You probably didn’t expect the Braves to spend the regular season’s final week balancing winning with resting starters for the postseason.
But here they are.
Home-field advantage remains a possibility, and manager Brian Snitker is tasked with maneuvering that perfect mix of rest with winning.
His plan for New York was sound: Starters played Tuesday and Wednesday, against Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, and some regulars are expected to rest in Thursday’s finale. The Braves haven’t unveiled their plans for the final three games in Philadelphia.
“I’m going to give some guys a break here or there,” Snitker said. “Not wholesale like we did Sunday, but I want to give a few guys a day. With that being said, we’re going out and trying to win every game we can here.”
It’s a challenging premise. The Braves are in a tight race with the Dodgers and Rockies for home-field. And make no mistake, despite the team’s National League-best road record, they want to open at SunTrust Park, especially if the alternatives are facing lively crowds at Dodger Stadium or Coors Field. Also, instead of potentially taking two trips out west in the NLDS, the Braves would take one.
They’ve already seen one starter go down through no fault of their own. Shortstop Dansby Swanson returned to Atlanta and met with team doctors Wednesday after experiencing left-hand soreness Tuesday. Charlie Culberson will fill in, getting the added benefit of consistent at-bats before the postseason.
Syndergaard was brilliant Tuesday, but the Braves devoured the Mets bullpen for a win. That could loom large – the Cubs and Dodgers lost. The Braves pulled within two wins of the Cubs, who are trying to fend off Milwaukee for the NL Central title, and moved ahead of the Dodgers by a game. Los Angeles has just a half-game lead over Colorado on Wednesday, and whoever emerges from the West remains the Braves’ likeliest opponent.
“(Home-field advantage) is pretty important, even though our record isn’t as good at home,” starter Mike Foltynewicz said. “Just being comfortable in your environment you’ve been in most of the year. It’s huge and our fans would pack it out. It’ll be an interesting last (several) days to see how that figures out.”
Schedules favor the Braves. The Mets nor Phillies have anything to play for but pride. The Dodgers are battling Arizona before the rival Giants, while the Cubs are facing a solid Pittsburgh team before opening a critical series with St. Louis, who’s battling for its playoff life.
Colorado plays its final games at home, hosting the Phillies and Nationals. When the Brewers finish with the Cardinals, they’ll see the Tigers.
It’s conceivable the Braves could play any of Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Los Angeles or Colorado. Makes for fun travel planning.
“It’s important to us,” center fielder Ender Inciarte said of opening the series at home. “We’re going to do the best we can to be in our best shape and be ready. We all know in here that these games really count and we’re treating them the same way we have the past couple weeks.”
Inciarte was among the regulars who rested Sunday, the day after the Braves clinched. They started Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis, though that was more a gesture and both were quickly lifted.
The Braves will be fluid with their plans, but being within a win of gaining home-field advantage may force them into playing regulars for the season finale in Philadelphia, if not the day before as well.
“I’m going to be aware about getting a few guys (rest) and not running them into the ground the last few days either,” Snitker said. “This worked out great. They had Sunday off and the off day Monday. All the guys who were off (were) itching to play (Tuesday), and I’ll probably play all those guys again (Wednesday). On the third day give a couple of them a breather. But we still have to stay sharp.”
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