Whatever you believed about the helmsmanship of Brian Snitker until today, it doesn’t really matter. Because it all changes next week. Everything beforehand has been the coming attractions. The main feature begins rolling Thursday.
The baseball lifer and the best company man the Braves have ever employed is about to embark, at the age of 62, on his first postseason as a major league manager. It is that point in a season when the quibbles that come and go with a manager’s handling of his rotation, his lineup, his bullpen become tirades. It just all matters exponentially more.
For the first time Snitker’s work will undergo the kind of inspection on a cellular level that comes only in the postseason, when a single move might well spell the difference between an upgraded banner hanging on the SunTrust Park light standard and the sudden end of a season.
The next-level second-guessing begins now.
Caretaking a young, rebuilding team, Snitker has been one of the best stories of this season. His 40 years with the Braves had come with more than its share of slights, but he soldiered on. Then he stepped into the breach in May 2016, taking over a 9-28 team as the then-interim manager. And it turned out he was the perfect guy to provide a stable, hothouse environment in which this version of the Braves could flourish.
Sure, he was subject to all the carping from the armchair managers that comes with the job. But nothing that stuck to him, so long as his team trended toward improvement. Impressions were almost as important as results.
Come the postseason, Snitker’s work will be subject to the kind of unblinking critical eye unlike anything he has dealt with before as a manager.
By all rights, Snitker should win the National League Manager of the Year when the official announcement comes Nov. 13 (one day after Ronald Acuna should very well win Rookie of the Year). He needs to be rewarded with a new Braves contract that doesn’t keep him dangling year-to-year, one that comes with a healthy raise. He’s making a reported $800,000 this year, the lowest figure among those managers still in postseason contention. Managers’ salaries have flattened out, but for comparison, Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell reportedly makes nearly twice as much ($1.5 million). Chicago’s Joe Madden leads the pack at $6 million a year.
Snitker has been the comfortable fit for a Braves team on the rise. What he shows in the playoff will go a long way toward demonstrating if he is the man to lead them moving forward, as they presumably are in more and more high-pressure games. Beliefs about managers are set in concrete in the postseason.
It’s not as if once the Braves hit the postseason, Snitker and his bench coach Walt Weiss are going to suddenly order their players to run the bases clockwise. The manager is not going to melt away in the seventh inning of a tie game. But that decision when to pull the starter and whom to pinch-hit gets a whole lot more intense.
They used to be playoff fixture. But it has been a minute since the Braves have been back - five years actually. There is so much intrigue around how they will react to the moment. And that includes the manager as much as any rookie at the top of the lineup.
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