September is right around the corner and we are 32 games away from the 2018 regular season coming to a close. The National League East has become a two-team race with the Braves sitting three games ahead of the Phillies, with the Nationals drifting further behind, and the Mets and Marlins already retired to the clubhouse.
All of the current projection systems put the Braves between 67% and 75% at making the playoffs, so it’s time to start throwing some names against the wall and seeing what sticks in regards to a potential playoff roster. The majority of the spots are a given, but there’s still a lot of question marks on the fringes which need to be hashed out.
We are still a couple days away from roster pieces being locked in by the September 1st deadline, but there hasn’t been a ton of rumblings lately that point towards a big move being on the horizon.
So where do we stand right now?
Anibal Sanchez (Possibly Julio Teheran?)
We have a pretty good idea how the post-season rotation is going to look. Folty, Newk, and Gaus are guarantees. Sanchez should be the fourth man given how he has performed so far this season, but given this is the Braves, I wouldn’t be so quick to rule out Teheran finding a way in.
Julio Teheran (or Anibal Sanchez)
The Braves have ridden a thirteen man staff the majority of the regular season, and I doubt it will change come October. That means there are currently three open bullpen spots between a host of arms. Considering the number of names still on the disabled list, things could certainly get interesting.
As of right now, Minter/Brach/Winkler are your 7th to 9th inning guys, Venters is your LH specialist, Biddle is the middle reliever, and either Teheran or Sanchez is the first guy in if your starter struggles.
Among the three open spots, you have to imagine another LH would be added since Venters and Biddle are the only two if Minter is your closer, you’d expect another to bridge the gap if you get five innings from your starter to the backend guys, and likely someone to just eat innings if a game gets away.
The real wildcard for the bullpen right now is Arodys Vizcaino. He hasn’t started throwing competitively yet, and unlike Peter Moylan and Brandon McCarthy hasn’t started a rehab assignment or even been assigned anywhere yet. If he’s able to come back strong and log enough innings for Brian Snitker to be comfortable with him, one of those three remaining spots should easily be his. That would also free up Minter as a LH arm for late-inning situations if he isn’t locked in as the only closer, which could lessen having to carry one of Sam Freeman, Max Fried, or Luiz Gohara.
If Vizcaino isn’t able to take one of those remaining spots, that means one of the lefties just mentioned (Freeman, Fried, Gohara) gets carried, and two other spots remain open. Of those, Luke Jackson and Peter Moylan would probably be the front runners given how they have been used so far this season.
The other spot would then be an open competition between Shane Carle (who is expected to start a rehab assignment this week) and either Brandon McCarthy or one of the younger arms in Chad Sobotka, Touki Toussaint, and Bryse Wilson.
I could see Toussaint or Wilson logging a spot start or two down the stretch in order to stretch out the starting rotation and setup key matchups in the two series with the Phillies, but would really be surprised if either made the playoff roster given Snitker’s managerial style and veteran preference. As much as we may want to see Touki or Bryse in a meaningful playoff scenario, I doubt it happens.
Not really much going on here. The only variable in play would be whether or not the Braves decide to go with the infamous postseason third catcher scenario. In order to make that happen, however, that would mean someone would need to be acquired, or your waste a critical postseason roster spot on someone like Chris Stewart, assuming he ends up properly outrighted to AAA this week.
A true darkhorse could Alex Jackson, as he seems to maybe have turned the corner again after getting promoted to Gwinnett last month. He’s a name to keep an eye on in regards to the 40-man roster after the season, as he’s Rule 5 eligible this winter, but I would highly doubt that addition would be made before November. Keep him in the very back of your mind as we close-in on September call-ups, but don’t expect anything crazy. If an arm like Toussaint isn’t good enough to make a post-season roster right out of the gate, an up-and-down bat like Ajax isn’t gonna be there either.
Not a lot of debate here, either.
The only real variable is how the bench shakes itself out. Culberson is the utility guy who is able to play the majority of the IF and OF positions, so he’s going to be the crucial guy in every game off the bench, as he’s going to be the go-to bat in just about any high leverage situation.
The question then becomes who and what gets carried in the final bench position(s).
I’ll continue the thought from above here, as it’s just as relevant to the outfield as the infield. The Braves big question mark the majority of the season, at least in terms of who and what has been the bench and positional depth. I’m assuming Duvall makes the postseason roster, but given the struggles he has had over the past month, it could be a tough inclusion if there is anyone added with a comparable skillset between now and September 1st. He’s above-average defensively and can carry a very productive bat, but we have seen far from that thus far.
With the pitching staff, there has always been an abundance of arms, it’s just been a matter of figuring out where the pieces fit. With the bench, it hasn’t been nearly as easy simply because the pieces just haven’t been there, to begin with. Currently, the 40-man roster is in rough shape. Recently recalled Rio Ruiz seems like he may have an audition for a place off the bench in October, as he’s at least a LH bat with a touch of ML experience the past two years. Dustin Peterson and Michael Reed are your other two options currently available, and between them, they barely carry a month of ML service time, and neither has a true above-average tool between them. Both guys are fringe ML players in June and July, and neither warrants taking an open roster spot in October.
The likely wildcard offensively is, sadly, Ryan Flaherty. That could get difficult, however, since he was designated for assignment and lost his spot on the 40-man roster last week so Bryse Wilson could be added. I would really hope the necessary hoops needed to be jumped through in order to secure another 40m spot for Flaherty would eliminate this from contention, but nothing would surprise me at this point.
Of course, the option we would all like to see here is Austin Riley, but he still sits on the outside looking in. There is a pending crunch on the 40-man roster, so just like with Jackson, even sneaking him in could end up being difficult. Peterson and Reed would likely be the first two names the Braves attempt to outright, but you could also see a non-commodity arm like Wes Parsons or Ricardo Sanchez dropped if Riley is seen as a necessity off the bench going forward.
There you have it. As it stands on August 27, 21 of 25 potential postseason roster spots are almost a lock — add in Vizcaino and that number becomes 22.
The Braves have a ton of options to fill two potential pitching spots, and not so much there to fill one positional spot.
Things could get a little interesting over the next 32 games.