LOS ANGELES--The Los Angeles Dodgers set their internal temperature mode to "chill" on Tuesday. The team that was in last place on July 1 was the first to clinch a division title and the first to advance into a league championship series.
It opens the National League Championship Series on Friday, either at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates or in St. Louis against the Cardinals. As Dodgers players enjoyed a day off Tuesday, the team's brain trust started its planning for the NLCS, in part to consider possible changes to the playoff roster between rounds.
Question: What is the most prominent decision to make?
Answer: The Dodgers are hopeful that Andre Ethier can return to center field during the NLCS. He has not played the field since Sept. 13 because of a condition similar to shin splints above his left ankle. If he can run well enough to play the field, then the Dodgers probably do not need to keep Dee Gordon on the roster. Gordon made one appearance in the NLDS, as a pinch-runner, and he was caught stealing.
Q: When six players put up a slugging percentage of .500 or better in the NLDS, how much do the Dodgers really need Ethier?
A: His replacement in center field, Skip Schumaker, was not one of those six. Schumaker batted .231, the lowest of any of the Dodgers' starting position players in the NLDS. And, if the Dodgers face the Cardinals, Ethier's powerful left-handed bat in the middle of the order could be crucial, since the St. Louis starting pitchers all are right-handed.
Q: How does the Dodgers' pitching line up for the NLCS?
A: Very nicely, at least to start. Zack Greinke gets Game 1 on extra rest, with Clayton Kershaw set for Game 2 on regular rest.
Greinke, who had elbow trouble in the spring, would be an unlikely candidate to pitch on short rest. So, if the series extends to the full seven games, the Dodgers probably would get two starts each from Greinke and Kershaw.
Kershaw is at 249 innings, 16 above his previous career high. Orel Hershiser threw 309 innings in 1988, the last time the Dodgers won the World Series. The only Dodgers pitcher to throw more innings than Kershaw since then: Kevin Brown, with 252 in 1999.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, who lasted three innings in his NLDS start, figures to be Dodgers' third starter. The Dodgers listed Ricky Nolasco as their fourth starter in the NLDS, then skipped him. His earned-run average in September was 6.66.
Q: Could there be any changes among the pitchers?
A: The Cardinals are significantly worse against left-handers than right-handers, which could keep Paco Rodriguez on the roster as a third left-handed reliever -- or a second, if the Dodgers consider a start for Chris Capuano.
After Rodriguez posted a 5.68 ERA in September and a 27.00 ERA in the NLDS, the Dodgers could drop him in favor of veteran right-hander Carlos Marmol. The Dodgers also could consider adding Edinson Volquez to their playoff roster as a long man and emergency starter.
Q: Did all of the players take the day off Tuesday?
A: Outfielder Matt Kemp had surgery to address an arthritic condition in a left shoulder joint. The Dodgers said he would be able to start rehabilitation for the shoulder in two or three days, although he is expected to remain on crutches for a couple of more weeks while his left ankle injury heals. Kemp, who was limited to 73 games this season, is expected to be ready for spring training.
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