With just a month remaining in the regular season, the Braves currently lead the National League East by three games, despite a small run of inconsistency among the starting rotation. The staff performed especially poorly at SunTrust Park recently, which naturally raises some concern as to how the club would fare should the playoffs begin today. Looking ahead, and taking into account the upcoming influx of talent with the September roster expansion, which starting pitchers would comprise the Atlanta Braves playoff rotation?
In this hypothetical, the Braves would win the division, therefore guaranteeing themselves three playoff games, but a mixture of four starters in a playoff series seems reasonable. Do the Braves have four starters that they could legitimately feel comfortable running out there in a playoff game? Probably not, but that is hardly uncommon come October. They do, however, have two clear front-runners who have pitched well down the stretch in Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman, but which one gets the ball in game one?
GAME 1: Mike Foltynewicz
2018 Statistics: 10-9, 2.80 ERA, 174 K, 151.0 IP, .205 BAA
Advanced: 3.38 FIP, 143 ERA+, 3.22 RA9
This is a toss-up, with Gausman being nearly unhittable since coming over to Atlanta at the Trade Deadline, but Foltynewicz has been solid for the majority of the season despite a tough stretch in late July. Those numbers have been greatly improved in August, and while the schedule has been favorable for the better part of the month, Foltynewicz made his best start of that stretch against a hot-hitting Rockies team that currently sits squarely in the thick of the playoff race.
Maybe the most important development for Foltynewicz this season has been an improvement with runners on base, when he has allowed opponents to bat just .209. A visible change in demeanor is no longer such a profound issue for Folty, and while he is still subject to the occasional outburst, with increased poise and fortitude, the Braves have unlocked an All-Star caliber talent with plus stuff. Those traits make Foltynewicz the ideal starter for a Game One.
GAME 2: Kevin Gausman
2018 (Braves) Statistics: 4-1, 1.69 ERA, 22 K, 32.0 IP, .184 BAA
Advanced: 2.94 FIP, 240 ERA+, 1.69 RA9
Kevin Gausman has been nothing short of incredible since arriving in Atlanta at the Trade Deadline, as the numbers above indicate. Gausman has stabilized the Atlanta rotation and shed some light on just how poorly he was being managed in Baltimore, with the simple adjustment of pitching exclusively from the stretch combined with a highly superior defense in Atlanta turning Gausman into an ace over the last month. Whether this run of success can continue remains to be seen, but thus far Gausman has been one of the best deadline acquisitions in baseball.
The most concerning thing about Gausman in a playoff setting, despite his incredible success as a Brave, would be his low strikeout numbers. Teams that keep the ball in play can be dangerous due to the volatility of each individual game with regards to BABIP. As the Rockies showed in Atlanta, not all hits are created equal, and soft contact still has the capability to change a game. For this reason, Gausman would be the number two starter in a playoff series, but with the caveat that his effectiveness in limiting hard contact as a Brave may be sustainable regardless of format.
GAME 3: Anibal Sanchez
2018 Statistics: 6-5, 3.05 ERA, 100 K, 103.1 IP, .213 BAA
Advanced: 3.87 FIP, 132 ERA+, 3.40 RA9
If someone told you in Spring Training that Anibal Sanchez would be the most deserving candidate to start a Braves playoff game in 2018, your reaction likely would have ranged from laughter to disbelief or maybe anger, but here we are. Sanchez was an under-the-radar pickup for the Braves in the offseason, but he has been a valuable member of the rotation this season, and with the recent struggles of other starters (more on that in a moment), Sanchez may just take the ball in a Game Three.
GAME 4: Julio Teheran
2018 Statistics: 9-7, 4.18 ERA, 134 K, 146.1 IP, .203 BAA
Advanced: 5.00 FIP, 96 ERA+, 4.31 RA9
Teheran has hardly been a model of consistency this season, and a case could be made for Sean Newcomb to get the ball in this game (or Game Three) but with his recent struggles, Teheran is the choice here. Armed with an 87 MPH fastball, a propensity to give up home runs, and an odd inability to pitch in his home ballpark, Teheran fits the description of a guy more likely to be designated for assignment than to make a playoff start, but somehow he is the most reliable candidate after posting a solid string of starts in August.
In a hypothetical Game Five, the Braves would likely turn to Mike Foltynewicz to make another start, rather than give the ball to Sean Newcomb. Earlier in the season, like as recently as August 7, Newcomb looked to be the Braves number two starter, but he has looked lost since despite six shutout innings against the two starts ago. Newcomb may be tiring, and a DL stint may be forthcoming if some change is not evident in his next start, but for now Newcomb looks to be struggling on multiple fronts. The left-hander will always be plagued by an inability to find the strike zone at times, but his lack of command in the zone has allowed teams to tee off recently. While a month is plenty of time to regain some consistency and rebuild confidence, as the opposite was true in the month of August, Newcomb will need to make major strides if he is to inspire enough confidence to be given a postseason start.
This is my hypothetical playoff rotation, what is yours?