If Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp are all healthy, who would be the Dodgers’ starting outfielders?
The only time Don Mattingly has had to answer the question was on July 5, the one day this season all four outfielders were available to start.
But with Ethier expected to return to the lineup Tuesday for the start of a three-game series in San Francisco, Mattingly might have to revisit the potentially divisive issue leading up to the first playoff series of his managerial career.
“Now’s not the time to make friends,” Mattingly said. “Everybody wants to play and somebody’s not going to be happy. You’ve got to try to do what’s best for the whole 25.”
Pacifying the players over the last six regular-season games shouldn’t be a problem, as most of them could use days off. But come the first game of the Dodgers’ National League division series, someone’s multimillion-dollar ego will be bruised.
“However it goes, we just have to be ready and cheer your teammates on,” Crawford said.
How to manage the outfield won’t be the only issue Mattingly and General Manager Ned Colletti will discuss in the coming week.
Composing the 25-man playoff roster could be an even greater challenge. Some players who have been with the team the entire season could be excluded.
“There’ll be guys that probably won’t be happy about not being on the roster when it gets down to it,” Mattingly said. “There’s going to be some guys that have been around awhile and they’re all involved, all competitive and all have made big contributions to what we do. But in the shorter setting, shorter number of games, days off, you go a different route.”
Mattingly thinks the Dodgers will carry 11 pitchers. Among them will be four starters — presumably, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ricky Nolasco.
There appear to be at least five locks in the bullpen: closer Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belisario, Paco Rodriguez, J.P. Howell and Brian Wilson.
Brandon League was signed to a three-year, $22.5-million contract last winter to be the Dodgers’ closer but might not make the postseason roster.
Of the two remaining spots in the bullpen, one could go to reclamation project Carlos Marmol, who has posted a 2.79 earned-run average in 19 games since he was acquired from the Chicago Cubs in July.
Hard-throwing rookie Chris Withrow is another candidate. Withrow has a power arm — he has 40 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings — and can pitch multiple innings. Of his 24 appearances, 13 have been longer than an inning.
If the Dodgers want a long reliever, they could turn to fifth starter Edinson Volquez or Stephen Fife. Chris Capuano is recovering from a groin injury and might not be an option.
Assembling the six-man bench could also be difficult.
Backup catcher Tim Federowicz certainly will make the team, as will the fourth outfielder, whether it’s Puig, Ethier, Crawford or Kemp.
Utility men Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker also are expected to be on the team because they’ve been productive and their versatility covers the Dodges at multiple positions.
Punto can play shortstop, second base and third base; Schumaker plays second base and all three outfield positions.
The final spots on the bench probably will be taken by two of the following four players: Michael Young, Dee Gordon, Scott Van Slyke and Jerry Hairston Jr.
Young, 36, has played in two World Series, which is one of the primary reasons Colletti acquired him from the Philadelphia Phillies last month. He can back up Adrian Gonzalez at first base and Juan Uribe at third.
Gordon is the fastest player on the team and could have an impact as a late-game pinch-runner. Questions remain about his defense at shortstop, which is why he has taken ground balls at second base in recent weeks.
Van Slyke is another potential defensive liability but would offer power off the bench. He has hit seven home runs in 123 at-bats.
The odd man out could be Hairston, who won a World Series with the New York Yankees in 2009. Hairston, 37, is hitting .215, including .150 since the All-Star break.
Some decisions could be influenced by whom the Dodgers face, according to Mattingly. The Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates all remain potential opponents.
“I think everybody knows what’s at stake,” Mattingly said. “And I think you’re hoping that no matter who the choice is that day, that everybody’s in for the win. You hope that it’s not about them at this point.”
Times staff writer Kevin Baxter contributed to this report.