn’t public knowledge yet. Don Mattingly has attempted to do this for most of September, and it’s mostly been met with “clinch first, then rest!” from the fan base. Well, clinching has happened. Rest now.

2. Try for better playoff positioning, but not too hard.

The Dodgers are three games out in the loss column behind Atlanta, and one behind the Cardinals. The Braves wrapped up the East long ago, while St. Louis still has a lot of work to do in the Central. If we assume that making up three games on the Braves is probably not happening, then we already know what the NLDS matchups will be — Atlanta would welcome the survivor of the wild card playoff game (currently Cincinnati at Pittsburgh), while the Dodgers and Cardinals would face off in the other round. So this is really about whether the Dodgers get Games 1, 2, and 5 of the NLDS at home, or just 3 and 4.

That’s important, somewhat, moreso than catching the Braves, because the NLDS will happen, while facing Atlanta in the NLCS requires several other things to happen first. It’s also doable because while the Dodgers are one behind in the loss column, they do hold the tiebreaker against the Cardinals because they won the season series, 4-3. I would like it very much if the Dodgers can get that #2 seed, really, and open at home. But so much that it risks the health of Ramirez and Ethier and friends? Not really. Where the team plays is less important than who is playing, so while I hope they get #2, it’s important only to a point.

3. Figure out what Matt Kemp can do.

While everyone else is likely to get some regular time off, Kemp is the one starter who needs to play as much as possible, if only because he’s barely played at all for months. So while that might end up with some weird lineups where it looks like he’s on another rehab stint because of all the minor leaguers surrounding him, it’s important that he gets his reps. We’ve seen in his brief time back that he can still help the team, but it’s only been a few days. If we’re really going to have the “too many outfielders!” discussion in October, it starts with knowing how many productive outfielders you actually have.

4. Straighten out that bullpen.

Kenley Jansen is great. There is no arguing this. He’s on the Craig Kimbrel / Aroldis Chapman / Greg Holland level of “the next great closers in baseball” now that Mariano Rivera is out the door. (Yes, Koji Uehara, I love you too, but you’re 38.) And yeah, Brian Wilson has been fine, even though his velocity and strikeouts are down, and J.P Howell is generally reliable, and Chris Withrow has made quite the fine impression.

But there’s definitely some concern with the key cogs here. We’ve all seen the slump that Paco Rodriguez is in over the last few weeks, mixing in walks and homers unlike we’ve seen him before. And then there’s this, and I absolutely could not believe this to be true until I triple-checked it: Ronald Belisario has struck out one hitter in his last 11 games, spanning 49 plate appearances. He hasn’t had a multiple strikeout appearance since July 23, and while that’s somewhat unfair — he’s often only facing very few batters at a time — it’s hardly encouraging. Over the span where he’s whiffed just the one, he’s allowed 20 baserunners and 11 earned runs. That’s an enormous problem.

5. Make some decisions on the bottom part of the playoff roster.

That’s partially talking about the bullpen, where you figure out if Belisario can be carried and how many of the Wilson / Brandon League / Carlos Marmol trio of failed closers you actually keep. But it’s also about the bottom of the hitting lineup, where if you assume that Tim Federowicz, Nick Punto, Michael Young, and whichever of the four main outfielders isn’t starting that day are locks for four bench spots, you’re left with some decisions. Skip Schumaker? Jerry Hairston? Van Slyke? The speed of Dee Gordon? At some point soon, I’ll do a full “playoff roster” post, but those last spots or two should be interesting.

6. Decide whether you trust Ricky Nolasco or Hyun-jin Ryu more.

When Nolasco was pitching like an ace while Ryu had back soreness and time off, it seemed like a given that Nolasco would start Game 3. Now, Nolasco just blew up twice in a row while Ryu had a fantastic outing in Arizona. This likely depends somewhat on the exact matchup they end up seeing, but the final few starts will definitely have meaning for these two.

7. Don’t over think things.

This is more for the fans, really. Enjoy that this team really did come from last place and “Fire Mattingly NOW!” to being the first team to clinch. The next two weeks are about gearing up for the playoffs and tending to some wounds; outside of some desire to overtake St. Louis for #2, there’s not a lot of meaning attached here. Let’s try to keep that in perspective when Mattingly rolls out Quad-A lineups and brings Peter Moylan into big spots, please.

Now, back into the pool…

How Did The Dodgers Really Make It Out To the Chase Field Pool?

If you haven’t been paying attention over the last two hours or so, the Dodgers rushing out to right field to celebrate in the Chase Field pool is about to become a thing. Like, a thing, with Willie Bloomquist whining about lack of class and Adam Eaton making veiled threats about what might come next year, even though the Diamondbacks did exactly the same thing in 2011, and Arizona sports radio already calling for “retaliation” and inexplicably bemoaning the Diamondbacks’ “lack of a hard-ass,” even though that’s exactly why guys like Bloomquist and Kirk Gibson exist and what trading Justin Upton was supposed to be about. Brandon McCarthy, as usual, remains awesome, though the Arizona Republic shirked any sense of decorum by hiding behind a nameless editorial.

But, whatever, you can’t really be surprised by any of this. You know that if Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker were Diamondbacks — and it’s at this point I’m wondering, “how have they never been Diamondbacks?” and “oh lord, they’re absolutely going to be Diamondbacks next year” — they’d be leading the “lack of respect” charge rather than jumping in the pool, because it’s what you do. If Dodger Stadium had some awful gaudy gimmick feature and an opposing team celebrated in it, we’d probably be unhappy too. I get it.

Frankly, though, I don’t care about any of that. But this tweet, from Arizona President and CEO (and former Dodger exec) Derrick Hall, in response to a fan asking how the Dodger players even made it out there, did catch my eye:

And this is fascinating to me on so many levels. Were there really supposed to be security guards barricading the Dodgers in the locker room? If so, what happened to them? Did the players manage to sneak around them? Did they just bumrush an old man in a rent-a-cop uniform? Does that make this A PRISON BREAK? If so, is it the slowest prison break of all time, led by Adrian Gonzalez‘ awkward gait?

Run!

But here, really, is the best part. I re-watched the broadcast, and a full SEVENTY-ONE SECONDS LATER…

…out comes Hyun-jin Ryu, slowly stumbling along to join his teammates before requiring help over the wall. It’s funny because he’s, ah… well, let’s just say he’s a good pitcher, one who might be starting Game 3 of the NLDS, and leave it at that. So did the security guards realize they misplaced, oh, half the team, thus allowing Ryu to sneak past? Is this part of some vast conspiracy? Or are the Diamondbacks just a bunch of crybabies who made a silly trade last winter, played poorly this year, had that awful episode when they forced Dodger fans to change clothes earlier this season, and employ known malcontents like Miguel Montero and Gerardo Parra? The world may never know.

Scenes From a Dodger Playoff Party

GIFs to come, no doubt — I would do them myself but we all know Chad Moriyama is all over this — but for now, just everything they’re broadcasting on the postgame show is gold. It’s gold, Jerry. Gold!pool_arizona_celebrate

Willie Bloomquist was not pleased with this pool party, which, GOOD:

crawford_arizona_celebrate kemp_arizona_celebrateuribe_belisario_celebratemattingly_celebrate-2013-09-19 arizona_celebrate_party kasten_arizona_party gonzalez_arizona_celebratehowell_jp_wifeellis_aj_celebrate-2013-09-19

HI AJ!!

Dodgers 7, D’Backs 6: Party Time

uribe_belisario_celebrate

You thought, perhaps, as I did, that this was going to get uncomfortable when Ricky Nolasco decided it would be fun to toss out his second consecutive disaster start, giving back a 3-0 Hanley Ramirez-provided lead by allowing six Arizona runs in the third inning. You thought it would get ugly when Jerry Hairston looked visibly upset at another Yasiel Puig baserunning error, as though Puig’s obvious immaturity was somehow more detrimental than the fact that Hairston simply isn’t any good anymore. You worried about bunts and passed balls and just how annoying and hyperbolic this was all going to get if the Dodgers came to Arizona and dropped three out of four, leaving town without a division title.

As it turns out, all that worry was premature, because Ramirez exists, and so do A.J. Ellis and Juan Uribe and a couple of guys who used to be closers. Those guys? They got this.

I’m really not sure what else you can say about Ramirez at this point, other than to simply recite the stats. With two homers today, his 19th and 20th of the season — the second one being a no-doubter that tied the game in the seventh — Ramirez not only put up his sixth season of 20 homers or more, but he’s done so in just 320 plate appearances.  (We are, for now, going to bury our heads in the sand about whatever it was that caused Ramirez to come out of the game in the ninth inning after running hard on a groundout in the eighth, the only time in five trips today he was retired.)

While Ramirez tied it, it was the recently-maligned Ellis who won it, parking his eighth homer of the year in the eighth inning off Josh Collmenter to give the Dodgers a lead they’d never relinquish. I could go on about Uribe’s defense and the shutout relief provided by Brandon League and J.P. Howell and Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen, but I don’t think you really want to hear about it right now, because the specifics of the game aren’t really all that important

What is important is making official what we’ve known for weeks — for the first time since 2009, the Dodgers are going to the playoffs. After spending most of the first half left for dead in last place, they’re the first team in baseball to clinch a playoff spot. I can’t believe I just typed those words. I can’t believe you just read them. Enjoy the next two weeks, folks. I think we’ve all earned it.