In just a little under three weeks, the Dodgers will embark on yet another postseason journey, with this year’s aspirations the highest they’ve been in recent years. The Los Angeles management crew will certainly have a difficult task in store when assembling the club’s prospective playoff roster, as a number of different factors will come into play for the squad selected to begin the NLDS on October 6.
The most important factor to consider is which team the Dodgers will be facing. The makeup of the opposition’s primary batting order will likely determine whether or not Los Angeles will carry an extra lefty or two on the pitching staff, or even slide a starting pitcher or into the bullpen to combat the opposing offense.
Health will also play a chief role in the selection process. There are still a handful of players who have recently returned from the disabled list, and the way they hold up over the final 15 games of the regular season may be a chief indicator on whether or not those players are included on the roster for the NLDS. For example, if veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is unable to produce at a reasonable level, it will force the club to substitute in another bench player with the ability to positively impact the offense.
One of the more interesting areas of the prospective playoff roster is the outfield. A few things we know for sure is that Yasiel Puig will be the primary right fielder, Chris Taylor will see the lion’s share of time in center, and Enrique Hernandez will likely be the team’s super-utility option. Outside of that group, there’s a trio of left-handing hitting outfielders in Joc Pederson, Andre Ethier and Curtis Granderson who could be conceivably competing for one or maybe even two spots, depending on the exact construction of the roster.
As far as defense goes, Granderson’s likely the best overall option, mainly because he’s adept in all three spots. Ethier’s close, but although he’s superior fundamentally with his routes, falls slightly behind Granderson in range, mainly because of his declining quickness. Pederson, who recently began his quest of mastering left field, in all probability has the best arm strength of all three.
On the offensive side of things, there’s plenty of subjectivity. Pederson has almost nothing going for him at all, as it seems like he incorporates a brand new batting stance each time he approaches the dish. He was given a period of time to refine his swing mechanics at Triple-A Oklahoma City late in the season, however, it’s tough to see if any progress was made. For the year, he’s slashing .210/.327/.405 in 262 big league AB, and has gone just 1-for-11 since being recalled on September 6. Another thing to note is that he’s a career .180 hitter against left-handed pitching, while having a .230 average against righties. With each passing season, Pederson seems to find himself in an even bigger rut offensively.
Ethier’s an interesting candidate in the sense that he hasn’t seen any significant playing time over the past two seasons after battling through a cracked tibia in 2016 and a severe back injury this year. Since returning from the 60-day disabled list on September 1, the 35-year-old veteran has gone 6-for-19 with two extra-base hits, with one of those being a “gift” double against the Nationals on Friday evening. Over his career, his splits are much more respectable than Pederson’s though, having hit .304 against righty pitching and .233 against southpaws. And as far as postseason production goes, he has a .239/.338/.416 slash line with four long balls and six doubles over 113 AB in 11 different playoff series during his career.
There’s no question that the 36-year-old Granderson has struggled mightily at the plate since being acquired by the Dodgers on August 19. He has gone only 8-for-75 since arriving in Los Angeles, and has hit a meager .206/.320/.442 over 412 AB for the year. If there is a bright side to those numbers, it’s the fact that he still has a bit of potential pop, as made evident by his 23 home runs and 22 doubles this season. His career splits are not quite as good as Ethier’s, having hit .224/.296/.402 in 1771 AB against left-handed pitching and .263/.354.498 in 4768 AB against righties. Although many remember his postseason dominance against the Dodgers as a member of the Mets in 2015, he has hit only .239 in 188 career playoff AB.
One of the more interesting scenarios is how the Dodgers will construct their bench for the NLDS, most specifically whether or not the club decides to carry three catchers similar to what they did against the Nationals last year. Austin Barnes has proven that he deserves more offensive opportunities, and it may be unwise to waste his presence in a capacity of being a stand-by defensive replacement. Other factors that will come into play are how many relievers are carried on the roster, as well as how the club constructs its postseason pitching rotation.
While there’s still plenty of time to gather information to make an informed decision, it may appear right now that Ethier has the upper-hand, at least temporarily. Even if Gonzalez is healthy enough to produce, both Granderson and Ethier could still conceivably make the roster, especially if the first round opponent is overloaded with right-handed pitching.
And while there’s always the chance the outlook could change, Pederson’s chances at the moment appear to be very, very slim.
Please stay tuned, as we plan on publishing our initial projections of the complete playoff roster sometime early next week.
(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @)