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Braves Mailbag: Who starts Game 3, bullpen questions and more

Answering your Division Series questions.

Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

A huge thank you to everyone that sent in questions for this week’s Atlanta Braves’ mailbag. We will do it again at the conclusion of the Division Series. Let’s get to it!!

My question is about pitchers. At what point do we turn some of these starters who are struggling into relievers. I was a huge Bryse Wilson fan and believed he would be better suited for the bullpen. It didnt happen in Atlanta but has in Milwaukee. Do we need to rethink our strategy for some of these guys?

It is hard to answer this question without knowing who we are talking about. I felt for years that the Braves should have tried Touki Toussaint in a one inning relief role, but it never materialized. My guess is that starting pitching is so valuable that organizations are going to give guys as many opportunities as they can as starters.

If you look at this year’s group of young starters, I don’t think it is an urgent situation yet. Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd could both end up in the bullpen at some point, but I don’t think you have to make that decision yet. Darius Vines and Allan Winans didn’t really get as much of a look, but performed well as starters. AJ Smith-Shawver could claim a spot on the postseason roster out of the bullpen, but I believe he has the tools to be a quality starter as well.

Please take us through how the Braves should approach Game 3 in the NLDS from a pitching perspective depending upon where the series stands at that point:

1) Braves up 2-0

2) Series tied 1-1

3) Braves down 0-2.

Also, assume Fried/Strider starts games 1 & 2 and, if necessary, 4 & 5.

If the Braves aren’t down two games, do you think AJ Smith-Shawver is a viable starter in Game 3 despite his inexperience?

Since Kyle Wright has been moved to the bullpen, can he be an opener for game 3?

Lumping some questions together here because I don’t think the Braves really have that many options. I am expecting Spencer Strider in Game 1 and Max Fried in Game 2. This might be a controversial take, but I think if Bryce Elder is on the roster, then he will start Game 3.

Whatever the situation the Braves find themselves in, I am expecting a very short leash for whoever starts Game 3. If it is Elder, then maybe they ask him to turn the lineup over once or at most twice before moving on to the bullpen. I don’t think it is a situation where they hand him the ball and try to nurse him through five or six innings.

If Elder isn’t on the Division Series roster, then the options appear to be Kyle Wright or AJ Smith-Shawver as starters or bulk guys in a bullpen game. A healthy Dylan Lee would have been a perfect option to open Game 3, but the Braves are likely to only have two left-handers available in A.J. Minter and Brad Hand and probably wouldn’t be interested in using either that early in the game. Wright shifted to the bullpen, but has still been throwing multiple innings. He could follow an opener or just start the game outright. Same for Smith-Shawver, who should be further stretched out.

Whatever the alignment ends up being in Game 3, I expect it to look more like a bullpen game.

Do you think Darius Vines makes the playoff roster?

No I don’t think he makes it. I was impressed with how he looked down the stretch, but I think he is firmly behind Bryce Elder, Kyle Wright and AJ Smith-Shawver. They might also go with Allan Winans before turning to Vines.

Obviously we would expect big postseasons from Ronald Acuña Jr., Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies etc. But who is someone you think could have an impactful postseason run that isn’t widely expected?

There are plenty of candidates. Austin Riley put together a pretty monster season on the surface, but was overshadowed by Olson and Acuña. If Riley gets on one of his streaks, he could carry the team through an entire round. We have seen what Eddie Rosario is capable of and Sean Murphy looks like another candidate to me as well. On the pitching side, a good outing from Bryce Elder or Wright would be a huge lift as well. Someone in the bullpen could step up as well. We remember the 2021 bullpen fondly, but they had their struggles throughout the regular season before locking in for the postseason.

Who in the Braves bullpen can be trusted in late innings? It seems like Raisel Iglesias has been steady, as have A.J. Minter, Joe Jimenez, and Pierce Johnson. I would consider Jesse Chavez and Kyle Wright as unknown quantities. But Kirby Yates, Brad Hand, and Michael Tonkin have not looked good towards the end of September. Has anyone pitched himself off the NLDS roster? If so, who would be a preferable replacement?

Good question, but you named the four guys that are going to be trusted in the late innings. I don’t think Kirby Yates has been as bad as many say, but his peripherals aren’t inspiring. I think his spot on the roster is safe. I share your concerns about Brad Hand, but he did pitch well against the Phillies in a small sample and has plenty of postseason experience. With Dylan Lee out, Hand’s spot on the roster is secure. I think Michael Tonkin is probably the answer to your question. He pitched some big innings for Atlanta throughout the regular season, but struggled at the end. I think he could be left off the roster to make room for Wright or Smith-Shawver.

Has there been any report on Max Fried’s blister? Is there any worry that he won’t be ready to go for game 1 or 2?

This question came in before Max Fried threw in Tuesday’s sim game at Truist Park. The reports are that the blister has healed and the Braves are taking every precaution to have Fried ready. However, there will be concern every time he takes the mound as blisters tend to be things that reoccur. The good news is, Fried has dealt with this problem throughout his career and had more than 15 days to try and get the problem cleared up.

Are you more worried about the starting pitchers whose names aren’t Max Fried and Spencer Strider or seeing either of Brad Hand or Colin McHugh coming on in relief?

I’m not sure Collin McHugh makes the roster actually. The Braves had the opportunity to bring him back at the end of the season and didn’t. Wright can take one of the long relief spots. As I mentioned above, Hand is almost a necessity at this juncture due to the lack of available left-handed options. The Phillies have a left-handed heavy lineup so it is a favorable matchup.

My biggest concern is the starting pitchers and that includes those named Max Fried and Spencer Strider. In a five-game series, the Braves can ill-afford either to not pitch well. We just talked about the concern surrounding Fried’s blister and a short start by either would put even more pressure on however they choose to handle Game 3.

Do you expect Sean Murphy to start every playoff game so long as he is healthy (the way McCann did in 2019 and d’Arnaud did from 2020-2022)?

I’m expecting Sean Murphy to see the bulk of playing time, but I do think we will see Travis d’Arnaud as well. I don’t think we will see one guy start every single game, but I do expect both catchers to play at some point.

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