The Nats don’t have to settle their roster until Friday, so we’ll pore over the candidates with a fine-toothed comb and predict the 25-man squad they’ll go into the NLDS against the Dodgers.
Obviously, the glaring names missing from this equation are Stephen Strasburg and Wilson Ramos. Take two all-stars off any team's roster and the holes become obvious. But removing one of baseball's top starters of the first half of the season, and a unique talent — both offensively and defensively at catcher — make it especially tough.
Starters (4): Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, Joe Ross
Relievers (8): Mark Melancon, Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, Reynaldo Lopez, Matt Belisle, Sammy Solis, Marc Rzepczynski, Oliver Perez
As we all know by now, the Dodgers struggle against left-handed pitchers. How bad? How about a .213/.290/.332 slash line collectively. That’s atrocious. In Livan Hernandez’ career 1113 plate appearances, he slashed .221/.231/.295. So. the Dodgers weren't’ much better against lefties this season than Livan was as a hitter over his career.
That goes a long way to say that yes, despite his struggles and everyone’s consternation, Gio Gonzalez will definitely start against L.A., and could very well start Game 2 on Saturday at home in order to have the possibility of him being available in a second game in the five-game series.
Gonzalez pitched once against the Dodgers this season, allowing one run on three hits (one double) and two walks, striking out six, in six inning in an 8-1 win on July 20. For his career, Gonzalez has limited the Dodgers to a .179/.258/.268 line, allowing a total of six runs in five starts.
I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that Gonzalez’s starts could very well be the key to the series, whether that’s on Saturday or in Game 3 on Monday in L.A.
Considering the Dodgers’ weakness against left-handed pitching, I fully anticipate the Nats carrying three lefty relievers. Marc Rzepczynski and Sammy Solis are givens. The third spot will come down to Oliver Perez or Sean Burnett.
While Burnett has been effective down the stretch in a limited and reduced role (.238/.273/.476 in 22 plate appearances overall, .143/.143/.357 against lefties in 14 PAs), I think manager Dusty Baker will stick with Perez (.233/.337/.384 vs. LHB in ‘16). Perez has been on the roster all season and carries that "veteran presence" even if he hasn’t been quite as effective this season as some others.
As for the righties in the pen, once Koda Glover came up with a hip injury, that sealed the spot for Matt Belisle, not that Baker needed another reason to carry his security blanket on the postseason roster. Belisle is such a strange case though.
He missed a month and a half early in the season, only pitched five times in September, and only twice in wins in his last eight appearances. You wonder why he’s deemed so important to the roster.
Of course, Reynaldo Lopez has to eat a reliever spot that might have gone to Yusmeiro Petit or even Trevor Gott. But with Joe Ross having thrown more than 80 pitches exactly once since July 2, the Nats have to carry another starter-length pitcher on the roster.
That’s between Lopez and A.J. Cole, and while Cole has probably been steadier overall, Lopez has the capability of the spectacular and could carry a game. Of course, his lows have been lower than Cole’s too, so there’s that as well.
OF (5): Jayson Werth (R), Trea Turner (R), Bryce Harper (L), Ben Revere (L), Chris Heisey (R)
INF (6): Ryan Zimmerman (R), Daniel Murphy (L), Danny Espinosa (S), Anthony Rendon (R), Clint Robinson (L), Stephen Drew (L)
C (2): Jose Lobaton (S), Pedro Severino (R)
Almost all of the position players are set. Baker will certainly carry Heisey as a right-handed hitting outfield bat. Really, there are two legitimate questions: 1) Does Wilmer Difo’s speed, switch-hitting and defensive flexibility trump Stephen Drew’s pop and experience; and 2) Ben Revere or Brian Goodwin as the lefty outfielder and possible defensive replacement?
I think Baker will carry Drew over Difo for the experience factor alone. Having three lefty bats and only one righty is a bit of a handicap, but I don’t think anyone expects the Nats to carry Difo, a player that looked lost at Double-A much of the first half of the season, over Drew, one of the Nats few free agent acquisitions this season. Drew has proven adequate enough defensively at all the infield positions this season.
Also, with Daniel Murphy’s injury factor (as in, he’s had exactly one plate appearance since Sept. 20) I’m sure Baker would feel much more comfortable with Drew starting in an extended role over Difo if Murphy can’t answer the bell.
There might be some thought to carry Michael Taylor as the fifth outfielder simply to have two right-handed bats, but I think again it’ll come down to experience, with Ben Revere — who had a completely disappointing season — beating out rookie Brian Goodwin.
Goodwin has shown a little (.286/.318/.747) in his short (42 at bats) tryout, but Revere has a track record, can play left or center, and again has favored status as an offseason acquisition. You might not think that should carry that much sway, but it does.