Just like that, the regular season is over. Despite the challenges of the 2017 campaign, the Dodgers still finished with the best record in baseball—104-58. None of that matters anymore, for now it is the postseason, and the best record in baseball will only get you home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The rest you have to do yourself. Now the focus is on the players mentally and physically preparing for what lies ahead, the coaching staff studying up on the competition, and the front office and coaches assembling the best possible roster to finally take the Dodgers to the World Series.
One thing about the Dodgers fan base is that is has some of the best writers and passionate fans throughout all of baseball. We here at Think Blue Planning Committee are lucky to have some of them join us for in a round table discussion about the upcoming NLDS.
With us today we have Stacie Wheeler of Dodgers Digest, Brandon Knudsen of Dodgers Nation, Alex Campos of Ravine Fiends, as well as Todd Boldizsar, Dennis Schlossman, and myself from TBPC. I am delighted that everyone who took part were willing to share some of their insight and expertise to this column.
First Question: How many relievers should the Dodgers carry in the postseason, and who should they be?
Todd: Because the Dodgers have so many utility pieces on the roster (Kike, Forsythe, Bellinger, Taylor), they have the positions pretty much covered. That said, I would suggest they carry the extra reliever, for a total of 7. Here is how I would set my bullpen. Lefties: Watson. Righties: Fields, Morrow (possible setup man), Stripling, Maeda, and Jansen. Honestly though, I truly believe Baez will still make the postseason roster, at least for the NLDS. Maeda is a completely different pitcher in the first 3 innings, than he is after. He is effective in short bursts.
Stacie: Kenley Jansen, Brandon Morrow and Josh Fields are virtual locks. The D-backs and Rockies both have struggled against left-handed pitching, so Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson seem like a good bet. Luis Avilan unfortunately has a sore shoulder, so Hyun-Jin Ryu may get a shot afterall especially if they end up playing Arizona rather than Colorado. Kenta Maeda is there, and will be valuable should they need multiple middle relief innings from the pen. While Walker Buehler has some electric stuff, ultimately both Dave Roberts and Jansen are in Pedro Baez’s corner. Prepare yourself for Baez making the roster.
Dennis: I think they’ll likely go with eight arms in the bullpen, regardless of the opponent. At different points in the season they’ve tried seven and nine, but eight seems to be the perfect mix. Kenley, Morrow and Watson will be the anchors, and I think Cingrani will be used more as a lefty-on-lefty specialist. Considering Avilan’s injury, my final four consists of Maeda, Stripling, Fields and Baez.
Alex: I think the Dodgers carry 13 position players/12 pitchers. With four starters, that leaves room for eight relievers. Kenley Jansen, Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson seem like locks. Despite a bad final start at Coors, I think Hyun-jin Ryu makes it. He could be a multi-inning relief arm, or his presence could allow the Dodgers to use Alex Wood in the bullpen. After a rough start to his Dodger tenure, Tony Cingrani has really turned it around so he should be there. Josh Fields’ velocity should play up in the postseason. Kenta Maeda’s stuff played up out of the bullpen and gives the Dodgers a quality long reliever. To me, the last spot came down to Ross Stripling and Walker Buehler. Buehler is undoubtably going to be better than Stripling, but his results in September weren’t pretty and he’s nearing 100 innings coming off Tommy John surgery. I wasn’t completely on-board with him getting called up in the first place, and since he wasn’t exactly dominant in his September try-out, I had to leave him out. Keep in mind, this is what I think should happen. What will happen is Pedro Baez making the roster, and Dodger twitter will turn into a dumpster fire.
Brandon: The question becomes whether the Dodgers will take a 12 man pitching staff, or an 11 man pitching staff. I think it breaks down like this:
12 – Kershaw, Hill, Darvish, Ryu – Bullpen- Wood, Cingrani, Watson, Jansen, Morrow, Maeda, Fields, Stripling
11 – Same as above, minus Stripling.
Second Question: Who is in line to back up Bellinger at first base?
Dennis: Bellinger won’t need a backup, of course, unless there’s some type of emergency situation. In that case, Utley has proven he’s more than capable, and Forsythe has also seen time there in the past. In a pinch, Hernandez could fill in, or if Barnesy happens to be catching, Grandal also has experience at first.
Alex: If anyone but Cody Bellinger is playing first base for the Dodgers, something has gone horribly wrong. With Adrian Gonzalez being ruled out, Chase Utley will likely be the primary backup. Enrique Hernandez and Logan Forsythe each played at first this year, and if Kyle Farmer makes the roster he has some experience there.
Stacie: Cody Bellinger will likely play every inning of every postseason game as long as he’s able. Chase Utley can back him up at first base if absolutely necessary. Andre Ethier and Yasmani Grandal could also play some first in a pinch.
Brandon: Chase Utley is a likely option and Yasmani Grandal actually has some experience at 1B. Hernandez has also played some first this season. More than likely, the Dodgers will bring along Kyle Farmer or Rob Segedin and they can help out there as well
Todd: First base is one of those positions where you consider hitting over fielding. That said, I can’t sacrifice a roster spot for Rob Segedin, who hasn’t seen significant game action this year, Forsythe and Utley can both play 1B in a pinch. Ready for my wild card pick? If Roberts leaves Joc off the roster, he has room for Kyle Farmer, who can play 1B. We saw this 3rd catcher utility situation last year after the Dodgers acquired Carlos Ruiz, so it’s not THAT crazy.
Third Question: Who is in line to handle most of the catching duties, Yasmani Grandal or Austin Barnes?
Alex: I think Grandal gets the majority of playing time behind the plate in the postseason. Barnes will likely start against lefties, which is why he’s caught Kershaw’s last few starts. If Arizona advances, NLDS game one will feature Kershaw and LHP Robbie Ray. I think it’ll be close to a strict platoon, and if Grandal gets into one of his funks, Barnes might get some more starts against righties. If not, he could be the first bat off the bench (especially if Farmer makes the roster).
Stacie: The Dodgers have one of the best catching duos we have seen in many years. I believe Roberts will continue using them in a platoon in the postseason with Austin Barnes getting the starts against right-handed pitching.
Dennis: I think they’ll continue to split it up, with Barnes being utilized against lefty pitching and Grandal against opposing right-handers. With Kyle Farmer on the NLDS roster, it will allow the coaching staff to use Barnes freely in late-game situations, and vice-versa with Grandal.
Todd: Right now it’s Barnes. It’s hard to ignore Yaz has dropped many pitches that seem very pedestrian, and his hitting is only now starting to come around. Barnes has been consistent both at the plate, and behind it. Barnes’ clutch hitting with RISP is key. For Roberts, he’ll be pouring over the scouting reports to find matchups for Grandal.
Fourth Question: Who is more dangerous to the Dodgers in the NLDS, the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Colorado Rockies?
Stacie: Arizona is more of a threat with their excellent pitching and potent lineup including notorious Dodger killer Paul Goldschmidt. I’d rather take my chances with Colorado, although postseason games at Coors Field scare me.
Brandon: Legitimately, any team is dangerous in a short series. Arizona will be throwing Greinke in the Wild Card game, which means you’ll likely not see him again until Game 3. They have better starting pitching, and are the better overall team. Colorado is powerful and can really pummel you, but their pitching has regressed and just isn’t as strong as Arizona’s
Todd: This one is tough. My rush reaction is to say Arizona, only because they have the stronger, deeper starting rotation. But if you forget what’s on paper, the Dodgers have struggled against both NL West foes. Colorado’s offense seems to have the best of the Dodgers’ starting rotation. The only thing working in the Dodgers’ favor here is that neither Arizona nor Colorado is coming into the playoffs with any momentum over the last 10 games. Playing Colorado with home field advantage might be the best avenue for Los Angeles.
Dennis: Without rolling out an endless rambling of statistics, I think the Rockies are more dangerous, especially the way they played towards the end. They led the entire NL in a handful of hitting categories, and sometimes give the impression of having the ability to highly produce at the dish regardless of who the Dodgers throw at them. Plus, their retooled bullpen makes them pretty much impenetrable when they have a lead late in games.
Alex: Logically speaking, the Diamondbacks are more dangerous. They were a better team than the Rockies in the regular season. Zack Greinke/Robbie Ray/Taijuan Walker is as tough of a rotation as there is in the playoffs. Paul Goldschmidt and JD Martinez terrify me. However, the Diamondbacks had the fifth-worst wRC+ against left handed pitching this year, which should match up nicely for the Dodgers. I’m also always in favor of not having to play games at Coors Field. It’s close, but I’d be more concerned having to score against that Arizona pitching staff.
Fifth Question: Do you think the losing streak will impact the Dodgers in any way, either negatively or positively?
Alex: I really don’t think that losing streak is going to have any impact on the postseason, just like I don’t think the previous three months will have any positive impact. All that matters is how the team plays for the next month, and if they’re healthy they showed how dangerous they can be. It’s tough to argue that momentum matters in baseball when the Dodgers will have four full days in between games. They should be fine, but as we’ve seen in recent years, one player getting hit by a pitch or one player not covering third base could mean the difference between advancing and going home. They just need to play well for a month.
Stacie: The losing streak has absolutely no bearing on the Dodgers’ postseason performance. The playoffs are a crapshoot. The ebbs and flows of the regular season are just part of the 162-game journey. Overall, this team has been the most winning L.A. Dodgers team in franchise history, and there’s no reason to believe that the rough patch will impact them in October.
Brandon: I think the losing streak was a great way to remind the Dodgers that they are human. It was a great exercise in humility and really highlighted that there are holes on this team that can be exploited. I don’t necessarily take that as a negative though. It would be foolish to think you are invincible, and going into the playoffs having learned that rather recently can be a blessing.
Dennis: I think they will look beyond this season’s losing streak. There are plenty of players around from last postseason’s squad, and it shouldn’t be difficult for them to rekindle the feelings of the heartbreak. The fire should be there. If, for some reason, they don’t advance deeply, it certainly won’t be from a lack of effort.
Todd: This MLB season has been wacky right? Home runs are back, record breaking win streaks and stretches of wins, and near-perfect games. Oddly enough for the Dodgers, I feel like 103-104 wins is perfectly fitting for the talent level of this team. Kinda knew in the back of my mind that the pace the Dodgers had for the better part of two months wasn’t sustainable. The losing streak was extremely puzzling as well, but I’ve found the playoffs can be a total crap shoot, and I think the teams that come in even keel tend to manage the postseason madness the best. The Dodgers overall are in a positive place. It really will come down to what version of Darvish, Baez, Seager, and Turner we see in the playoffs.
I think Todd sums it up best here. It has been an incredibly crazy season, with the team over-performing, in addition to way under-performing. All they need to do is to play well for the next month, and they can beat any team in the playoffs. Whether they will or not is always the huge unknown, but I believe that the losing streak will be something that the players can draw from, as well as the heartbreak of the last few postseasons.
Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner returned to get a World Series ring. I believe Kenley will be a huge boost to this team, in keeping Puig in check, in getting Baez’s confidence up if he’s in the bullpen, as well as on the mound. Clayton Kershaw is ready to put the team on his back once again. It’s the right mix of players, personalities and personnel to get the job done. This is the team, this is the year.
My thanks again to Alex, Stacie, Brandon, Todd and Dennis for their input. Dodger Nation is lucky to have such great writers and fans.