By Jon Weisman
The Dodgers faced several hard choices in coming up with their 25-man roster for the National League Division Series — and to some extent, the specific matchup with the Washington Nationals served as a tiebreaker.
“You certainly factor in the team you’re playing, and it’s quite conceivable we would have a different subset of 25 guys if we were playing someone different,” Andrew Friedman said today, during the team’s last Dodger Stadium workout before Wednesday’s flight to the nation’s capital. “We have so many different guys that contributed to getting us to this point, we anticipated the roster decisions for this roster would be very difficult.”
It would be hard to deny that September performance was also a factor. Several of the names that made it off the bubble, such as infielder Charlie Culberson, left-hander Luis Avilan and right-hander Josh Fields, came on strong in the final month.
Avilan struck out 10 in eight shutout innings after September 1, with a 0.88 WHIP. Fields, who was acquired from Houston in a low-profile deal for 19-year-old Cuban minor-leaguer Yordan Alvarez at the trade deadline, had a 0.93 ERA while stranding five of six inherited runners after September 1, with a 1.03 WHIP and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
“He’s pitched really well for us since we got him,” Friedman said, “and also he’s had a lot of success against right-handed hitters, and they’re predominantly a right-handed hitting team, and we felt like because of that to carry one more right-hander really made sense.”
Alex Wood, who allowed only two baserunners in four shutout innings after returning from more than nearly four months on the disabled list, looks to have been a casualty of the Dodgers not choosing to keep another southpaw.
“He actually worked incredibly hard to get back,” Friedman said, “and what we got to see, albeit limited, was really encouraging. I think it’s more just a function of who we were playing and how things shook out.”
Similarly, J.P. Howell was left off the NLDS roster despite a scoreless September in nine appearances.
“That was a tough one,” Roberts said. “J.P.’s gonna travel with us, but he’s a guy that for me is one of the glue guys for our team this year. He’s had a lot of success in his career in the postseason, and for him to understand the decision, support it, but still have the opportunity in another series or possibly in this series by way of injury … those are the tough ones, because you know he’s here for the right reasons.”
— Adrián González (@Adrian_ElTitan) October 5, 2016
As for the position players, Culberson emerged as a likely option in the waning moments of the season. He not only hit the division-clinching home run September 25, he had a .917 OPS after September 1.
“Obviously, a really good defensive player (who) also has handled left-handed pitching well throughout his career,” Friedman said. “I feel like in this series that he matches up well against a number of their guys.”
But September performance wasn’t the only guideline for the Dodgers’ braintrust. Austin Barnes didn’t make an impact, but his presence will open up Roberts’ late-game strategic options with Yasmani Grandal and Carlos Ruiz.
“It gives us flexibility to potentially run for Yasmani if need be,” Roberts said. “And Austin, he’s a bat off the bench right-handed, he can run, he can also play second base, third base. Pretty versatile player.”
Barnes and Culberson won their spots at the expense of Kiké Hernández, who never really broke out this season. His OPS was .564 after August 1, and he ended the regular season 1 for 17 with two walks. Hernández will work out with several other Dodgers at Camelback Ranch.
“He’s a very dynamic player, and he didn’t have the year he would have liked to have had,” Roberts said. “So we’re going to keep him going … but I do believe he’s a heck of a ballplayer. He adds so much versatility, and so for me, it was just more of continuing to give him opportunities to find it.
“I just want to see the at-bat quality get better, maybe not to have him on the roster this first go-around … (but) to hit reset, get his swing right, to be back potentially in the NLCS.”
Roberts did not shed any light about who would start Game 4 of the NLDS for the Dodgers, but Clayton Kershaw pitching on three days’ rest hasn’t been taken off the table.
“With Clayton, obviously he’s gone on short rest before,” Roberts said. “We know he’s going to pitch Game 1, and outside of that, we’ll make that decision going forward. … We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Roberts added that for the playoffs, the leash would be taken off blister-prone Game 2 starter Rich Hill.
“With the training staff and Rich’s buy-in, he is as ready to go as he’s been in any one of his starts this year,” ,” Roberts said. “There should be no (limit) on him.”
Entering their 10th postseason since their last World Series, the Dodgers are all too familiar with how suddenly best-laid plans like these can go awry. In his second year as president of baseball operations, Friedman sees reasons this October (and maybe November) could be different.
“I’m really excited about this particular group heading into the playoffs, in the sense of just a grinder-type mentality,” Friedman said. “We’ve seen it all year, when we’ve got down in games and our ability to come back, and just how deep our roster is. October games have a tendency to play out in crazy, unpredictable ways, and having a deep roster and versatility helps us combat that.”