We’re officially in the dog days of September. The Braves are close to clinching. The division title is an inevitability, and we’re just counting the days until October now. Heck, even the Cardinals are beginning to push the Cubs back in the National League Central, making them the Braves’ likeliest opponent.
So for this week’s column, I’ll take a swing at projected the Braves’ NL Division Series roster. Since securing the NL East is about a lock, and it’s unlikely the team catches the Dodgers for the league’s best record, this is going to be the main talking point over the next couple of weeks.
So here we go, my guess at the Braves’ postseason roster as of Sept. 13:
Catchers (2): Brian McCann, Tyler Flowers
The team will obviously carry McCann and Flowers, but there’s a case for carrying Francisco Cervelli, who’s been productive since joining the club. The Braves carried three catchers a year ago, including Rene Rivera, but he essentially was an empty roster spot. Just a buffer if Flowers or Kurt Suzuki was used to pinch-hit.
As of today, it makes more sense for the Braves to roll with two catchers. But I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if Cervelli ended up on the roster. The Braves have enough flexibility to allow such.
Infielders (6): Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Josh Donaldson, Dansby Swanson, Charlie Culberson, Adeiny Hechavarria
This is rather straight forward. The Braves boast a dangerous infield, with each player an excellent defender and a legitimate threat with the bat. Culberson has struggled lately, but he’s immensely valuable here given their abilities to play around the field.
I had Johan Camargo here Friday morning before news broke that he fractured his right shin. The injury is being treated like a bruise, and the Braves haven’t ruled him out for the year, citing a potential return in roughly three weeks.
Realistically, it’s hard to fathom Camargo, without any rehab games, rejoining this team for the NLCS, much less the NLDS.
So I replaced him with Hechavarria, who furthers the team’s depth. Camargo’s injury also makes Cervelli or another outfielder a more likely addition to the roster.
Outfielders (5): Ronald Acuna, Nick Markakis, Matt Joyce, Billy Hamilton, Austin Riley
They could go a number of ways here. We don’t know when Ender Inciarte will return, but we do know the Braves won’t push him to come back before he’s fully healed. Inciarte has been confident he will return before the playoffs and the team would benefit greatly from his defense in center.
However, he’s more of a great unknown. He won’t be back until the final week of the season. Perhaps he has time to show he’s 100 percent, but we can’t bank on that right now. I initially had Inciarte on the roster, but we’ll leave him off for now.
Joyce has played well as a starter and proved to be an excellent pinch-hitter, so he’s a lock regardless of how the outfield sorts out. Hamilton is your pinch-runner, serving the role Lane Adams served a season ago. Riley can change the game with one swing, so he sneaks onto the roster in a pinch-hitting role similar to Lucas Duda from 2018. That role could also go to Adam Duvall, especially if Riley doesn’t get going in these final 14 games.
Starters (4): Mike Soroka, Dallas Keuchel, Max Fried, Mike Foltynewicz
The fourth starter spot will depend on matchups, though the Braves won’t necessarily need a fourth starter anyway for the first round. I’m going with Foltynewicz, who’s pitched to a sub-3.00 ERA since returning from Triple-A and presents the most upside of their options.
Julio Teheran didn’t crack the rotation last postseason, but again, depending on the opponent, he could make a start this time around. He’s had a quietly nice season, and despite Foltynewicz’s recent revival, the team probably is leaning toward Teheran at this time, even with his poor start in Philadelphia.
The top three are excellent. An All-Star, a postseason-tested veteran and an emerging lefty. I would start Soroka in Game 1, Keuchel and then Fried. And for now, I’d give Foltynewicz a slight edge over Teheran.
Relievers (8): Shane Greene, Mark Melancon, Chris Martin, Sean Newcomb (LH), Jerry Blevins (LH), Luke Jackson, Josh Tomlin, Teheran (or Foltynewicz)
They could go a number of directions here as well. We’ll start with the clear-cut contributors: Greene, Melancon and Martin, all acquired at the trade deadline, will make or break this group. Greene has pitched well enough that he might overtake Melancon as closer by October, but the label is mostly irrelevant.
Newcomb will be on the team as a hard-throwing lefty who can consume innings if needed. Blevins should be on as the left-handed specialist. Luke Jackson, who’s had perhaps the most interesting year on the team, makes the cut here.
Then you have Foltynewicz or Teheran (maybe both if the Braves only use three starters in the first round). Teheran came out of the bullpen in Game 4 last year, while Foltynewicz’s velocity could play well in relief.
Tomlin’s spot is the most – what’s the word – expendable part of the team. This slot could go to him, another pitcher, a third catcher or another outfielder. In this case, they opt for eight pitchers over the third catcher or extra outfielder (I felt Duvall and Riley would be redundant, to an extent). If Inciarte is full go, I’d guess he’d get the last spot. But under these circumstances, Tomlin makes the roster.
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