Atlanta Braves: Breaking Down Each Playoff Scenario for the Braves
With just nine games left for the Atlanta Braves, they are almost assured of a playoff spot with a magic number of just one game. That is great news for fans who suffered through the epic collapse last year.
While the Braves are headed for the playoffs, their destination is a total unknown at this point. Although unlikely, the team still has a chance to overtake the Washington Nationals for the NL East and the ability to bypass the wild-card play-in game.
However, it is more likely that the Braves will be one of the two Wild Cards in the National League. Considering the seeding for the division winners is totally up in the air and there is a battle going on for the other wild-card berth, there are a bunch of possible playoff scenarios.
This article will take a look at each of those scenarios for the Braves in both the wild-card round and in the divisional series.
Braves Play Giants in NLDS
The most unlikely scenario is the one that I will start with. That is the Braves beating out the Nationals to win the NL East for the first time since 2005. While it will take some luck considering they are five games out with nine games remaining, it is still a mathematical possibility.
The odds may not be as long as one may expect, as the Braves play the Marlins, Mets and Pirates with their remaining games. Each of those teams has a losing record, and none of them have won more than four of their last 10 games.
While the Braves do have a chance to beat the Nationals in the NL East race, they aren't likely to be lucky enough to pass the Reds, who lead them by four games, as well. That would put the Braves in position to finish second or third, and likely match them up with the Giants.
The Braves are 3-4 against the Giants this year, and they just split a four-game series at the end of August. The potential matchup would provide some very good pitching matchups, as the Giants' duo of Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner will really challenge the Braves' duo of Kris Medlen and Tim Hudson.
Each of these two teams has a strong rotation, strong bullpen and offense with question marks. That spells an even matchup between two solid teams. With the way the 2010 season ended against the Giants in the playoffs, the Braves could be due to break through to the next round this time.
Braves Play Cardinals in Wild Card
The last slide started with the least likely scenario, but this one has the most likely scenario. That would be the Braves taking on the Cardinals in the one-game playoff. With the Cardinals holding a three-game lead over the field for the other wild-card spot, it would take a lot for someone to pass them out.
The Braves have Kris Medlen to match up against likely either Adam Wainwright or Chris Carpenter, assuming that the Cardinals wouldn't need to use them late down the stretch. That alone would be a great matchup to watch, as Medlen has been unhittable of late, but the Cardinals' veterans are tested in these types of battles.
The Cardinals haven't been playing that well of late, as their lineup has really slowed down. Carlos Beltran hasn't been the same player we saw in the first half and Rafael Furcal is injured. The Braves' lineup is the one doing a better job at this moment, and having a veteran like Chipper Jones could be a huge benefit.
This is the type of game that could really go either way. One thing that could benefit the Braves is the fact that they lost out on a playoff spot to the Cardinals last year and could be looking for some revenge this season.
Braves Play Field in Wild Card
With a three-game lead and only nine games remaining, it's looking good for the Cardinals to make the playoffs as a Wild Card. Though if last year taught us anything, it would be that nothing is final until it is clinched.
There are a pair of teams three games behind the Cardinals, and another pair that are less than five games out. The teams closest are the Dodgers and the surging Brewers, while the Diamondbacks and Phillies are still in it but may need a bit of luck.
If the Braves face the Dodgers it is either Clayton Kershaw or Chris Capuano who would be matching up with Kris Medlen. Kershaw is dealing with an injury and didn't look too sharp in his first game back the other day, while Capuano isn't an ideal choice to start a one-game playoff.
The Brewers would be dangerous because they are very hot right now. Having Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez in the middle of the lineup plus Rickie Weeks and Norichika Aoki at the top of the lineup could cause problems for any pitcher with the way those guys have been hitting.
Yovani Gallardo is the only ideal candidate to start the playoff but may or may not be able to because he may need to be used down the stretch.
The Phillies are always dangerous and with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in their rotation it would mean they would match Kris Medlen with a true ace. Their lineup hasn't been great this year, but veterans like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are all still more than capable of coming up with a clutch hit at any point.
The Diamondbacks are an interesting team, but not exactly one to fear. Having pitchers like Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley should mean that they can keep the game close for their lineup to possibly win the game. With big bats like Justin Upton, Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Montero and Aaron Hill, they have the potential to score enough runs to come up with a win as long as their pitching is on.
These scenarios are not very likely, but they are possible. If I was going to pick the order of these teams in terms of who I would like to see the Braves play, I would go with the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Brewers and Phillies.
Braves Win Wild Card and Meet Nationals
The Braves could potentially win the wild-card matchup and get to meet the Nationals in the NLDS. Earlier in the year that would be a scary match up for the Braves, or anyone else, in a five-game series, but things have changed over the last few weeks.
Right now the Nationals have more wins than any team in baseball with 93, but their ace Stephen Strasburg was shut down for the year because he was in his first year back from Tommy John surgery.
A rotation featuring Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson is very solid, but that rotation would be unbelievable if they had Strasburg able to start a pair of games in a five-game series.
The Nationals aren't only a strong rotation, as they have a very strong bullpen that has only gotten better with the return of Drew Storen from injury. They may not have a Craig Kimbrel at the back of the bullpen, but Storen, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, Sean Burnett and Ryan Mattheus are a very strong group from top to bottom.
The Nationals also have a quality lineup, with no real holes outside of catcher. In fact, the team is getting huge years from surprise players like Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche to go with the usual producers in Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Mike Morse. This doesn't even mention Rookie of the Year candidate Bryce Harper, who is hitting .258 with 19 homers at the age of 19.
Even without Strasburg, the Nationals have a team strong enough to win a World Series. The difference is that without him they are no longer a clear favorite to win it. They are now a strong, but beatable opponent for the Braves.
Braves Win Wild Card and Meet Reds
If the Braves win the wild-card game, they would likely face either the Nationals or the Reds in the NLDS. The Nationals currently have a one-game lead over the Reds for the top spot in the National League, and whoever wins that spot would end up facing the wild-card winner in the NLDS.
If the Reds can overcome the Nationals' small lead, they would provide an interesting matchup for the Braves. The club has been strong all year, even without Joey Votto.
That is because their lineup also features well-rounded second baseman Brandon Phillips, slugging outfielder Jay Bruce, Rookie of the Year candidate Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick, who did a great job while Votto was out.
The Reds also have some pitching with Cy Young candidate Johnny Cueto at the top of the rotation followed by Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey. Cueto is the type of pitcher capable of pitching his team to a playoff victory by just shutting down his opponent, while Latos has the potential to do great things when he is on as well.
Even the bullpen is loaded, starting with closer Aroldis Chapman. Chapman's numbers and stuff are eye-popping, similar to the Braves' Craig Kimbrel, but he recently had some health issues pop up and will need to prove he can make it through the postseason healthy.
They also have top setup man like Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton and Jose Arredondo plus other quality arms such as Sam LeCure, Logan Ondrusek and Alfredo Simon.
The Reds have the talent to win a World Series, but they also need to stay healthy.
In addition to the issues surrounding Chapman, Cueto has shown signs of wearing down of late with an ERA over five in the last four weeks. Votto hasn't done much since returning, as he has just four extra-base hits and no homers in 16 games since returning.
The Reds could be a favorable matchup for the Braves in the NLDS because of their health issues and the fact that the Braves have the better overall rotation.