The Braves, after a huge win over the Phillies on Thursday, are now on the brink of clinching the NL East title with their magic number at just four to eliminate Philadelphia. Thursday’s win was a prime example of how great a factor depth can play down the stretch, and in the playoffs roster depth is even more crucial. The Atlanta roster is currently inflated with September call-ups, but in just over a week the club will be forced to pare down to a 25-man roster. There are multiple roster spots that could be up for grabs, and late-season trends are likely to play a major role in how the organization builds its postseason roster. So who will make the cut?
Catcher: Kurt Suzuki
First Base: Freddie Freeman
Second Base: Ozzie Albies
Third Base: Johan Camargo
Shortstop: Dansby Swanson
Left Field: Ronald Acuna Jr.
Center Field: Ender Inciarte
Right Field: Nick Markakis
Bench: Tyler Flowers, Rene Rivera, Lucas Duda, Charlie Culberson, Adam Duvall
The starters all making the roster is a given, so examining the players making up the bench is a good starting point. Tyler Flowers is listed with the bench players, but he and Kurt Suzuki are interchangeable based on the starting pitcher for both the Braves and the opposition. I have the Braves carrying Rene Rivera in October because as noted above, the Braves have two very talented catchers that could each serve as a pinch-hitting weapon in the postseason. Using either player in that role would leave the Braves without a backup catcher if Rivera were left off the roster, and without a viable right-handed hitting option off the bench outside of Charlie Culberson, this has to be a real concern.
Next we have Lucas Duda, who was acquired for the strict purpose of providing left-handed power off the bench down the stretch and into the postseason. He and Charlie Culberson would the two most preferable options in clutch situations, and Culberson provides added value in that he can fill in all over the field. Rounding out the bench is Adam Duvall, whose short tenure as a Brave has been an unmitigated disaster at the plate. Duvall does have a track record of providing plenty of power, however, and is still a good base runner and defender, which gives him value despite his low standing among Braves fans thus far.
Starting Pitchers: Mike Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman, Anibal Sanchez, Julio Teheran
Three weeks ago, I wrote a piece about who would make up a Braves playoff rotation, and the four names I chose to pitch in the Division Series are still the names I would choose today. Mike Foltynewicz would get the ball in Game 1. Game 2 would likely go to Kevin Gausman, though a strong case could be made for Anibal Sanchez, who would get the ball in Game 3 in this scenario. Rounding out the four-man rotation I would, reluctantly, give Julio Teheran the start due more to a lack of viable options than any semblance of confidence in his abilities.
Relief Pitchers: AJ Minter, Arodys Vizcaino, Jonny Venters, Brad Brach, Dan Winkler, Sam Freeman, Touki Toussaint, Chad Sobotka
This bullpen construction is certain to anger some, with Sam Freeman getting the nod over Jesse Biddle, Shane Carle, Max Fried, and others. However, Freeman has been excellent in his return from the disabled list, and Biddle has seemingly lost his ability to consistently throw strikes in the month of September. Biddle is unlikely to be left off the roster given Brian Snitker’s propensity to use him in nearly every game, but he does seem to be suffering from fatigue as the season winds down. Perhaps the Braves clinching early will give the left-hander an opportunity to rest and regain his more desirable form. For now his issues with finding the strike zone are enough of a deterrent to put Sam Freeman slightly ahead.
Outside of Freeman, the only roster spots worthy of discussion, in my opinion, should go to Touki Toussaint and Chad Sobotka. Toussaint has electric stuff and could certainly be a weapon in middle relief, but his presence would be especially important should one of the starters have an early exit that required a heavy bullpen workload. In a playoff series it would be unwise to burn every reliever in a single game, so having Toussaint to potentially eat innings or piggyback on a starter could pay huge dividends. Sobotka has earned the nod for the final roster spot by showcasing a fastball in the upper-90’s along with the ability to throw strikes consistently. He was especially impressive against the Phillies in the ninth inning of Thursday’s victory, and his fresh arm could be an important asset in October.
There are multiple sticking points on this iteration of a postseason roster, but these would be my choices at present. Rene Rivera, Adam Duvall, Sam Freeman, and Chad Sobotka may be dubious choices, especially given some of the omissions, but I believe they would give the Braves the best chance to win a best-of-five series beginning in two weeks. This is my postseason roster, what is yours?