Will Johnny Cueto be active or sidelined?
That means the Giants have to trim two names from the 28-player active roster that they ended the season with on Sunday.
Technically, the Giants could add players beyond those 28 — anyone who was in the organization at the start of September is eligible for the postseason roster. But with no one due off the Injured List for the NLDS, it’s safe to assume that the Giants will pick 26 of the 28 currently on the active roster, though the taxi squad (which can include up to nine players) will surely include other names, such as Joey Bart and Thairo Estrada.
Here, then, are the 28 players to choose from:
Tommy La Stella
LaMonte Wade Jr.
Two names have to be trimmed from there, and while the Giants have exhibited tremendous depth all year, it’s pretty easy to find two pitchers who you’d be fine living without for the next week.
But is that the approach the Giants will take? With 14 pitchers and 14 position players currently on the roster, conventional wisdom says the Giants should pick one player from each group, leaving 13 of each on the NLDS roster.
Conventional wisdom might not be applicable here, though. The Giants enter the series on four days of rest, and they’ll receive days off after Games 2 and 4, should the series go that long. Add in that they only need a four-pitcher rotation rather than the standard five, and 12 pitchers is feasible. That’s still eight bullpen arms, with ample rest throughout the series.
Just because the Giants can get away with bucking conventional wisdom doesn’t mean they should, and doesn’t mean they will. We know the team, from Farhan Zaidi to Gabe Kapler to Andy Bailey, loves having depth and options out of the bullpen. With the Dodgers having such a potent offense, you can see the reasoning for stacking the bullpen.
With all that said, let’s look at the players who could potentially be left off:
Some might be inclined to add Donovan Solano to this list, as the reigning Silver Slugger winner finished with a rather pedestrian season (103 OPS+, 105 wRC+), but I don’t see it happening. The Giants need all the infield depth they can get, and Donnie Barrels is the only option to play shortstop should something happen to Brandon Crawford.
Remember: teams can’t add players to the NLDS roster unless someone is placed on the Injured List. If Crawford tweaks something but the Giants hope he can return in a day or two, they can’t just call up Estrada or Mauricio Dubón; that makes Solano rather indispensable.
Here, then, are the reasons for omitting each of those six candidates.
Castro is far and away the least experienced player on the team’s roster, with just 22 years of life and 10 MLB appearances. And yes, he may have a 0.00 ERA (though, tragically and hilariously, a loss on his resumé), but he hasn’t exactly been dominant, even in the mostly low-pressure situations the Giants have put him in. He performed poorly in his final outing, allowing a hit and 2 walks in 0.2 innings in the season finale.
Cueto has pitched just once since hitting the IL at the end of August. He did so while fully acknowledging that he was competing for a postseason roster spot, and the results were mixed. He’s been rather mediocre this year, as injuries have kept him from regaining the rhythm that he had in his first trio of starts.
Jackson rode the Sacramento Shuttle all year, getting optioned and recalled more times than I can keep count of. That right there tells you he’s on the periphery of the roster, as do the 12 walks in 21.2 innings.
I don’t think Littell got quite as used to the Sacramento Shuttle as Jackson, but he certainly spent a fair amount of time on it. And while his season was mostly good, he had a few very rough patches.
Dickerson spent all year trying to find his bat, and finished the season where he spent most of it: with a below-average offensive output (95 OPS+, 97 wRC+). A middling bat mixed with bad defense is not what the Giants want to put on the field against the Dodgers.
Duggar spent long parts of the season in Sacramento, despite playing well in San Francisco, so that should be an indicator of his standing. His bat cooled down significantly as the season wore on (107 OPS+, 107 wRC+), making him more of a late-inning replacement than a nine-inning weapon.
So let’s start eliminating names from the chopping block, trying to think like the Giants, while recognizing that if I were capable of such things I would be working for them, not writing about them.
Cueto stays. Yes, he’s been mediocre (4.08 ERA, 4.05 FIP), but the Giants need a fifth starter, even if they won’t use a fifth starter. If the wheels fall off early for a starter — remember that Anthony DeSclafani has been genuinely awful against LA this year — the Giants need someone to eat innings, and there’s no José Quintana or Sammy Long on this roster.
MLB is getting rid of the free runner in extra innings, meaning the chances of Giants and Dodgers playing deep into the night go up dramatically — having someone who can eat three, four, or six innings is a necessity. Do the Giants win the 2014 World Series without Yusmeiro Petit’s performance against the Washington Nationals? Maybe, but it’s not a risk I’m willing to take. Plus, Cueto’s been quite solid against the Dodgers this year, in an admittedly tiny sample size: 5.2 innings, 4 hits, 2 walks, 0 runs, 5 strikeouts.
Duggar stays. Does he start against righties? Unclear. But using a spot on strong center field defense against LA’s gap hitters isn’t the worst idea. Mostly he stays because we’ve seen defense and baserunning be the deciding factor in postseason series’ many, many times. He’s the team’s only bordering elite defensive outfielder, and their only plus-plus runner.
Dickerson stays. We move forward with 14 position players, which makes Cueto’s inclusion essentially a guarantee. The Giants won 107 games in large part because of their ability to substitute players left and right in search of the correct platoon advantage. Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer, and Tony Gonsolin are all righties, as is the bulk of the Dodgers bullpen. With Brandon Belt sidelined, LaMonte Wade Jr. slides to first base against righties, and the outfield is awfully slim on left-handed hitters. Dick may have had a down year, but he reached base in 12 of his 35 pinch-hit appearances, with 5 extra-base hits.
That brings us to three back of the bullpen relievers: Castro, Jackson, and Littell.
Littell stays. He has a proven track record, unlike Castro, and he doesn’t struggle with walks, unlike Jackson. Can’t mess around with free passes against the Dodgers.
It’s a tough break for Castro and Jackson, good Giants who had good seasons. But if the postseason is anything like the regular season, they’d be wise to stay ready.