The Washington Nationals have until a few hours before first pitch Friday to decide on their 25-man roster for their National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the process began with a meeting Friday.
As he said he always does, Nationals Manager Dusty Baker, set to manage in his eighth postseason with his fourth club, held the meeting with his staff to solicit opinions. He welcomes discussion and disagreement. He finds consensus dangerous. Personally, he takes players’ recent performance into consideration. He views it as a final interview. But there are only so many spots up for grabs.
“The toughest decisions are the last couple bullpen guys and the last few position players,” Baker said. “It’s nothing different here. You’ve got right-left, speed or power. You’ve got different things that go into the equation. Are you ever fully covered in all departments? Very rarely can you fill all the holes.”
The Nationals are expected to carry Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross as starting pitchers. Based on roles and usage, Mark Melancon, Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, Matt Belisle and Sammy Solis are locks for the bullpen. All indications are rookie Reynaldo Lopez will be on the roster as the long reliever. Koda Glover, a fellow rookie once in contention for a bullpen spot, struggled over a few appearances before not pitching during the final week of the regular season because of a hip injury and is likely out of the running.
The guess here is that the Nationals will carry three left-handed relievers against a Dodgers club that posted the worst batting average (.213), on-base percentage (.290) and slugging percentage (.332) against left-handed pitching this season. Solis is one. The 28-year-old had a 2.41 ERA in 41 innings and was effective against both left-handed and right-handed batters: Righties had a .639 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and lefties had a .556 OPS against him. Treinen is right-handed, but lefties hit just .221 against him, so he provides a capable alternative against both.
The question then becomes which two left-handed relievers will claim the final slots. The choices are Marc Rzepcyznski, Oliver Perez and Sean Burnett. The 31-year-old Rzepcyznski posted the best numbers and has the most playoff experience of the three. In 70 games for the Oakland Athletics and Nationals, he had a 2.64 ERA in 47⅔ innings. Since joining the Nationals at the end of August, he had a 1.54 ERA in 11⅔ innings. His 67.4 percent groundball rate was second in baseball among relievers who logged 40-plus innings this season, and he held left-handed hitters to a .674 OPS in 113 plate appearances. He has a 4.22 career playoff ERA in 18 games across three postseasons.
Perez, 35, made 64 appearances and had a 4.95 ERA in 40 innings, though he hasn’t allowed a run in his past 11 outings. In 102 matchups, left-handed hitters posted a .720 OPS. Perez has pitched in two postseasons, one as a starter in 2006 with the New York Mets and last season as a reliever with the Houston Astros. The 34-year-old Burnett appeared in just 10 games with the Nationals after spending nearly the entire season in the minors with four organizations. He had a 3.18 ERA in 5⅔ innings and held lefties to a .500 OPS in 14 matchups. He was in the Nationals’ bullpen for the 2012 postseason, totaling one inning across two appearances and allowed four runs, three earned.
The Nationals’ starting lineup will likely look the same as it did most of the season except at catcher because all-star Wilson Ramos tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last week. The Nationals will probably deploy a platoon between Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino. Lobaton, a switch hitter, will get the starts against right-handed pitchers. Severino, a right-handed hitter, is an option versus left-handers.
The bench’s composition is fuzzier. One of the catchers, outfielder Chris Heisey, infielder Stephen Drew and first baseman Clint Robinson are expected to fill four of the five spots. The candidates for the final vacancy seemingly are outfielders Ben Revere and Brian Goodwin and infielder Wilmer Difo.
Revere and Goodwin would both give Washington a second outfielder and speed off the bench, but they’re left-handed. Choosing one of them would leave Heisey as the only right-handed bench option besides the catchers. Difo is a switch hitter with speed to pinch-run late in games, but before rosters expanded Sept. 1, the Nationals elected to have just one utility infielder — Drew until he was put on the disabled list and then Difo — all season. Trea Turner could also play a middle-infield spot if necessary.
Difo spent most of the season with Class AA Harrisburg. The 24-year-old rookie batted .276 with a .743 OPS in 66 plate appearances and had three steals. He started three games at shortstop, three games at third base and seven games at second base. He had not played third base before this season.
If the Nationals want an outfielder, they’d have to weigh Goodwin’s encouraging small sample size against Revere’s longer track record of success at the major league level. Goodwin, who has a stronger arm than Revere, played mostly center field for Class AAA Syracuse this season, but the 25-year-old rookie mostly played the corner spots with the Nationals. In 44 plate appearances, he batted .286 with a .747 OPS. He hit .280 with a .787 OPS in 492 plate appearances with Syracuse.
“I think all the September call-ups, we’ve all been up here and we’ve been showing what we can do and everybody’s been pretty successful, so I think I have a chance,” Goodwin said.
Revere has the weaker arm but is faster and can cover a lot of ground in the outfield. He began the season as the club’s starting center fielder and leadoff man but strained his oblique on his first swing of the campaign. Turner would eventually replace Revere as the everyday center fielder after the all-star break, and Revere finished the season with a .217 batting average and .560 OPS in 375 plate appearances. The 28-year-old’s OPS was the worst in baseball among players with at least 350 plate appearances.
“It’s been an awkward year,” said Revere, who hit .255 in 11 games with the Toronto Blue Jays in his first postseason last year and is a .285 career batter. “But no matter what, whatever they may do after [Sunday’s] game, I can’t say I can get mad because I haven’t proven that I can provide for this team. But if I am [on the roster], you never know what can happen in the playoffs. Some crazy stuff has happened.”