Brian Snitker had a distinct approach tonight with the Braves up 9.5 games in the division: play the players who are competing for spots on the playoff roster. And I’d expect that to continue for the remainder of this series, especially since Washington fell in Minnesota tonight, shrinking the Braves magic number to nine despite the close loss at the hands of the Phillies.
The stars still played, but Johan Camargo started in right, and Austin Riley got the nod in left with Francisco Cervelli behind the plate.
Camargo responded well to his demotion, and his game is reaping the benefits in his return. He hit a ridiculous .483 in his time with the Stripers (14 games) with a .690 slugging percentage, two home runs, six doubles, and 15 RBIs. The Braves called him back up when the rosters expanded on September 1st and have used him seven times as a pinch-hitter, collecting three hits – one being a double and one being a home-run.
His good fortune continued tonight against Jason Vargas and the rest of the Phillies pitching staff. Camargo barely missed going yard in his first at-bat, smashing a ball off the wall in deep right-center field. Then in the eighth, with the Braves down two runs, he cut the lead in half with a solo shot, finishing the night 2-3 with a double, homer, and a walk.
I’ve stuck by Camargo all season, and he hasn’t made me look very bright, but perhaps he’s finally coming around for good when it matters most. Kevin Seitzer said he has noticed some things in his approach and swing that have made the difference. If this continues, there is no way Snitker can keep him off the playoff roster. He might be the best bench-bat the Braves have, and his defensive versatility is also a plus.
The same cannot be said for Austin Riley, who has continued to scuffle since coming back to Atlanta. He’s yet to pick up a hit in eight at-bats and has struck out six times. The sample size is small, but it is the approach that makes me wonder if he can be trusted come October. Dating back to July 2nd, Riley is hitting .152 with 38 strikeouts in 79 at-bats. Snitker is going to give him several starts down the stretch in an attempt to get him out of this funk, but it’s becoming more-and-more likely we don’t see the guy who tore up the MLB in May and June, which means it will be challenging to justify putting him on the playoff roster.
Snitker didn’t just give the positional players opportunities tonight; he also played the relievers that might be battling it out for the final bullpen spot. Darren O’Day came in, albeit briefly, retiring the only batter he faced on two pitches. A.J. Minter relieved him. Why? I’m not sure I can answer that. There is no way he should still be considered for a role in the playoffs. Fittingly, Minter surrendered a home run to Corey Dickerson, stretching the Phillies lead to two before finishing the sixth inning. Anthony Swarzak and Jerry Blevins combined to pitch a scoreless seventh, and Chad Sobotka struck out three in the eighth but also walked two.
Unfortunately, the Braves couldn’t claw back and tie it in the final frame, losing 6-5 and evening the series at one apiece. As I said at the beginning of the article, Washington also lost, inching Atlanta one step closer to their second consecutive NL East title. With so many games left in hand, expect Snitker to continue to mix things up as he tries to come up with the best 25-man roster to carry into October.