Current Status: 87-57; 12-game division lead; best record in NL
Predicted Regular-Season Result: NL East division winner; second-best record in NL
Predicted NLDS Matchup: Pirates vs. Braves
1 Jason Heyward, RF
2 Justin Upton, LF
3 Freddie Freeman, 1B
4 Chris Johnson, 3B
5 Brian McCann, C
6 Dan Uggla, 2B
7 Jordan Schafer, CF (vs. RHP)
8 Andrelton Simmons, SS
Evan Gattis, C/1B/OF
Gerald Laird, C
Elliot Johnson, IF
Reed Johnson, OF
B.J. Upton, OF (vs. LHP)
Projected Starting Rotation
1 Julio Teheran, RHP
2 Mike Minor, LHP
3 Kris Medlen, RHP
4 Paul Maholm, LHP
CL Craig Kimbrel, RHP
SU Jordan Walden, RHP
SU Scott Downs, LHP
MID David Carpenter, RHP
MID Luis Avilan, LHP
MID Anthony Varvaro, RHP
MID Alex Wood, LHP
LR Luis Ayala, RHP
Center fielder B.J. Upton, the team's lone postseason veteran, has a history of success with an .879 OPS and seven homers in 25 playoff games while with Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, the 29-year-old has had an awful season in his Atlanta debut and might be relegated to his current platoon role, where he'd play on a very limited basis with only one projected lefty starter—Francisco Liriano of the Pittsburgh Pirates—on either of their three likely potential NLDS opponents.
Upton would appear to have a better chance of making an impact if the Braves met up with the Dodgers, who feature a pair of lefty starters—Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu—in the NLCS. He's also struggled against lefties this season (.461 OPS), though, so it's hard to count on any production even if he is in the lineup.
As is the case with brother Justin, who has run very hot and very cold all season long, Upton has the potential to carry the team over the course of a series or two. He'd certainly make up for his regular-season struggles if he came up big in the playoffs.
The heavy dose of likely right-handed pitching opponents fares well overall for Atlanta with left-handed hitters Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann leading the way. Third baseman Chris Johnson is having his best season as a pro, and shortstop Andrelton Simmons has come up big in the second half (.783 OPS) after a mediocre start to the season.
The Braves are hoping to have Heyward, who is recovering from a fractured jaw, back for the postseason. If they get the guy who had a .959 OPS and six homers in the second half as opposed to the first-half version (.695 OPS), the lineup could be tough to stop.
Rookie Evan Gattis is a potential X-factor with his ability to provide power coming off the bench late in the game. After bursting onto the scene with an .893 OPS and 14 homers through mid-June, the 27-year-old landed on the disabled list with a strained oblique and then struggled to get back on track upon his return.
He's heating up again, though, with seven hits in his past 21 at-bats, including three homers and two doubles.
The Game 1 pitching nod will likely go to 25-year-old lefty Mike Minor (pictured; 3.06 ERA in 28 starts) or 22-year-old rookie Julio Teheran (3.05 ERA in 27 starts), neither of whom has a postseason appearance to his credit. Both will also have compiled career highs in innings pitched by the time they take the mound in October.
Nevertheless, they are both having excellent seasons and should keep the games close enough where a very strong bullpen could make an impact. Kris Medlen, who has a 2.77 ERA over his past 55.1 innings, figures to make the Game 3 start while Paul Maholm would be the leading candidate should they need a fourth starter.
Of the eight projected relievers, none has an ERA over 3.00. Craig Kimbrel (0.91 ERA, 46 saves, 87 K in 59.2 IP) is one of the most dominating closers in the game and former Los Angeles Angels closer Jordan Walden has done a solid job as one of his primary setup men. Having three reliable lefties in the group should also come in handy with potential matchups against the likes of lefty sluggers Pedro Alvarez, Jay Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo, Adrian Gonzalez and Joey Votto.
While it's tough to see the Braves making a run deep into the playoffs without a clear-cut ace starter to lean on, the ability of the bullpen to shut down opponents after the sixth inning gives them a fighting chance. The offense has to show up, though, or this team probably won't advance past the NLDS.
If things click on all cylinders, they are talented enough to roll through the playoffs despite the lack of playoff experience throughout the roster. It also wouldn't be much of a surprise to see their inconsistent offense get completely shut down and rolled out of the playoffs in three or four games.