Predicting the Full 2012 Postseason Roster for the Atlanta Braves
The Braves have a shot at catching the Washington Nationals for the NL East title with a 4.5-game deficit, but with eight games remaining in the regular season, that's not likely to happen.
Atlanta thus awaits the second NL Wild Card and will face that team in a one-game playoff on Oct. 5. It appears that team will be the St. Louis Cardinals, though the Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers are 3.5 games behind and still have a shot.
The lineup and rotation that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has employed during the season's second half has worked wonderfully. Atlanta is 15-7 thus far through September, so the skipper probably isn't going to mess with what's clearly working well.
Having said that, here's how the Braves roster will probably line up once the postseason begins.
One note: Other postseason roster prediction articles that you'll see on B/R also include a "Position Battles" slide. I didn't write one for the Braves because I don't feel there really is a position battle.
All eight spots on the field are spoken for, and the competitions that might exist are for bench spots, which were mentioned in those particular slides.
All statistics cited were current before play began on Sept. 25.
Tim Hudson (16-6, 172 IP, 3.61 ERA)
Mike Minor (10-10, 173 IP, 4,27 ERA)
Kris Medlen (9-1, 125 IP, 1.51 ERA)
Paul Maholm (12-10, 175.1 IP, 3.85 ERA)
What? How can Medlen not be listed as the Braves' top starter? He's throwing like the best pitcher on the planet!
Medlen has allowed three earned runs in September. Atlanta has won 10 straight games that he's started. During that span, Medlen is 8-0 with a 0.76 ERA.
However, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez plans to use Medlen for the one-game wild-card playoff that the team will have to play because of MLB's new postseason format.
I suppose that technically means that Medlen is the Atlanta's No.1 playoff starter. But for the purposes of a postseason series rotation, he will likely pitch in Game 3 of the divisional series on four days rest if the Braves advance from the wild-card round.
That makes Hudson, who Gonzalez was also considering for the wild-card game, the Game 1 starter for Atlanta. The guess here is that Minor will follow in Game 2 based on his outstanding September (3-0, 1.09 ERA in four starts).
Maholm finishes the rotation as the No. 4 starter, if needed. That pushes Tommy Hanson to the bullpen, where he can provide a strikeout threat in middle innings.
Craig Kimbrel (2-1, 39 SV, 58.1 IP, 1.08 ERA)
Eric O'Flaherty (3-0, 0 SV, 54.1 IP, 1.82 ERA)
Jonny Venters (5-4, 0 SV, 54.2 IP, 3.46 ERA)
Luis Avilan (0-0, 0 SV, 32 IP, 2.25 ERA)
Cristhian Martinez (5-4, 1 SV, 71.1 IP, 4.04 ERA)
Tommy Hanson (12-9, 0 SV, 163.1 IP, 4.46 ERA)
Chad Durbin (4-1, 1 SV, 59.1 IP, 3.19 ERA)
Cory Gearrin (0-1, 0 SV, 16.2 IP, 1.62 ERA)
The guess here is that Gonzalez will go with an 11-man pitching staff during the postseason. That leaves seven spots in the bullpen.
Kimbrel is arguably a NL Cy Young Award contender as a closer, racking up 16.4 strikeouts per nine innings. His spot is assured.
But several relievers have had excellent seasons behind him, giving opponents little chance to rally if they trail after the sixth inning. O'Flaherty and Venters are two of the best setup men in MLB. Either of them could fill in as closer if Kimbrel needs a rest.
Hanson will get one long-relief spot as a result of getting squeezed out of the starting rotation. As mentioned in the previous slide, he gives Atlanta a strikeout threat from the bullpen early in the game and can pitch extended innings in middle relief.
The other spot could go to Chad Durbin, who filled a long-relief role for the Braves most of the season. A 2.42 ERA in the second half and a decrease in home runs allowed probably gets him on the postseason roster. He'll provide a bridge between the starting pitcher and late-inning relief.
Another possibility is Cory Gearrin, who's struck out 19 batters in 16.1 innings. But the Braves have plenty of strikeout guys in the bullpen already. Gonzalez will likely opt for pitchers who can pitch multiple innings if the starters are chased from a game early.
Prediction: Hanson and Durbin.
CF Michael Bourn (.274/.346/.391, 9 HR, 56 RBI, 39 SB)
LF Martin Prado (.305/.361/.433, 9 HR, 66 RBI, 17 SB)
RF Jason Heyward (.271/.338/.486, 27 HR, 79 RBI, 19 SB)
3B Chipper Jones (.295/.379/.470, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 1 SB)
1B Freddie Freeman (.265/.346/.459, 21 HR, 91 RBI, 2 SB)
2B Dan Uggla (.215/.343/.384, 19 HR, 73 RBI, 3 SB)
C Brian McCann (.228/.297/.402, 20 HR, 67 RBI, 2 SB)
SS Andrelton Simmons (.292/.342/.423, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 1 SB)
Gonzalez hasn't tinkered with his lineup too much other than when the 40-year-old Jones has needed a break. Otherwise, each of the Braves hitters has held the same spot in the batting order throughout the season. Those top six hitters might as well be stamped on Gonzalez's lineup card.
Uggla had been benched due to a three-month slump. But Gonzalez never kept him out of the lineup for an extended period and Uggla has turned himself around in September. He's batted .266 with an OPS of .813.
Unfortunately, McCann is still a question mark. Since the All-Star break, he's hit .213 with a .652 OPS and only 11 extra-base hits.
Simmons will likely be the shortstop if healthy. After missing four games with a strained left shoulder, he's back in the lineup and gives the Braves their best all-around threat at shortstop. He plays outstanding defense but also has more pop than either Paul Janish or Tyler Pastornicky can supply.
David Ross (.255/.326/.447, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 1 SB)
Tyler Pastornicky (.244/.290/.329, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 2 SB)
Jose Constanza (.258/.313/.290, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 4 SB)
Reed Johnson (.291/.322/.349, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB)
Eric Hinske (.197/.275/.307, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 0 SB)
Juan Francisco (.240/.286/.443, 9 HR, 30 RBI, 1 SB)
Jeff Baker (.111/.200/.111, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 SB)
Lyle Overbay (.067/.067/.067, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB)
Ross is an absolute lock as the backup catcher to McCann. He probably won't get a start in the postseason unless McCann is truly struggling, but gives Atlanta a right-handed bat off the bench.
Though Pastornicky has primarily played shortstop, he was being converted into a utility infielder after being sent down to the minors and will likely fill that role in the playoffs. Unless Paul Janish recovers from his shoulder injury in time for the divisional series, Pastornicky is the backup at shortstop and second base.
Johnson can play all three outfield positions, and Constanza provides some pinch-running speed for later innings.
As you can see from the statistics above, there really is no competition for the final two bench spots.
The Braves would probably like to upgrade from Hinske, but there really isn't a better alternative. He gives the team an extra outfielder, reserve first baseman and left-handed bench bat. Plus, Hinske has been with Atlanta for three seasons. His role is assured.
Francisco provides a home-run threat off the bench. If Atlanta needs a guy to hit a ball deep, he's the one.
Baker and Overbay are non-factors. They've been bench depth to get through a long season.
Prediction: Hinske and Francisco, basically uncontested.
Tim Hudson (R)
Mike Minor (L)
Kris Medlen (R)
Paul Maholm (L)
Tommy Hanson (R)
Craig Kimbrel (R)
Eric O'Flaherty (L)
Jonny Venters (L)
Cristhian Martinez (R)
Luis Avilan (R)
Chad Durbin (R)
Follow @iancass on Twitter