Picking right playoff roster is puzzle

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
9:03
PM PT
SAN FRANCISCO -- Between now and the middle of next week, the Los Angeles Dodgers will be pondering the unkindest cut of all.

Jerry Hairston Jr. is a 12-year veteran who has won a World Series ring and competed in two postseasons. He has been part of the fabric of the Dodgers' clubhouse for the past two seasons. He's a gregarious, popular player who has, at times, helped bring along some of the team's young players.

[+] EnlargeJerry Hairston
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsJerry Hairston Jr. is an important veteran presence in the Dodgers' clubhouse, but will that be enough for him to make the postseason roster?
But can the Dodgers afford to carry an aging, injury-prone utility player who, while playing sparingly, has batted .215 this season and .152 since Aug. 1?

"To be honest with you, I don't think about it," Hairston said. "The good thing about it is I don't make those decisions."

It's not as though the Dodgers don't know what their core is. They have four everyday options to play the outfield and, assuming Andre Ethier is healthy enough, they'll all be in the mix for heavy playing time in the playoffs. They have their five everyday infielders, including the catcher. They'll bring four starting pitchers with them and they haven't decided if they'll keep a fifth should they require a long man or emergency replacement.

They figure to bring seven relievers. Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker have played significant roles and look like locks. Tim Federowicz is the No. 2 catcher, so he's on.

Michael Young has batted .385 since the Dodgers acquired him from the Philadelphia Phillies on Aug. 31 and, since they got him in part because of his postseason experience, he seems like a safe bet.

But what about Dee Gordon, whose speed makes him a tempting weapon, but whose lack of polish in other areas could make him an iffy proposition? Or, Scott Van Slyke, who can provide power off the bench, but is also somewhat uni-dimensional?

Between Edinson Volquez, Carlos Marmol and Chris Capuano -- all veteran pitchers -- one, at most, figures to make the cut. What about Brandon League, who has pitched poorly all season but is signed for two more years at $7.5 million per season?

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly already is bracing for what probably won't be a very fun meeting after he, his coaches and general manager Ned Colletti sit down to sketch out the final roster. These may seem like picayune details, but sometimes it's the unheralded player who has the signature moment in a postseason series.

"There will be guys who probably won't be happy about not being on the roster, when it gets down to it," Mattingly said. "There are going to be some guys that have been around a while and they're all involved, all competitive and all have made big contributions to what we do."

The easiest way to secure your spot for October is to perform at a high level. One young pitcher who probably fits in that category is hard-throwing right-hander Chris Withrow.

A year ago, Withrow, 24, was trying to salvage his career at Double-A Chattanooga. He injured his back that June and, when he got back, the Dodgers informed him he was being turned into a reliever. Withrow had his misgivings, but once he accepted it, his career took off.

"Going to the bullpen simplified things. I could focus on the execution of pitches and just attacking hitters," Withrow said. "It took away, I guess, thinking too much about what I need to do to hitters and I could stick to my strengths, not mess with hitters, go right after them."

Withrow had a 1.71 ERA at Triple-A Albuquerque this season and his success has translated to the big leagues. He has a 2.81 ERA, a .979 WHIP, 40 strikeouts and just 11 walks and the league is hitting .177 against him.

Seems like a useful guy to have in your bullpen, but until June, he had never pitched in a professional game in a stadium with three decks. How will someone so inexperienced respond to the pressure of the postseason? It's just one more factor for the Dodgers to put on the table when they sit down to write down those 25 names.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
14 1.86 174 145
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .312
HRA. Gonzalez 17
RBIA. Gonzalez 83
RY. Puig 69
OPSY. Puig .905
ERAC. Kershaw 1.86
SOC. Kershaw 174