Last Sunday in Chicago, the Braves mathematically confirmed what everyone has known since late July; the Braves are your National League Eastern Division Champs.
With September comes many things; slumps, injuries, fatigue, and the hope that call-ups will perform! A combination of these factors always make the postseason roster for any team a little less than set. The Braves are not exempt from this at all. The Braves are currently carrying a 32 man active roster, and will essentially have to drop 7 players before the NLDS. From here, we have to pull a 25 man roster.
Among position players, Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, Evan Gattis, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and Chris Johnson are all virtual locks. I believe Jordan Schafer has earned a stay in manager Fredi Gonzalez’ eyes as well, as has Gerald Laird, no matter how little playing time he gets.
Jose Constanza will likely be dropped. He has seen the plate just 29 times this season. Reed Johnson‘s inability to run at full speed due to a nagging Achilles injury makes him a likely roster cut as well (before the publishing, Reed Johnson started the game on Friday, the 27th in left field and seemed to have little trouble getting around, so this is up in the air at this point.)
The biggest question mark of the roster predicament is the status of B.J. Upton. We don’t need to dive into the lost season it has been for the eldest of the Upton’s, but can we justify putting B.J. on the roster? With Heyward seemingly fit to man center, Gattis attempting to hold down left field, and Jordan Schafer ready to play at the drop of the hat, does B.J. have room to fit in this equation? My feeling is that Fredi, never one to turn his back on veterans, will bring B.J. along in pinch running/late inning defensive sub role.
The next question is, do you start Dan Uggla? Fredi seems to love Elliot Johnson, and although he will make the roster, I personally feel like Uggla should get the start. I’d trade a potential Uggla bomb for a potential stolen base if Johnson somehow stumbles on base. Although I feel Uggla should start, I think Fredi will play this one by ear and play the matchup game.
Perhaps the other big discussion is the 4th starter spot in the rotation. We all know Medlen, Minor, and Tehran are locks, but Fredi Gonzalez has indicated that with the recent removal of Alex Wood from the starting rotation, Freddy Garcia could potentially be in line to make this start. Personally, I think this is a bad idea. Garcia has been solid, but anyone can see it won’t last, and I’d rather the ticking time bomb of Garcia not explode in the playoffs. I see no reason not to go with Wood, outside of the rookie argument, although Bowman has hinted that Wood looks tired.
In the end, I see the roster shaping up to be something like this:
We’ve got to keep in mind that this is only a best of 5 series, so Maholm might not be included in the first round, due to Wood’s ability to pitch multiple innings if needed and previous pen experience. Also, Jordan Walden is far from a sure thing at this point, but I expect Luis Ayala to take his place if he cannot prove his health.
Now that we’ve tackled the roster and rotation itself, let’s talk about the lineup. Jason Heyward has cemented himself in the leadoff spot, where he has hit a ridiculous .343/.408/.593/.1001 through the 120 plate appearances he has collected there coming into Friday night’s game (where he finished 0-3). This is a no brainer. From there, it gets kinda fuzzy for me to put up what I would think to be an optimal lineup. Based on Fredi’s recent patterns, I’d expect this lineup:
C. Johnson 3B
Elliot Johnson/Dan Uggla 2B, depending on the pitcher.
There are many avenues Fredi Gonzalez could choose to take in the post season. The versatility of players like Gattis and Heyward make a lot of holes easier to plug-in on the fly, and a loaded bench make the Braves more deadly than most teams. The playoffs are coming fast, and I hope this column has gotten you prepared for what to expect.