Tough choices loom for Dodgers' NLDS roster

Tough choices loom for Dodgers' NLDS roster

With Game 1 of the National League Division Series in Washington on Friday at Nationals Park (2:30 p.m. PT/FS1), the Dodgers have some tough decisions to make as they cut down a 40-man roster to 25 spots. Here's how the playoff roster is shaping up and an educated guess at the final result.

Infielders: Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Howie Kendrick, Charlie Culberson

The first four players have gone wire-to-wire as regular starters in the infield, except for Utley, who is routinely replaced by Kendrick against left-handed starters. Culberson is the only uncertain pick here, as Enrique Hernandez could also give the team that much-needed right-handed bat in a utility role.

Dodgers' postseason gear

Hernandez has seen plenty of time against left-handed starters this season and is a possibility, especially considering he can also play the outfield, unlike Culberson. Leaving Hernandez off the roster would leave the Dodgers without an easy answer in center field against Gio Gonzalez.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 7 LAD 4, WAS 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 9 WSH 5, LAD 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 WAS 8, LAD 3 video
Gm 4 Oct. 11 LAD 6, WAS 5 video
Gm 5 Oct. 13 LAD 4, WSH 3 video

On the other hand, Culberson has been stronger on a rate basis this season and is swinging the hotter bat, going 9-for-24 and slugging .542 in September and October. And that's not to mention the division-clinching home run he hit last Sunday. Meanwhile, Hernandez put up a .586 OPS in September and October and has struggled with chasing pitches.

Outfielders: Josh Reddick, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Andrew Toles, Andre Ethier

This outfield was confirmed by manager Dave Roberts on Sunday, so there's not much left to debate, beyond who starts where.

Pederson and Reddick will start in center and right field against right-handers, with either Toles or Kendrick getting the nod in left. Against a southpaw, Puig starting would be the only certainty. No Hernandez would also mean starting either Toles or Pederson in center, and neither has seen much success in that matchup this season.

Ethier is the only roster surprise here, but it makes sense if both he and the Dodgers believe he's healthy enough to be a productive bat off the bench against the Nationals' right-handers. The outfielder returned from a fractured tibia suffered in Spring Training during September and went 5-for-24 with a home run in mostly a pinch-hitting role.

Ethier's RBI single

Catchers: Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Ruiz

The possibility for a surprise here is extremely low. Rookie Austin Barnes hasn't done much to show he's a better option than Ruiz, whom the Dodgers traded for in August to shore up the team's offense against left-handers.

Starters: Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias

The first three starters have long been confirmed, but the fourth starter spot has been a mystery for well over a month. A dwindling list of candidates found its prime candidate when Urias got a start in the final week of the season despite the 20-year-old supposedly being on an unspecified innings limit. He has thrown 122 innings between Los Angeles and Triple-A Oklahoma City, much more than his previous career high of 87 2/3 innings in 2014.

Kershaw mows down Belt

The other notable possibility is Kershaw pitching Game 4 on short rest, even though he is just a month removed from 2 1/2 months on the disabled list with a herniated disk. He has been his usual level of terrifying since coming back, registering a 1.29 ERA and reaching seven innings in his two most recent starts. If he feels up to the challenge and insists he can do it, it could be hard for Roberts to say no.

Bullpen: Kenley Jansen, Joe Blanton, Grant Dayton, Pedro Baez, Alex Wood, Josh Fields, Luis Avilan, Ross Stripling

Jansen, Blanton, and Dayton figure to occupy the late innings as they've done in the regular season. Baez and Wood have had their struggles -- Baez with the occasional meltdown and Wood with health -- but the two combined for 15 2/3 scoreless innings in September and are very good bets to make the roster.

Fields and Avilan have both been solid, but the Dodgers could also decide to go with J.P. Howell or Louis Coleman, who have seen plenty of action this season. However, those two veterans have both registered ERA's above 4.00 this season, and neither is posting the strikeout numbers of the other two.

Liberatore seals the victory

Stripling seems to be the designated long reliever, but the team has a wealth of starters this season who could be used out of the bullpen, like Brett Anderson or Brock Stewart. None of them can touch Stripling's track record as a long man though, as he owns a 2.22 ERA in eight appearances and 24 1/3 innings.

Jack Baer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.