By Jon Weisman
With their place in the 2016 postseason assured, the Dodgers now have the final six games of the regular season to measure out rest to certain players — and begin final evaluations of who will go on the postseason roster.
Somehow, the Dodgers have to trim their 40-man squad — with every single player on it active — down to 25 by Game 1 of the National League Division Series on October 7. It won’t be easy.
First, here are the players most assured of NLDS duty …
Catchers (2): Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Ruiz
Infielders (4): Adrían González, Chase Utley, Corey Seager, Justin Turner
Infielder-outfielders (2): Howie Kendrick, Kiké Hernández
Outfielders (4): Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Josh Reddick, Andrew Toles
Starting pitchers (3): Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda
Relief pitchers (5): Kenley Jansen, Joe Blanton, Pedro Báez, Grant Dayton, Ross Stripling
These should need little explanation, though I’ll offer a morsel. Puig and Toles have played their way into October, while Hernández’s versatility all but ensures his presence in the playoffs. Stripling shouldn’t be considered a lock necessarily, but he seems to have carved a niche for himself down the stretch as the team’s primary long reliever — not that he couldn’t enter for just an inning in a given game.
So that’s 20 players on board, leaving only five spots for the remaining 20. The options:
Starting pitcher (1): Brett Anderson, Jose De León, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Brock Stewart are the candidates for the potential No. 4 role in the playoff rotation. McCarthy is making a late bid after throwing six innings of two-run ball Sunday, in his first MLB start in six weeks. De León will get his next chance to prove himself Tuesday at San Diego. Whoever gets Thursday’s start at San Diego would appear to be the third finalist.
Relief pitchers (2): The bullpen figures to expand to at least seven relievers, and there are no fewer than eight candidates: lefties Luis Avilan, J.P. Howell, Adam Liberatore, Juilo Urías and Alex Wood, and righties Jesse Chavez, Louis Coleman and Josh Fields. The only name that doesn’t get consideration is Josh Ravin, who has an 0.00 ERA for the Dodgers this year but is ineligible because of this year’s PED suspension.
Position players (1): Andre Ethier is the biggest name here, and after going until September 15 without a hit in 2016, he has helped his case with a double and home run in his past two at-bats. Ethier’s main detriment is he bats left-handed on a team that nominally could use more righties, but perhaps the matchup against the Nationals will help him. Washington only uses three southpaws on its pitching staff: starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez and relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Oliver Perez, and Perez has a 12.71 ERA in September.
The alternatives are right-handed bats, most of them with defensive versatility. Rob Segedin has the most power, though since August 31, he is 1 for 19 with two walks and a hit-by-pitch. Charlie Culberson is the best defender and, as we happily learned Sunday, even has occasional pop hmself. Chris Taylor kind of splits the difference between Segedin and Culberson, while Austin Barnes gets on base a bit, plays three positions and would let the Dodgers use a backup catcher as a pinch-hitter without fear.
Micah Johnson would mainly be a pure pinch-running candidate, if Toles has become too enticing a hitter to fulfill that role.
25th man (1): Pick a name from either of the last two categories above — either a 14th position player or a 12th pitcher. No getting around it: The Dodgers really have a lot of choices.