With the regular season now in the books, the Atlanta Braves will fully turn their attention to the postseason, and specifically, their roster for the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Unlike last season, the Braves have some interesting decisions to make, with a lot of interesting names floating around.
Atlanta may not have actually finalized their rotation for Division Series but all signs point to Dallas Keuchel, Mike Foltynewicz and Mike Soroka getting the call in the first three games of the series. What happens after that and who is in the bullpen is still up for debate. We won’t know for a few days whether the Braves will actually opt to carry 11 or 12 pitchers for the NLDS, but we will attempt to lay out their options and the decisions they will have to make below.
Rotation Locks: Dallas Keuchel, Mike Foltynewicz, Mike Soroka
Given Keuchel’s struggles to end the season, it seems at least plausible that Foltynewicz could end up getting the nod in Game 1. Whatever the case ends up, expect both Keuchel and Foltynewicz to get the start in both games in Atlanta with Soroka scheduled to go in Game 3 at St. Louis.
If the series goes to Game 4, we could see Max Fried get a start, but there is a chance that Fried could be used out of the bullpen in one of the first two games. The Braves using Fried for nearly four innings in relief of Mike Foltynewicz over the weekend at least hints at a “bulk guy” role for the left-hander, but the Braves haven’t really toyed with this sort of strategy much if at all in their history. If not Fried, would the Braves turn to Julio Teheran, who surpassed expectations coming into the season, but who also seemed to have run out of gas down the stretch? Teheran is a righty, which works in his favor, but the Braves also appear to be giving Dallas Keuchel the ball to start, so it’s anyone’s guess at this point what might happen in a potential Game 4.
Fourth starter/Bullpen: Max Fried, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Chris Martin, Luke Jackson, Sean Newcomb
While we don’t necessarily know his role, Fried is a lock to be a part of the pitching staff. So are Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin. Sean Newcomb also looks like a lock as a left-handed multi-inning option, if only because the Braves are a little short on trustworthy southpaws. I also think Luke Jackson belongs in this category as well. While Jackson has had his struggles in the second half, his ability to get out left-handers makes him intriguing.
Bubble: Julio Teheran, Darren O’Day, Josh Tomlin, Anthony Swarzak, Jerry Blevins
So far we have nine spots covered. For this exercise I am going to operate under the assumption that they 12 carry pitchers. That means that two of the five pitchers above will be left off. Given the season that Teheran has had, it would be a shame for him to be left off the NLDS roster completely. It will also be disappointing to see him relegated to mop up duty like he was in 2018. Given the questions regarding Fried’s and a potential fourth starter need, I think Teheran ultimately gets the nod but I’m not quite sure what hisrole will be.
Darren O’Day appeared in just eight games all season but may have done enough to secure a spot on the postseason roster. O’Day pitched in back-to-back games during the series in Kansas City and has been a reliable option against right-handed hitters in his career. He is a veteran who has closer experience along and has faced his share of high-leverage situations over his career.
Josh Tomlin was a surprise inclusion on the Opening Day roster and has been a bit of a jack of all trades for the Braves this season. He ended up getting into 51 games posting a 3.79 ERA although his peripherals were significantly higher (4.53 FIP, 4.95 xFIP). Snitker has used him in mop up situations, multiple inning situations and as an occasional (but fairly rare) high leverage option. The numbers probably say to steer clear of Tomlin in the postseason but I have a feeling that he will make the cut. If nothing else, it would be odd to see the Braves banish from the postseason a guy that’s been there all year.
Anthony Swarzak was lights out after coming over from Seattle but regressed pretty significantly down the stretch. He has experience working in high leverage situations but you have to wonder how much his second half has hurt his chances. He wasn’t the same since coming back from a shoulder injury, and he might be healthy enough to pitch but not healthy enough to be effective any longer.
Jerry Blevins has always been a reliable option against left-handed hitters and this season was no exception. In this instance, I think Jackson’s success against lefties is the deciding factor in leaving Blevins off, but he is another option. The Cardinals don’t have too many scary left-handed bats, so leaving the LOOGY off might be justifiable in and of itself given the opposition.
Other Options: Chad Sobotka, Jeremy Walker, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Grant Dayton
None of these guys saw a huge workload over the final month. It wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see one of them get the call but it appears unlikely. The Braves had the opportunity to see whether Wilson, Wright, or Toussaint could become dominant short-stint relievers at the tail end of the year, but completely passed on the experiment (aside from a few innings from Wright), so they’re playoff injury reserves at best.
Prediction: Dallas Keuchel, Mike Foltynewicz, Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Chris Martin, Luke Jackson, Sean Newcomb, Julio Teheran, Darren O’Day, Josh Tomlin