The Dodgers 25-man roster for the NLCS against the Brewers doesn’t figure to be too different from the one utilized in the NLDS against the Braves, but a different team and a different matchup and a longer series may cause them to switch things up a bit.
Let’s start with the NLDS roster and work from there (players whose spots could be in jeopardy in italics).
The starters are all locks and rightfully so, but it’s the relief core that has the most potential for turnover.
Alex Wood has made the conversion to reliever with expectations to help the pen significantly, but the results have been mixed. In 3.2 innings during the regular season he allowed two runs on two hits, a walk, and a hit by pitch, but struck out four. Of course, he was stuck with the only loss in Game 3 of the NLDS after he surrendered a homer to Freddie Freeman in 0.2 innings of work. He hasn’t necessarily seen the velocity tick up either, as it’s averaging a one mph increase but his max velocity is still 92 mph.
Dylan Floro honestly hasn’t done anything wrong. However, he was used just once in the NLDS, in Game 1 with a six-run lead to get the final out of the game. Additionally, in the regular a season he wasn’t used after September 25, missing out on the final five games of the season for no real reason. Floro has been extremely effective out of the pen for the Dodgers (1.63 ERA/2.69 FIP), so I’m just going by usage pattern here.
Ryan Madson is likely safe after he was trusted with game on the line in Game 4 and looked stellar in working out of a bases-loaded jam and getting four outs while giving up just a single in the series. However, it’s likely he was included against the Braves because of the matchup problems his excellent changeup presented the Braves in particular, so he could be replaced if the Dodgers think they have a better one.
So who could be called?
Ross Stripling, left off the NLDS roster after a disappointing September, believes he’s been tipping his pitches and made an adjustment during a simulated game on Sunday. Who pointed it out to Stripling? “Everybody knows,” he said. “Just look at the numbers after the first time through the order.” OK, here they are: Hitters facing Stripling for the first time in a game have a slash line of .225/.268/.367. The second time through, the slash line is .321/.349/.481. Roberts said Stripling will be considered for the NLCS roster against Milwaukee.
It seems like ages ago that Stripling was an All-Star that saved the Dodgers during their brutal start and was pitching like a staff ace. But ever since he headed to the DL with a back injury he has been woeful, giving up nine runs in 12 innings and allowing opponents to smash him to the tune of a 1.003 OPS. He did strikeout 15, so the stuff is in there somewhere, but you almost hope it was a pitch-tipping issue and not him running out of gas. Despite that, the logic to carrying him on the roster would be simple. A five-game series is more of a sprint, whereas a seven-game series could require a long-man to keep the team in the game if a starter struggles.
Josh Fields is another candidate to be added. While he missed two months, it’s easy to forget that he has a 2.20 ERA (3.62 FIP) on the year. After coming back in September, he gave up just one run in 6.2 innings. Of course, his strikeout rate fell 5.5% in 2018, and he didn’t exactly seem to get that back even as his velocity rebounded from mid-May on. Still, if the Dodgers have a specific matchup they’d like to get to with a high fastball, he seems like a candidate in the same way Madson was against the Braves.
So who gets the three spots?
Despite my complaints about Wood, I still think the Dodgers want the versatility of three left-handed relievers, though he wouldn’t be my pick partially because the Brewers are quite righty heavy. It’s hard to think they don’t trust Madson now after they gave him one of the biggest situations in the NLDS, and I think they’ll want Stripling as at least an insurance policy for one of the starters, especially during the three games in a row at home.
That leaves Floro as the odd-man out, and I’m not sure why they don’t like him, but he seems to have fallen out of favor. Unless there’s something wrong with him that I’m not seeing, he should be a lock, IMO. Fields was always a long shot, but the team has always liked his profile. I know many want Julio Urias, but he’s a special talent coming off major shoulder surgery who hasn’t pitched in anywhere close to back-to-back games or high-leverage situations yet. They don’t want to push him, understandably so, and he’s likely keeping ready just in case like all three lefty relievers get injured or something.
My Picks: Ryan Madson, Dylan Floro, Ross Stripling
Position players are essentially set and for good reason, as you could make the case that all 13 would be regulars elsewhere.
Brian Dozier‘s spot is likely up for grabs, regardless. We all know that Dozier struggled (77 OPS+) for whatever reason since coming over from the Twins, and he also only got two at-bats off the bench in the NLDS, used only in the Game 3 loss. However, he was likely put on the roster to serve as a pinch-hitter against the Braves pen that had four lefties in Sean Newcomb, Max Fried, A.J. Minter, and Jonny Venters. The Brewers … well, don’t. They have Josh Hader, and while they are likely to add at least Xavier Cedeno, the Brewers pen is right-handed heavy.
There are basically two candidates to replace him.
Alex Verdugo is a rookie that only put up a .706 OPS in 86 plate appearances, but he’s also the top prospect in the system. Additionally, he brings something unique to the team in the form of his prodigious hit tool that many scouts put a 70 grade on. Roberts trusted him enough in September in key situations to start rallies thanks to that hit tool and his plate discipline, so why not in the playoffs? Additionally, he’s a plus outfielder with a double-plus arm and the ability to play center.
Andrew Toles struggled to earn playing time this year and had just a .581 OPS in 32 plate appearances. However, he too can play all three outfield positions in a pinch and has a plus arm, brings pop off the bench, and has speed to burn if a pinch-runner is needed (not base-stealing, however). He has had success in the playoffs as well, hitting .364/.423/.455/.878 in the Dodgers playoff run in 2016.
I think Verdugo is the common sense option here just based on how he was used and that Dave seems to trust him. Dozier could be kept to start against lefties, but they didn’t do that when Newcomb of the Braves took the mound, so it seems unlikely they want to go that route. Toles was clearly behind in the pecking order in favor of Verdugo during key September games, so not sure why that would change now. Yeah yeah, Chase Utley exists, but realistically he’s 100 years old and had a .610 OPS. He also hasn’t had a hit in the playoffs since the 2016 NLDS.
My Pick: Alex Verdugo
They could hypothetically also go with 11 or 13 relievers, but I doubt they do that. If they went with 12 for a short series, it’s hard to see why they would go with 11 now. Additionally, given how the Brewers like to play matchups with their pen early on, it’s likely the Dodgers will have to respond with matchups of their own, meaning they’ll likely need to use all of their bench depth every game and 13 would hinder that.
I think this NLCS against the Brewers is going to be rather fascinating from a strategic standpoint, and it’ll start with how the teams fill their rosters for the series. While there was nothing wrong with the 25-man taken against the Braves, the Dodgers seem likely to make a couple changes for the NLCS.