Barring a massive collapse, the Braves are going to the playoffs. They've got an eight and a half game lead on the Carindals, and a nine game lead over the Giants in the NL wild card race, and neither of those teams is playing great ball right now. The team has a 97.7% of going to the playoffs, the fourth highest percentage in baseball. So yeah, it's looking pretty likely that this team will be playing ball in October.
When postseason ball comes along, the need to set a postseason roster takes place. I'm going to break this down into a few chunks: the starters, the bench, the starting pitchers, and the bullpen. As we've hit September 1st, there will be no more acquisitions taking place to beef up the roster. The Braves are going to go to war with what they have in the majors and minors right now.
First, the starters. These eight guys are set in stone to be the starters come October, barring injury: Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Alex Gonzalez, Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and Jason Heyward. We are not busting down any doors on this one.
Going to the bench, there are a couple more guys who are locks: Eric Hinske, Brooks Conrad, and David Ross. That leaves two (or three, depending on how the bullepn shakes out) roster spots left for the bench.
The nominees for these bench spots are Julio Lugo, Jack Wilson, Matt Diaz, Jose Constanza, and a bunch of guys in AAA on the 40-man, like Brandon Hicks, Matt Young, Wilkin Ramirez, and JC Boscan. We can immediately eliminate the minor leaguers, since the Braves solidified their bench yesterday with the acquisitions of Diaz and Wilson. Both of those guys appear to be locks on the roster too, since they were acquired for that sole purpose. If the Braves are going to stick with a five man bench, then everything is set with those five. But what if the team decides to drop a starting pitcher in the first round, and go with a six man bench? If that happens, Constanza is the immediate choice due to his speed. I don't think Lugo has a prayer at making the postseason roster after the trade for Wilson, unless he struggles mightily after being brought in.
The starting rotation and bullpen are a whole different story. With Tommy Hanson out for the foreseeable future, the Braves have five starters for three spots in the rotation during the divisional playoffs. The immediate guess is that the rotation for the first round will be Brandon Beachy, Tim Hudson, and Mike Minor. Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens have been absolutely horrible during the month of August, but Lowe's start last night gives the squad a glimmer of hope that he could pull off a September like he did last year in helping carry the team into the playoffs. But if Lowe has a solid month, who gets the boot? My immediate guess would be Minor. He's been much better in four August starts, despite what that slightly disappointing 4.03 ERA looks like. In August, Minor allowed just one home run, walked four, and struck out 26. He's been fine, and is pitching much better than Jurrjens (6.17 ERA, four HR, 11 BB, six K in August) and Lowe (4.50 ERA, four HR, 13 BB, 31 K in August, though he's got a 1.50 ERA in his last three starts). Beachy and Hudson appear to be locks with as well as they've pitched this season, especially lately.
And now, the interesting part of things....the bullpen. The holy trinity (Kimbrel, Venters, O'Flaherty) are lead pipe locks. Arodys Vizcaino will join them as well. What about Scott Linebrink? He had a pair of rough outings in his return from the DL two weeks ago, but has thrown 2 1/3 scoreless in his last three appearances (despite allowing five baserunners). Plus, he's a veteran. Fredi loves veterans. If George Sherrill is able to pitch (he was placed on the DL yesterday to make room for Diaz), then he would be another lock for his shutdown ability towards lefties. That leaves us with one open spot. Cristhian Martinez is currently taking up that spot in the pen, but with a starter or two in the bullpen, there's no need for a long reliever. I don't think he'll end up making the cut. Martinez got a lot of use in August and struggled, allowing seven earned in 14 innings, but he did walk only one hitter while striking out a batter per inning.
But there's another interesting option currently in Gwinnett: fan favorite Peter Moylan. Moylan will finish up his rehab and join the Braves late next week, and has had a reputation over his career as a ground ball machine. I don't see any way that Moylan doesn't make the roster if he's healthy, despite him not pitching in the majors since the beginning of April. I'd like to see what he can do in the majors before handing him a spot, though. He's been fine during rehab in AAA, but there is a world of difference between Gwinnett and Atlanta. If his tendency to walk lefties pops up again this month, it might be not the best idea to roll with Moylan on the postseason roster. Someone like Anthony Varvaro could be a better bet due to his insane strikeout ability. He's also got a problem with walks though. I don't see either Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado making the postseason roster, just because it seems like overkill to thrust a rookie into the shark tank that is a playoff bullpen when neither has any experience relieving during their careers.
The only real questions in my mind come down to the pitching staff, notably what the Braves want to do with their rotation and that final bullpen slot. Here's hoping that the team doesn't go with reputation over results. There's no reason for Jair Jurrjens to be starting a playoff game if he continues to pitch this poorly. I could see making a case for Derek Lowe, though. And handing a playoff roster spot to Moylan based on the fact that he's Peter Moylan...yeah, that could be a little sketchy if he's still struggling against left-handed hitters upon getting called up. I guess we'll find out what's going to happen in a little less than a month.