LOS ANGELES -- A roster with four rookies, but no real surprises, was submitted by the Dodgers for the National League Division Series against the Nationals, which begins Thursday night at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers went with a 12-man pitching staff and the bullpen has two lefties -- Julio Urias and Adam Kolarek -- but announced Game 4 lefty starter Rich Hill could pitch in relief in Game 1.
The rookies are reliever Dustin May, catcher Will Smith, and infielders Gavin Lux and Matt Beaty. With Hill healthy enough, rookie pitcher Tony Gonsolin was left off the roster.
In what apparently was a quandary for management, Walker Buehler gets the ball to start Game 1 and Hill to start Game 4. It hasn’t been announced which games Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu will start, but there were indications the former would get Game 2 at home and the latter Game 3 on the road. Although Ryu pitches better than anyone at Dodger Stadium, by starting Kershaw in Game 2 he not only can pitch in Game 5 in relief, but he can start that game on normal rest should management choose to pivot from Buehler after Game 1. Starting twice in five games would be more of an October workload for Ryu than management is comfortable with.
It’s been closer Kenley Jansen’s worst season, but he showed improvement over the final week of the season. Should there be a Jansen meltdown, Kenta Maeda is the backup because Joe Kelly is an unknown after making only six competitive pitches over the final two weeks because of an unspecified injury. Pedro Baez has had his most consistent season, having expanded his repertoire. At 21, May got the nod over fellow rookie Gonsolin because he can be more overpowering. Ross Stripling is the long man and Urias and rubber-armed Kolarek are the lefties.
Justin Turner’s health (back, ankle) is the big question. He started only three times in the last three weeks and missed the final five games of the season with the back injury. He’s willing and knows how to play hurt. Several scouts believe shutting down shortstop Corey Seager is a key to defusing the Dodgers offense because he tends to chase pitches more than the other sluggers. On the other hand, he was their hottest hitter as the season ended. Gavin Lux is the rookie second baseman who has been better than advertised on defense, but his offense has been rookie-like. Max Muncy followed up his surprising breakout 2018 with a 2019 just as good and will likely be at second base against lefties and first base against righties. Postseason hero David Freese starts at first base against left-handers.
Against left-handed starters, the formation for Game 1 will be Chris Taylor in right, Cody Bellinger in center and A.J. Pollock in left. Bellinger’s postseason record is spotty and he followed up a record-breaking first half by tailing off considerably in the second half. A healthy Pollock came alive in the second half and has gained confidence in left field after his midseason move from center. Against right-handed pitching, Joc Pederson is a lethal bomber from the leadoff spot. Enrique Hernandez won’t be ignored and has postseason heroics on his resume.
Who turns over a team with World Series aspirations to a rookie catcher in midseason? The Dodgers. Management was talking up Smith in Spring Training, so it wasn’t a shock when the plug was pulled on Austin Barnes. Smith made a stunning initial impact, but a September slump has sounded the alarm. Ryu pitches best when Russell Martin catches. Regardless, the Dodgers believe they won’t be any worse off at the position than last postseason, when Yasmani Grandal and Barnes struggled.
Here is the complete roster: