Posted on September 28, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
With more than a week until they officially begin their postseason run to the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers have announced the starting rotation they will use in the NLDS against the Washington Nationals. The team has also said that outfielder Yasiel Puig will be on the playoff roster, which is a surprise to many after Puig was demoted to the minors in early August.
To no one’s surprise, the Dodgers have named Clayton Kershaw their Game 1 starter for the NLDS. He has made four starts since returning to the DL earlier this month and tossed seven shutout innings against the Colorado Rockies in his last start. Kershaw is scheduled to make his final regular season start on Saturday, allowing him plenty of time to rest before Game 1 of the NLDS.
Following Kershaw in Game 2 will be Rich Hill, who had his last start pushed back to Friday because of continued issues with blisters on his fingers. However, Hill will have ample time after his final regular season start, and the Dodgers are sure to be cautious if any problems surface during that start.
The use of lefties in Games 1 and 2 is a strategic move by the Dodgers to help neutralize Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, Washington’s two most dangerous hitters. With catcher Wilson Ramos lost for the season, the Nationals are even more reliant on lefties Harper and Murphy to carry their offense.
The Dodgers will start a right-handed pitcher in Game 3 with Kenta Maeda getting the nod. After a disappointing outing Tuesday against the San Diego Padres, Maeda will start the regular season finale on Sunday to help keep him sharp before his start against the Nationals in Game 3.
If the NLDS goes at least four games, the Dodgers are unsure of what they’ll do, but bringing Kershaw back on short rest appears to be an option they’ll consider. With Kershaw missing so much time with a back injury this season, pitching him on short rest would seem to be a risky venture. However, if Los Angeles is facing elimination in Game 4, the Dodgers may feel obligated to send Kershaw to the mound.
If not Kershaw, rookie Julio Urias appears to be the most likely option, allowing the Dodgers to throw another lefty against the Nationals. Not long ago, Urias pitching in the postseason, at least as a starter, appeared to be off the table due to the rookie’s high innings count this season. However, manager Dave Roberts says Urias is still an option.
“I think when you get to the postseason you have to go with your best, and we’ve been so mindful of his usage,” Roberts explains. “We obviously do a lot of research and studying with matchups. So at the end of the day, Julio is our best matchup, and it makes sense, then yeah it’s worth the discussion. So it’s still on the table.” If not Kershaw or Urias, Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, and fellow rookie Jose De Leon are also options.
Finally, while the Dodgers haven’t made a decision on all 25 guys who will be on the playoff roster, Roberts says Puig will be included. Considering the efforts the Dodgers made to part ways with Puig earlier this year, his inclusion on the postseason roster is a surprise. However, Roberts declares, “He’s earned it.”
Puig has become an asset against left-handed pitching since returning to the team in September. Even with Josh Reddick getting hot as of late, Puig could be an option in the postseason against left-handed pitching. Roberts also says Puig has matured since his time in triple-A. “We talk a lot about it being a privilege to be a major league player, and to his credit, he really understands what that means. And he has done a lot to help us win a lot of baseball games,” Roberts says.
With five games left in the regular season, the Dodgers are two games behind the Nationals with regard to home-field advantage in the NLDS, which is the only thing left to be determined over the final five games. This could mean a trip to Washington for Games 1 and 2 for the Dodgers, as well as a decisive Game 5. Of course, Los Angeles held home-field advantage in the NLDS the past two years, only to be eliminated, including a Game 5 at home last year against the New York Mets.