As the month of September is now upon us, and despite the foregone conclusion that the Dodgers will capture their fifth consecutive NL West division crown in the coming weeks, there really hasn’t been much discussion about a prospective playoff roster. Subjectively, it’s probably a lot better that way, because the next four weeks will be an audition of sorts for some areas of the roster, and the bullpen is shaping up to be a place that’s potentially loaded with surprises.
Everything is built around All-World closer Kenley Jansen, and rest assured that he will be given the exact prescribed amounts of both rest and work as the playoffs approach. Yet, how the relief corps is built around Jansen remains to be seen, as the possibilities are almost endless.
Many fans who tuned into Friday evening’s contest against the Padres may have sensed a postseason flavor with the way the relief crew was utilized, as resident ace Clayton Kershaw threw six beautiful innings, eventually turning the ball over to righty Brandon Morrow, who gave way to Tony Watson, and ultimately Jansen.
For the sake of conjecture, we’ll assume that management decides to go with a starting crew of four, a bullpen of eight, and a bench of five position players in the NLDS. It will probably depend on the exact matchup against the opposing squad, but nine relief arms are just too many for the playoffs, and the Dodgers have rarely utilized the more traditional seven-man pen during any extended point of the 2017 campaign.
And without needing to rehearse any overwhelming number of statistics to prove an argument, both Morrow and Pedro Baez deserve spots right off the top, only because they have consistently shown to be the two best setup men over the course of the season—not because they’re elite, but because they’re the best the club has to offer. Even when considering Baez’s susceptibility to the long ball.
Watson’s an interesting case, mainly because he’s a big money man—$5.6 million this season—and he’s one of the few relievers on the squad who has extensive closing experience. However, we already introduced arguments earlier in the week as to why he should or should not be included on the postseason roster:
“Watson is another one of those guys who has an electric arm, but his potential hasn’t translated into anything substantial this season. His ability is very reminiscent of one Chris Hatcher — looking almost untouchable one outing, then not having any type of effectiveness at all the next. Early in the year, he was removed from the Pirates’ closer role on June 9, at which point he had an ERA of 4.44 and five blown saves in 15 opportunities. As a Dodger, Watson has a 6.01 FIP, and has surrendered five earned runs on seven hits, including two long balls, over 8-2/3 innings of work. He’s also allowed two of his inherited runners to score. If the front office feels they can also alter Watson’s pitch selection to produce better results, it hasn’t shown yet.”
Yes, he’s showing signs of schizophrenia during his early days as a Dodger, but if Friday night’s outing is an indicator of what’s to come, he’s pretty much guaranteed a spot on the playoff squad. Besides, both Watson and his coaching staff have a whole month to sharpen all the rough edges.
As far as complimenting Watson with another southpaw, Luis Avilan’s odds are solid for making the playoff roster, so long as he stays healthy. His ERA is 2.92 over an even 37 innings of work, but despite his mediocrity, has been fairly consistent. His whip of 1.405 is perhaps a tad concerning, and his 3.9 BB/9 is a bit scary when thinking about a prospective tight spot in an important game. He’s let four of his inherited runners score this year, which doesn’t even show up on his own personal stat line anywhere. Nevertheless, his usage would certainly be based on very carefully studied matchups regarding the tendencies of opposing batters.
So, with the inclusion of Avilan, we have five spots filled—Kenley, Baez, Morrow, Watson and Avilan—with four spots remaining from a group of about eight arms.
Without question, there will be a crowd of starting pitchers competing for spots in the bullpen, specifically the likes of Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brock Stewart and Brandon McCarthy. Unfortunately, in theory, Ryu’s likely out right off the top because of the overwhelming presence of southpaws, and Stewart isn’t included because of his lack of experience. McCarthy’s a longshot, only because of his past spells of not being able to throw the ball across the plate. Out of this group, we are surprisingly adding Maeda, only because he has already proven this season that he can be virtually untouchable over very short stretches of a game.
And as much as everyone is pulling for lefty Edward Paredes, his chances are slim like Ryu’s due to all the southpaws vying for roster spots. At the moment, he’s throwing as well as anyone else, but in the end, an outstanding showing down the stretch could solidify his chances for a spot on the 2018 crew. Keep Paredes’ name in the back of your mind, though, because if he continues to throw lights out, he may force the hand of management to find him a role in the playoffs.
Like Watson, newcomer Tony Cingrani has been both brilliant and ugly, and while the mathematicians of the organization are trying to make him a better pitcher by utilizing more sliders, four weeks may not be enough time to complete the desired transformation. His arsenal is flat out wicked—again, reminiscent of Hatcher—yet his propensity to leave that one pitch right in the hitter’s wheelhouse may cost him a roster spot in the playoffs.
Josh Fields‘ back injury is considered very minor, and his stay on the disabled list was likely designed as more of a rest period than anything else. All signs are pointing for Fields to return to the club when he’s eligible on September 3, and if he stays healthy, shouldn’t have a problem earning a place in the playoff bullpen.
Righty Ross Stripling earns the final spot, complimenting Maeda as an arm which can provide multiple quality innings of long relief.
All told, our preliminary projections for the eight-man playoff bullpen include Jansen, Watson, Morrow, Baez, Avilan, Maeda, Stripling and Fields.
Of course, we could be way off base here, and the performances over the next month could dictate an entirely different group. And don’t forget that the team will have the option of changing the landscape of the roster with the beginning of each new playoff series. Still, considering the time remaining before the front office starts scrambling to make the final determinations for the postseason roster, this guess is as good as any.
(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @)