By: TJ Hartnett
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
A playoff spot is pretty much a lock at this point for the Atlanta Braves. The math is starting to catch up, as the Braves’ magic number lowers each day.
That being said, the Braves have had all kinds of contributors to their winning ways in 2019 but only 25 of them will be called upon to be on the playoff roster. This week we’re going to try and predict who’s going to be helping the Bravos win their first playoff series since 2001 and (hopefully) play deep into October.
This one is pretty easy, as the starting rotation has been one of the more consistent parts of the Braves’ team this year, especially after Alex Anthopoulos picked up Keuchel and Folty was called back up from Triple A Gwinnett.
I chose to include all five starts despite the fact that, at most, the Braves will only throw four of them in a five-game Division Series.
My reasoning is this: it’s pretty clear that Soroka and Keuchel will go 1-2, and Fried probably locked down the third start, but Teheran has been steady all year and has earned his spot in the playoff rotation.
With Folty as the odd man out, you’ve got a flamethrower who could ratchet up the heat coming out of the bullpen for long relief or even just to get a much-needed strikeout.
The first five here are obvious. Melancon, Greene, and Martin were the big ticket items acquired at the trade deadline in July, Newcomb has found new life in relief, and Luke Jackson, despite his still-frustrating missteps, has been the mainstay of the bullpen all year long.
Jackson held down the role of closer for months when the ‘pen was a mess, and his ticket is punched to the postseason.
Blevins will make the roster so that Newk isn’t the only southpaw, and while O’Day was hurt up until this week, he’ll be given every opportunity to show Brian Snitker that he can take the ball in high leverage situations.
It’s a little unorthodox, but my gut tells me three catchers. Cervelli may not even see a pitch (batting or catching), but his presence allows Snit to use Mac or Flowers as a pinch hitter late in games.
The fifth spot is the interesting one here.
Johan Camargo was abysmal in the big leagues during 2019, but he turned things around in Gwinnett and brings more versatility to the bench than Hechavarria does.
I’m not sure that Camargo will get enough playing time over the next few weeks to erase the bad taste from the season’s first half. That’s why I think the veteran will get the nod here – maybe (see below).
Ronald Acuña Jr.
*One or the other
This is where things get hairy.
Markakis, assuming he makes it back on the field in the next week or so, will get a playoff spot.
The real question mark is Ender Inciarte. Ender was tearing the cover off the ball before he got hurt for the second time in 2019.
The Gold Glover, who is the de facto center fielder, can’t just be discarded if he’s healthy. If he does make it back, that throws the rest of the outfield into disarray.
Austin Riley struggled enough in the second half that he might not get the call if Ender resumes his starting duties and Acuña heads back to left.
Matt Joyce has been an undervalued presence off the bench all season long, and his work should warrant a playoff spot.
Culberson hasn’t had as many clutch hits lately as Braves Country is used to him having, but the fact that he has that history and can play all over the field pretty much guarantees him playing in October.
That versatility may also come into play by not including Hech OR Camargo, letting Charlie serve as the lone backup infielder and picking Billy Hamilton to come off the bench as a pinch runner/defensive replacement.
This scenario seems like a good idea if Inciarte doesn’t make it back and Riley is starting in left.
The good thing is, however the roster is structured, the Braves have a lot of talent at a lot of spots and that bodes well for a playoff series win.