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They're in, but Dodgers must play waiting game

PHOENIX -- The Dodgers know they're in the playoffs, and that's about all they know.

They don't know who they will play, where they will play and if they have home-field advantage or not.

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And most critically, they don't know who will be healthy enough to play. But then, they never know who is healthy enough to play.

So the Dodgers must be patient and let the rest of the playoff contenders play out the rest of the schedule. That's the price of being the first National League team to clinch, and they aren't complaining about that after locking it up with a 7-6 win over Arizona on Thursday.

"It's not over yet," said clinching star Hanley Ramirez, who went 4-for-5 with four RBIs. "You can put a check mark on this one, but we have three more to go. We've got a few more stops, and we're working to stay together until the end."

At this time, there are too many combinations to even guess who the Dodgers will play in the best-of-five NL Division Series, other than it will be the Braves, Cardinals, Pirates or Reds, unless the Nationals earn the Wild Card. The Dodgers were 2-5 against Atlanta this year, 4-3 against St. Louis, 4-2 against Pittsburgh, 3-4 against Cincinnati and 5-1 against Washington.

If the postseason started today, the Dodgers would open in St. Louis since the Cardinals have home-field advantage over the Dodgers and the Braves, with the best record as of now, would play host to the NL Wild Card Game winner.

The currently injured players include Ramirez (back), Andre Ethier (ankle) and Adrian Gonzalez (quad). Carl Crawford (back) was on the list two days ago.

Ramirez's two home runs in Thursday's clinching win only add to his growing legend, as he received cortisone injections in his back only days earlier.

"If the playoffs started tomorrow, I'd be able to play," said Ramirez. "We've got time to heal up and get rest. I'm definitely not worried."

"I told Hanley the other day I didn't want to get him hurt, because I want everybody to see how good he really is," said manager Don Mattingly. "He's one of the best bats on the planet. I know about [Miguel] Cabrera, but put Hanley up there. I want the whole world to see Hanley play."

Ethier is the biggest current concern, as he's still walking in a protective boot and only Friday is he expected to return to the field to take batting practice with the team.

Gonzalez said he'll be fine by the playoffs, downplaying a quad injury that has pestered him at least the last week.

"I've got 10 days to get ready," he said.

The braintrust also has 1 1/2 weeks to ponder the toughest cutdowns any Dodgers club has faced since Rick Sutcliffe was left off the postseason roster in 1981 and unexpectedly remodeled manager Tom Lasorda's office.

The Dodgers currently have 36 players in uniform. They have five starters in their rotation (not counting a healing Chris Capuano ) and might need only three, four tops.

They have 10 relievers, including three former All-Star closers (Brandon League, Carlos Marmol and Brian Wilson ), and there isn't room for everybody. The addition of Michael Young makes the bench overcrowded with Jerry Hairston, Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker, not to mention youngsters Dee Gordon, Scott Van Slyke and the other September callups.

It's not unusual for numerous young players to be passed over for postseason rosters, but the Dodgers undoubtedly will be delivering bad news to some 10-year veterans. Mattingly is in for some difficult conversations.

A handful of the decisions could be influenced by the makeup of the opposing club. For example, a team with left-handed sluggers like the Reds might compel the Dodgers to keep an additional left-handed pitcher.

At the moment, the starting rotation seems healthy and lined up with the recent shuffle of Clayton Kershaw, who will be followed by Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ricky Nolasco and Edinson Volquez through the final week of the regular season.

The bullpen, even though it's been worked hard, is deep. As protection, management added reclamation projects Wilson and Marmol to support closer Kenley Jansen. The left-handed relief is believed to be solid with Paco Rodriguez and J.P. Howell, even though Rodriguez had a few rough outings this month.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for

Los Angeles Dodgers