The Braves have faced a right-handed starting pitcher in every game of the NLDS, and Brian Snitker has responded with an identical lineup each time out. Another righty, and Cardinals Ace, Jack Flaherty will toe the mound for the second time of the series on Wednesday. The Braves were able to get the best of him in Game 2 but not because of a lackluster performance. Flaherty allowed three earned runs in seven innings but was outdueled by Mike Foltynewicz, who threw seven shutout innings in a 3-0 Braves win. Atlanta will be sending out Folty again in Game 5 in hopes of his Game 2 magic repeating itself. He’s the obvious choice with Soroka only on two days of rest, but some of the other decisions before this winner take all matchup won’t be as clear cut.
For the most part, things are going to be the same. The top five batters will not vary. Freddie Freeman has looked out of character since Game 1, and you have to wonder if that is attributed to the elbow injury that bothered him throughout September. In typical Freddie fashion, he didn’t want to make any excuses for his poor performance after Game 4 and avoided placing the blame for his struggles on the injury. But considering his track record, it is fair to deduce it’s affecting him in some way or form. He doesn’t look like the same player who was an MVP candidate the entire season.
Regardless, the Braves shouldn’t and would never consider benching Freeman. Unless he tells the trainers he doesn’t feel comfortable enough to play; he will be batting third and manning first base. And I imagine Freeman’s arm would have to fall off for him to miss Game 5 of the NLDS.
Donaldson, while he hasn’t been his usually electrifying self, will still hit cleanup. I’m not sold on the idea of Markakis HAVING to hit fifth, but you know how that story goes. As long as he’s in a Braves uniform, he’s going to be starting in the outfield and batting in the fifth spot. It’s an Atlanta law. But where things become intriguing is after Markakis.
Outside of Ronald Acuña, nobody has meant more to the Braves in this series than Dansby Swanson and Adam Duvall. Swanson has been batting eighth but could be in for a move up in the order. There are two primary things to consider with this decision. The first is few people have been able to get on in front of Swanson, which doesn’t leave him with any opportunities to drive in runs. The second is Dansby just popped out of a slump, do you really want to mix things up?
Since I’m not a believer in jinxes, I’m moving him up in the order. I feel more confident with Swanson at the plate right now than anyone else not named Ronald Acuña. He’s on fire, and this started with the last few games of the regular season. I want him up there with more people on base, but he might only move up one spot because I’d be starting a new face in leftfield.
Adam Duvall has begun every game on the bench and been used primarily as a pinch hitter. However, we saw Snitker turn to him much earlier in Game 4 despite the Cardinals having a right-handed pitcher on the mound. I understand why the Braves would stick with Joyce against most righties because a season’s worth of numbers, along with their career statistics do not lie. Matt Joyce is a much better option against right-handers. However, with Jack Flaherty on the mound and runs at a premium, Duvall is the best bet to have out there. He hit a critical home run off Flaherty in Game 2 that put the Braves comfortably ahead, which should give him a ton of confidence coming into Game 5. Atlanta needs his power bat out there because it might be their best opportunity to score against the Cardinals Ace.
The eighth spot in the order is where I would slide Brian McCann. The veteran hasn’t had it this postseason, and while I’d continue to start him over Cervelli and Flowers, it would make sense to put him before the pitcher the way things are going. Swanson and Duvall need to be up as much as possible in run-scoring situations.