5 Questions Facing the Atlanta Braves in the Postseason
Be excited Braves fans, the postseason has finally arrived.
The Dodgers look to be a formidable team with a strong starting rotation highlighted by Cy Young favorite Clayton Kershaw to go with a potent lineup.
However, the Braves beat the Dodgers five of seven games in the regular season and hold the home-field advantage, where the Braves are a majors-best 56-25 this season.
Despite all the excitement surrounding this postseason, there are still some lingering questions that will be answered in a few days.
Here's a look at those questions as well as a best guess as to how manager Fredi Gonzalez will go about answering those.
1. Who Starts in Outfield?
The options for outfield include moving Jason Heyward to center and starting Evan Gattis in left field or leaving Heyward in right field and starting B.J. Upton or Jordan Schafer.
The downside to starting Gattis in left is the obvious defensive risk. He simply does not have the range or arm of Upton or Schafer.
It also weakens the bench for pinch-hitting situations, which is something Gattis thrived at in 2013 with six hits (four home runs) in 10 at-bats.
However, Upton and Schafer have not done much of anything at the plate in recent weeks.
From Sept. 4 to the end of the season, the two combined for five hits in 73 at-bats—that's a .068 batting average for those scoring at home.
Considering Upton and Schafer received just three combined starts in the final week of the season gives reason to believe Gonzalez is willing to risk the defensive deficiencies of Gattis in the outfield for the trade off at the plate.
2. Does Dan Uggla Start?
The Braves enter the postseason with some less than stellar options at second base.
Dan Uggla has hit .122 with two RBI and 21 strikeouts in 20 games in September.
Meanwhile, journeyman Elliot Johnson has hit .277 in September with seven RBI, but has just a career .317 OBP and .676 OPS.
Uggla has been terrible down the stretch but does walk a lot and could change a game with one swing.
However, there is no denying a .122 September average as well as his average defense—at best.
Uggla has also seen his playing time reduce in recent weeks, making Johnson the likely starter at second base and putting over $130 million on the bench.
3. Who Pitches Game 4?
Gonzalez could change his mind, but he seems content on going with a four-man rotation in the first series.
Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran will pitch the first three games, but it's still unknown who will start in game 4.
With Alex Wood in the bullpen, he could start either Freddy Garcia or Paul Maholm.
Maholm pitched against the Dodgers twice this season, allowing a total of five runs (three earned) while striking out six batters in 13.1 innings.
Meanwhile, Garcia is riding the hot hand as he put together a 1.65 ERA with 20 strikeouts in six appearances (three starts) in September.
Out of the hitters to face Garcia, only Hanley Ramirez has an average over .300 (.375) on the Dodgers.
Considering Maholm has a 4.63 ERA in September, look for Gonzalez to ride the hot hand in Garcia if the series gets to that point.
4. Will Jordan Walden Make the Roster?
Jordan Walden has battled a groin injury, which has led to major struggles in sparse appearances in September (16.20 ERA in four appearances).
He made an appearance for the first time since Sept. 17 on Saturday and pitched 0.2 innings, allowing one earned run while striking out two batters.
While Walden showed signs of rust, there's no denying he was a key part of the bullpen for the majority of the 2013 season.
Walden ranks second with 14 holds and a 10.34 K/9 ratio (among pitchers with more than 40 innings).
It is risky either way, but I'm guessing Walden will be on the roster.
The value of a strikeout increases in the playoffs as it takes away the chances of anything bad happening.
And Walden can do that with his mid-90s fastball and sharp breaking ball.
5. Who Sets Up Craig Kimbrel?
This could end up as being a position by committee, but with Walden a question mark, so too is the primary set-up man to closer Craig Kimbrel.
It seems unlikely that Gonzalez would throw Walden into that role just coming back from his groin injury.
David Carpenter looks to be the leader in the clubhouse with a 1.78 ERA, 12 holds and 74 strikeouts thanks to an elite fastball that rivals Kimbrel's.
However, left-handers Luis Avilan and Alex Wood could also find themselves in that position.
Once again, this job could be filled by all of the above but look for Carpenter to get the first look.
All statistics according to Baseball Reference.
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