The Braves wrap up the regular season this weekend in New York and will then shift their focus to the NLDS against either the Cardinals or Brewers. As the two Central clubs battle things out over the next three days, Atlanta has the luxury of sitting back, aligning their rotation and allowing players to rest when needed.
In my estimation there are roughly 18 players on the roster are true locks for the postseason roster regardless of opponent. Here’s my guess at those locks:
Catcher: Brian McCann, Tyler Flowers
Infield: Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Josh Donaldson, Adeiny Hechavarria
Outfield: Nick Markakis, Ronald Acuña Jr., Matt Joyce
Pitchers: Dallas Keuchel, Mike Foltynewicz, Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Chris Martin, Sean Newcomb
If we assume there are seven spots for grabs, let’s look at the other positional “battles” taking place this weekend.
Ender Inciarte is expected to return this weekend after missing six weeks with a quad strain. If healthy, Inciarte feels likely to be on the roster. But if the Braves don’t feel he is full-go or hasn’t had enough at bats to be ready for postseason play, it’s possible he is left off. There is also the Acuña factor to consider; if his groin injury does not go improve it is possible the Braves opt to place him in a corner outfield spot, which only increases the need for Inciarte on the roster.
Johan Camargo is making his way back from a shin fracture and is not expected to play this weekend. It’s hard to imagine him returning in time for the NLDS.
Candidates: Francisco Cervelli, Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton, Austin Riley
Cervelli has hit well since joining the club and also serves as a third catcher. It feels like he is trending towards making the 25-man cut. Billy Hamilton’s game-changing speed makes him feel closer to “lock” status than others in this grouping. Adam Duvall has experienced an up and down 2019, but given Riley’s prolonged slump it feels like Duvall has the leg up. Duvall is also the superior defender of the two in the outfield, although Riley does have third base experience and could play first in a pinch.
The pitching staff
Candidates: Jerry Blevins, Luke Jackson, Darren O’Day, Julio Teheran, Josh Tomlin
We have discussed Julio Teheran’s candidacy many times; his on-the-surface numbers are good, his advanced metrics are not. I think it’s more likely than not that he ends up on the roster, although his usage will likely depend on the opponent. St. Louis has a lineup loaded with right handed hitters – Teheran is far better against them than lefties – but Milwaukee features a little more thunder from the left side.
Darren O’Day pitched back-to-back nights in Kansas City for the first time. He is trending towards making it as a right-handed specialist despite his lack of regular season appearances. The idea of utilizing him in the 6th inning against, say, Paul Goldschmidt and Marcel Ozuna, is far more appealing (to me, anyway) than Luke Jackson (see below) or Sean Newcomb.
Luke Jackson has struggled over the last month, but he has been very effective against left-handed batters with his wipeout slider. Lefties are batting just .159/.224/.327 compared to a .333/.398/.452 line for righties. Jackson truly feels like a 50-50 candidate at this point.
As things stand above, there are presumably two lefties in the bullpen: Newcomb and Fried. I would argue the Braves’ need for Jerry Blevins goes down significantly if they face St. Louis, but Brian Snitker may want a left-handed specialist in his back pocket either way.
Josh Tomlin has been a lifesaver out of the bullpen all year, often eating up innings whenever the starter struggles. Is there room for him? He is as-advertised and there is a need for an innings eater on the chance a starter gets hurt or the game goes into extra innings, but Teheran’s presence on the roster may make Tomlin redundant.
It’s also possible the Braves throw a big curveball (ha ha, get it?) and include someone like Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson or Touki Toussaint, but given their minimal innings this September it’s hard to find a spot for them.