At the time of this writing, we don’t quite know yet who will be on the NLDS roster, so I’ll be basing it off of my predictions for the NLDS roster, which I wrote about earlier this week. There could be a couple of differences. For example, Drew Smyly might be included, and somebody like Spencer Strider or Jacob Webb could find themselves off the roster. But we’ll talk about those scenarios as well.
For as much flack as the fan base (myself included) has given Brian Snitker for his decisions this year, you have to give him credit for keeping this team together throughout this season. However, while in-game decisions might not play a huge factor in winning the division, they are magnified in the postseason. It may not be fair, but his bullpen decisions in the playoffs are, ultimately, how he will be judged.
Many Braves fans may not agree, but Will Smith is the best option to close games. I’m not saying he’s a lockdown closer — he isn’t. However, the Braves don’t have one on the roster, and Smith hasn’t done a terrible job shutting the door this season. While there are rarely clean innings with him on the mound, he’s saved 37 games out of 43 opportunities. That’s pretty damn effective when you look across the rest of the league. Smith also pitched his best baseball to end the season. In 13 September appearances, he posted a 1.38 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 13 innings. Opponents also hit just .098 off him in that span.
These have been the Braves’ two best relievers all season, and they should be used the most in high leverage situations. As good as Luke Jackson has been, I still believe Matzek is the most reliable arm to come out of the bullpen, especially with how he dominated in the postseason last year. However, the decision between these two will likely come down to the matchups, given Matzek is a lefty and Jackson is a righty.
Aside from the three players mentioned above, the Braves don’t have many reliable arms to turn to out of the ‘pen. However, they do have some high-powered arms that could catch fire during the postseason. Obviously, we don’t know if Spencer Strider will even make the roster, but his 100 MPH fastball and the fact that nobody has seen him could pay major dividends for the Braves.
A.J. Minter and Chris Martin have had extremely disappointing seasons after being masterful in 2020. But if the Braves are going to make a deep run this October, Brian Snitker will have to rely on them. Hopefully, they deliver when it matters most.
Lastly, Huascar Ynoa could be the ultimate X-Factor. As of right now, I would say he’s the best bet to start Game 4. However, he could do that and still pitch in relief in Game 1 or Game 2. It’s also possible the Braves only need three starters in the NLDS because there are actually off-days this year. I would bet we see Ynoa come out of the ‘pen at least once in this series, if not multiple times.
Jacob Webb, Richard Rodriguez
One or both of these guys may be left off the roster. In fact, I might even prefer keeping Drew Smyly, who I left off the roster in my predictions, over one of them. He’s been much better since moving to the bullpen and could prove to be useful if one of the Braves starters can’t make it past a few innings. However, if Rodriguez and Webb end up making the roster, they should only be used out of desperation or if the game is out of hand. Webb had a decent run going, but he ended the season poorly, and Rodriguez hasn’t provided any reason why Snitker should trust him since the Braves acquired him at the trade deadline.