Predicting Atlanta Braves' Full 2013 Postseason Roster
With the National League Division Series starting Thursday, October 3, Fredi Gonzalez's mind is likely occupied by one thought: his 25-man postseason roster.
Most of Atlanta's roster spots are pretty obvious; it's the lineups that need the most tinkering.
However, questions still loom. Who takes the hill for Game 4? How many pitchers will the Braves carry? Is Reed Johnson healthy enough?
Here's who I believe makes the postseason roster.
Starter: Brian McCann
Backup: Gerald Laird
No explanation should be necessary here. Brian McCann is the team's leader and one of the best catchers in the game, and Gerald Laird is a more-than-capable backup should McCann get injured or need a rest.
And before you ask: no, I don't want Evan Gattis catching this postseason, when defense matters more than ever. He's an emergency catcher and nothing more.
Starters: Freddie Freeman, Elliot Johnson, Chris Johnson, Andrelton Simmons
Backups: Dan Uggla, Paul Janish
Again, these are pretty obvious choices considering the Braves are only carrying six infielders, and Paul Janish is the only player on the roster other than Andrelton Simmons that can play an above-average shortstop.
The question here is what Atlanta does with Dan Uggla. Elliot Johnson hasn't been lighting the world on fire with his bat, but his glove at second, speed on the basepaths and switch-hitting ability will be major assets for the Braves in the postseason. I think he gets the starting gig.
Starters: Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis (tentative)
Backups: B.J. Upton, Jordan Schafer, Reed Johnson
Braves fans, meet Jason Heyward, the center fielder for your Atlanta Braves this postseason.
With B.J. Upton struggling mightily the entire 2013 campaign (and no, Atlanta is not going to keep its 75.25MM center fielder off the playoff roster) and Jordan Schafer not faring much better these days, Evan Gattis has become the outfielder most likely to win a starting gig.
Certainly Upton will have a chance to earn his spot back should he catch fire, but until then Atlanta has to go with the hot hand. In this case, it's Gattis.
Assuming he is healthy when the postseason rolls around, I'm giving Reed Johnson the sixth outfield spot and probable final spot on the 25-man roster. His versatility and pinch-hitting chops are simply too valuable to leave off a roster starting a .287 OBP in left field (Gattis).
Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Paul Maholm
Two months ago, it seemed as if Kris Medlen was fighting for a spot in the playoff rotation. Now, he's slated to pitch Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
In case you haven't noticed, he's been on a tear recently, spinning a 1.86 ERA in his last 58.0 innings, striking out 48 and walking 10, via Baseball-Reference.
Mike Minor and Julio Teheran have also been quietly excellent. Atlanta's top three starters, although young, can match up against almost anyone in baseball.
Perhaps the most pressing question for the Braves leading into the postseason is whether Atlanta goes with Paul Maholm or Freddy Garcia in Game 4. Recent success would lend credence to Freddy Garcia, who has a 1.65 ERA in 27.1 innings pitched for Atlanta.
However, I'll take my chances with Maholm. He makes me nervous, but he's durable and is a pretty sure bet to get through six innings, one way or another. He also has a much higher ceiling than Garcia; should he get hot, he can take this Braves rotation from good to great.
Craig Kimbrel, Alex Wood, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, Luis Avilan, Scott Downs, Anthony Varvaro
Even without Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty, Atlanta's bullpen is its biggest asset (other than perhaps the greatest defensive player in baseball).
With Greg Holland and the Kansas City Royals eliminated, Craig Kimbrel has no peer in the postseason. David Carpenter and Jordan Walden give the Braves two power righties to use at their disposal at any time during the game, while Luis Avilan and Scott Downs are lights-out against lefties.
Atlanta's secret weapon, though, comes in the form of an innings-eating two-headed monster: Alex Wood and Anthony Varvaro. Varvaro was the long man in the Braves 'pen this season and was phenomenal in spite of a low strikeout total.
Wood on the other hand, was in the rotation as recently as two weeks ago and was moved to the bullpen in order to save his arm and increase his effectiveness. Wood could very well be Atlanta's most valuable pitcher this postseason, as he possesses the ability to go multiple innings, strike hitters out at will and even assume control of the No. 4 starter's job should Maholm prove incapable.