Freddie Freeman celebrates with teammates at home plate after his walk-off home run sent the Atlanta Braves to the 2012 MLB playoffs.
"No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it." -H.E. Luccock
These words ring true in Major League Baseball, especially during the final weeks of the regular season. Those who cheer for teams lurking in the shadow of the playoffs hope to experience firsthand the sweet music of a club working together.
The ultimate goal of teamwork is to succeed as a unit, to make the playoffs, to win a championship. The biggest challenge of fielding a World Series champion team, however, is finding 25 men play to the same beat.
In August 2011, the men from Atlanta appeared to have it all figured out. With an 8.5-game lead, the Braves seemed to be waltzing their way into the playoffs. Injuries and fatigue wore them down, however, and they fell out of first place in the wild-card standings to the St. Louis Cardinals on the final day of the season.
A year later, third baseman Chipper Jones and his crew took care of business and officially clinched a playoff berth. The million-dollar question now is this: Who should make up the 25-man playoff roster for Atlanta?
There are plenty of guarantees on the team. Brian McCann and David Ross are obvious picks to be behind the plate. Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla and Chipper will man their stations at first, second and third base, respectively. The primary outfielders will be present—those being Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and Jason Heyward.
Some position players coming off the bench are apparent locks as well. Juan Francisco turned up his intensity in the second half of the season and was a solid backup to the retiring Jones.
Reed Johnson, who was acquired from the Chicago Cubs right before the non-waiver trade deadline, plays every outfield position and has been a weapon late in games, boasting a .415 batting average as a pinch-hitter this season.
The signing of Lyle Overbay to a minor league contract threatens Eric Hinske's role as the backup first baseman, but Hinske's versatility as additional outfielder and his playoff experience keep him on the 25-man roster.
What about the starting shortstop? Paul Janish was nothing short of sensational in the field. However, his batting average flirted with the Mendoza Line after his acquisition, and he also recently suffered a dislocated shoulder.
Rookie Andrelton Simmons came off the disabled list in mid-September, improving the back end of the batting order. He also possesses the same reliability as Janish with his glove, so the Braves' defense would not suffer with Simmons on the roster.
The final position player on the roster is likely between Janish and Tyler Pastornicky, who began the season as the everyday shortstop. Both players are viable options, but there is one thing that Atlanta lacks on the bench: speed.
Dave Roberts proved what speed can do for the Red Sox in their great comeback in the 2004 American League Championship Series against rival Yankees. Pastornicky should secure the last seat on the bench.
As for the starting pitchers, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Paul Maholm are locks. The last spot in the rotation was up for grabs at one time, but the obvious choice is Kris Medlen.
Coming off of a Tommy John surgery and spending the early part of the year in the bullpen, Medlen has not only impressed in his outings, he has also flat-out dominated the opposition with a simple "go out and throw strikes" approach.
Mike Minor has immensely improved in the second half of the season and is a great option should a starter get injured; he could otherwise serve as a long reliever.
Although not overpowering, Cristhian Martinez consistently eats innings and provides manager Fredi Gonzalez with a right-handed long relief option alongside the left-handed Minor.
Craig Kimbrel, Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters—the big three of the Braves bullpen—will unquestionably suit up for the postseason. Chad Durbin has been a hidden gem for the Atlanta after a horrific April.
The final two spots on the roster likely come down to five pitchers. The only southpaw in this bunch is Luis Avilan: He is a left-handed specialist in the middle innings against left-handed batters before the big three come into the game to close it out.
This leaves Peter Moylan, Randall Delgado, Miguel Batista and Cory Gearrin vying for the last position.
Moylan recently made his return to the show after recovering from a shoulder injury, and Delgado was not dazzling in any way, even if he is supposed to be a pitcher of the future.
Miguel Batista may be a nice story at age 41, but he does not provide anything different from what Martinez gives the Braves.
Gearrin, the side-armer from Tennessee, has a 1.62 ERA in almost 17 innings of work to date this season. He's earned the praise of Fredi Gonzalez, who said in an interview with MLB.com, "Gearrin's done a good job when he's been up here. I think we'll see him again."
It may be a sign of things to come for the Braves. This season, they played the right notes to find themselves in the playoffs and are in charge of writing their own history, a new symphony.
They could call it "Larry Wayne's Last."
Kinda has a ring to it, doesn't it?