This season is not over. This series is not over. Win today and who the heck knows what might befall Clayton Kershaw in Dodger Stadium in Game 5? But, as we wait for Game 4 to commence, we review the hints the 2018 Braves have dropped as to how their 2019 pitching staff might look.
Of the eight Braves relievers who made the most appearances this season, six were omitted from the NLDS roster. One is Peter Moylan, who’s on the 60-day disabled list and is 39 to boot. The other five – Jesse Biddle, Shane Carle, Sam Freeman, Luke Jackson and Dan Winkler – weren’t included because they, not to put too fine a point on it, were deemed inessential to the greater good.
In their stead were two relievers who arrived at the trade deadline (Brad Brach, Jonny Venters) plus Chad Sobotka, who was called to the majors Aug. 10, and two young starters pressed into service as long men (Touki Toussaint, winner of Game 3, and Max Fried). Basically, the Braves told the five listed in the above paragraph: “Thanks for your work, but we’ll take it from here.”
This is not a criticism of the Braves postseason roster. If anything, it’s a shout-out to common sense. The Braves chose to err on the side of stuff, even if it comes with relative youth. (Toussaint is 22. Steve Avery was 21 was he was named MVP of the 1991 NLCS, so there’s some history here.) Besides, these are the playoffs, where journeymen need not apply. Which brings us to …
He made the roster, surprising some. He hasn’t pitched in the series. After Sunday night’s breathless Game 3, Brian Snitker announced he would start Mike Foltynewicz in Game 4. The manager was asked about a possible early-inning role for Teheran – like the one Kevin Gausman filled after Sean Newcomb started and went two innings Sunday – in Monday’s game. This was Snitker’s vote of non-confidence: “If the wheels fall off, yeah. If something happens early, we still have Julio. But, I don't know, we'll have to kind of reassess that.”
On Monday, Snitker all but dismissed the thought of Teheran starting Game 5, saying, “The first couple of guys (Newcomb/Gausman) that pitched yesterday could come back and then do the same thing pretty much in Game 5, if need be. So where did that leave the pitcher who has started the past five opening days for these Atlanta Braves?
Snitker: “You know, he's always been kind of our ‘length’ guy. If something happens – like today, if something happens early in this game, and heaven forbid something happens to Folty, but the reason he was here is for length, extra innings, things like that. We may have to go to him today sooner than normal in these situations. But that's just kind of where he was. We had mulled over him making a start and liked the matchups better with the other guys pretty much.”
If you’ve ever wondered about the chances of Teheran – who has bridged the gap from general managers Frank Wren to John Coppolella to Alex Anthopoulos; who started Game 3 of the NLDS against the Dodgers when last this club reached the playoffs; who has twice been an All-Star – making the 2019 Braves’ rotation … well, those two Snitker dismissals would seem to leave no doubt. He’s no longer seen as part of the future. He’s yesterday’s man.
At issue: Teheran is under contract for 2019 for $11.16 million. (There’s also a team option for $12 million in 2020 that carries a $1 million buyout.) Next year’s salary would be a lot for the Braves to eat, and they’d surely try to find a trade partner. It’s unclear what team would want a guy who, at 27, has worked his way down the depth chart of an organization rebuilding around pitching.
Two summers ago, Coppolella refused to trade Teheran, believing he would be the veteran anchor of a rebuilt rotation. It’s clear now that July 2016 marked the last best chance to move him for something of value. The Braves no longer believe they can trust Teheran in a competitive playoff game – though they can trust Toussaint, Fried, Sobotka and A.J. Minter, four rookies used in succession in Game 3 – and once you’ve said that, you’ve said it all.