MIAMI — The Braves clinched the National League East on Wednesday – almost three full weeks before their final game. They have some time before they begin postseason play.
Theoretically, this gives them an opportunity to set themselves up for the postseason however they choose.
But in reality, the Braves might be business as usual.
“It’s too long to be setting up, really,” manager Brian Snitker said ahead of Friday’s series opener at loanDepot park. “We’re going to pitch (guys) as they’re ready, and we’ll continue to give guys an extra day as we can and insert some guys – just like we have been all year, pretty much. I kind of still feel like we’re still fighting for that home-field advantage right now. These games are all important. They’re important for the Marlins, they’re important for the wild card. We’re not really gonna change our focus to any different than what it’s been the last six months.”
As Snitker mentioned, the Braves have more than two weeks until their regular-season finale Oct. 1. They can’t risk complacency, even if they officially know they’ll be at Truist Park on Oct. 7 for Game 1 of their Division Series.
There’s also an integrity part of all this. The Marlins are fighting for a wild-card spot, as are the Phillies, who come to Truist Park on Monday. So are the Cubs, who will be in Atlanta in the season’s final week. The Braves wouldn’t want to do anything to affect these races. They are going to put their best foot forward.
First, let’s go over home-field advantage. The Braves entered Friday leading the Dodgers by 7-1/2 games for home-field advantage until the World Series. The Braves came into the day five games ahead of the Orioles for home-field advantage throughout the entire postseason, including a potential World Series.
“Every game matters,” Austin Riley said. “I know we’ve clinched. … We’re also thinking of (home-field advantage). These games matter just as much as any game, so just gotta come out here and prepare. We celebrated yesterday and the night before, so for me, it’s time to get back to business.”
The Braves’ starters play every day. We’ll see if Snitker builds in a day off here or there for anyone, but these guys generally don’t like taking them. Sept. 25 is the Braves’ final off-day of the regular season, so that’ll be one day off for everyone.
Remember this: The Braves’ final game is Oct. 1, but they won’t play again until Oct. 7 because they’re bypassing the wild-card series. This is, as Snitker said, “plenty of time to rest.”
Clinching early helps the Braves when it comes to their bullpen. They have more control over that now that they’ve won their division.
“That’s probably the one area that we’re just trying to not beat anybody up,” Snitker said. “We want to keep them all regular. We’ve pushed them a little bit recently, which is why we don’t do that over the first four or five months. I always tell them, ‘We may have to do that in September.’”
This is why the Braves generally try to avoid using relievers three days in a row until August and September. Throughout the season, they’re constantly balancing that day’s game with long-term health and freshness.
But the fact the Braves have won their division means they can maneuver through these final couple of weeks however they choose. Barring a collapse, they’ll be the NL’s top seed. As previously mentioned, they’re still battling for baseball’s top record.
Last season, they battled the Mets in the NL East race all the way to the final few games. The Braves won the division in the penultimate game of the regular season.
This season, they have a bit more flexibility.
“I think it’s huge,” Riley said. “This game’s about game-planning and doing your homework and trying to prepare as much as possible. We’ve set ourselves up to have a lot of time to do that. I think it’s going to be a huge advantage for us – for the front offices, coaches to start putting those puzzle pieces together.”
Regardless, the Braves still want to win every day.
They probably will not lose focus.
“They’re not wired that way,” Snitker said. “They’re wired to be competitive. They work, they expect to do well and they expect to win. I don’t expect that to change at all.”
Marlins in the thick of things
Braves fans: One benefit – maybe the main one – of your team clinching so early is that now you can sit back and enjoy watching the rest of the playoff field come into focus.
The Giants, Diamondbacks and Reds entered Friday tied for the third and final wild-card spot. The Marlins were a half-game back.
Miami, a division foe for the Braves, has been one of the sport’s pleasant surprises in its first season under first-time manager Skip Schumaker.
“I’m a big fan of his and have been (since) when I saw him in the minor leagues,” Snitker said. “He just is a baseball good and was a good player, good baseball man. I’m not surprised that they’ve done a great job under him.”
What has seemed to be the difference for the Marlins?
“It’s always their pitching,” Snitker said. “It’s always gonna be good. I think they’ve done a good job in the last couple of years of supplementing that with some veteran-type guys, bringing (them) in offensively. I think they just continue, to me, to get better. I think.”
Shuster is Saturday’s starter
The Braves did not announce their Saturday starter until after Friday’s game.
They didn’t want to use Kyle Wright, who returned from the injured list Monday.
“We really didn’t want him to go on regular rest, just coming back like he did,” Snitker said before Friday’s game. “A guy like (Jared) Shuster would be an option. If we gotta use him tonight, then we’ll make another choice.”
The Braves didn’t have to use Shuster on Friday, so he’ll start Saturday.