This Friday, the Braves will host the inaugural National League Wild Card Game*. Their opponent will presumably be the Cardinals, although the Dodgers still have an outside chance for the second spot. The Wild Card Game counts as its own round for the purposes of roster construction, which opens up a wealth of strategic options that no team has had to consider before.
* I'm assuming for the purposes of this post that the Braves won't defy the odds and win the NL East title.
Below, I offer my ideal 25-man roster for the Wild Card Game, as well as a few suggestions for how Fredi Gonzalez can best utilize the available players to maximize the team's chances of winning. This roster is constructed specifically to face the Cardinals and their 2 possible starters for the game, Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn.
- OF: Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, Jason Heyward
- IF: Chipper Jones, Andrelton Simmons, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman
- C: Brian McCann or David Ross
- SP: Kris Medlen
The outfield and infield are pretty obvious here. Assuming everyone's healthy, those 7 guys are no-brainers.
If the Cardinals start Lynn (who'd be pitching on normal rest), I'd give the edge to McCann. Lynn has a huge platoon split: a minuscule 2.09 FIP against RH hitters, but a terrible 4.88 FIP against LH hitters. So assuming McCann is physically up to par, I'd start him. If the Cards start Lohse (5 days rest), I would opt for Ross instead. Lohse has a much smaller career platoon split (4.12 FIP vs. LHH, 4.50 FIP vs. RHH), including no split at all the past two seasons, and Ross has no split to speak of either.
As for Medlen on the mound, I don't see how you can really argue that call (which the Braves have already basically made official). When a guy has a 0.97 ERA as a starter across 12 starts, all of them Braves wins... how could you choose anyone else? Dave Cameron's "start Kimbrel" idea is intriguing, but frankly unnecessary. A team with no real ace would do well to consider such a plan, though.
- RHPs: Craig Kimbrel, Cristhian Martinez, Chad Durbin, Cory Gearrin, Tim Hudson
- LHPs: Eric O'Flaherty, Luis Avilan, Jonny Venters, Mike Minor
Kimbrel, Martinez, Durbin, O'Flaherty, and Avilan are pretty self-explanatory. Venters kind of scares me, but he's pitched well in his last 6 outings (7.2 scoreless IP), so he makes it. Gearrin is in there as a ROOGY; since the Cardinals' best hitters are nearly all right-handed (Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, David Freese, Matt Holliday), the Braves can definitely use him.
Here's my rationale for the two starting pitchers on the list. They'll both be pitching on extra rest (I'm assuming Hudson doesn't actually start the season finale). Plus, they've been clearly the 2nd and 3rd best starters the past 2 months. Hudson, since he's right-handed and so good at inducing grounders, will be particularly helpful to have around.
I'd prefer to limit Hudson's and Minor's exposure in the WC game, so they can be fresh for the NLDS. However, this is an "all hands on deck" situation; you can't be too shy about using the guys who give you the best chance of winning.
I would also be sure to let all the guys know that they need to be ready at any time; regular-season roles have to go out the window for this one. If there is a critical situation at any point in the game, Kimbrel has to be the first guy out of the 'pen. He's the best reliever in baseball; you can't put the season on anyone else's shoulders until he's had his crack at it.
- Backup Catchers: Ross/McCann, J.C. Boscan
- Other Reserves: Juan Francisco, Reed Johnson, Eric Hinske, Jose Constanza, Tyler Pastornicky
I've included J.C. Boscan for 2 reasons: 1) to free the Braves to pinch-run for Ross & McCann in any high-leverage situation, and 2) for some classic Francisco Cabrera mojo.
Johnson and Francisco are the obvious choices for the top RH and LH pinch-hitters. They should only hit against opposite-handed pitchers if at all possible, and should be saved for high-leverage spots.
Hinske has had an awful season, but honestly the Braves don't have many options from the left side, so he makes it in the hope that he can recreate his NLDS Game 3 magic from 2 years ago. Constanza is the other left-handed option; he's also a good pinch-running possibility.
The lefty backups are going to be crucial, since the Cardinals' left-handed pitching options are limited to basically Marc Rzepczynski (who's just OK), Jaime Garcia (a starter on 3 days' rest), and Sam Freeman (a rookie with a 5.68 ERA). Their best pitchers are all righties.
The last spot goes to Pastornicky based on his ability to play the middle infield and the fact that he'd be a decent pinch-running option. He's basically taking Paul Janish's spot here.
Well, that's what I would do if I were Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez. What does everyone else think?