The Braves dealt with adversity all through the regular season, and now into the playoffs, the team must do its best to overcome yet another blow. As our own Jake Gordon reported just hours before Tuesday’s NLDS matchup against the Brewers, Atlanta lead-off hitter Jorge Soler tested positive for COVID-19, making him unavailable for the foreseeable future.
The bad news was obviously concerning leading up to Tuesday’s elimination game, but the Braves managed without the power-hitting outfielder, outlasting the Brewers in a 5-4 win that featured a go-ahead homer from Freddie Freeman. Atlanta survived last night without it’s table-setter, but now headed to the NLCS, the offense may have to go a little longer without Soler.
The roster administration re: COVID is different than usual injury rules in playoffs/WS. Once Jorge Soler gets through 10 days and tests negative for COVID, he theoretically could be activated — for Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS, perhaps. But it's more likely he misses all of NLCS.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 13, 2021
The COVID-19 protocol appears to vary depending on whether a player is vaccinated or not. If Soler is not vaccinated, he must wait 10 days before he can re-test for the virus. If he is vaccinated, that time is cut in half to five days. Although both scenarios require Soler to also be asymptomatic.
Obviously, the latter of those two scenarios is ideal for the Braves as a five-day absence could put Soler back in the lineup by Game 3 of the upcoming League Series; as ESPN’s Buster Olney reports (above), a 10-day absence puts Soler on track to return for Game 6 or 7 (an ETA that of course isn’t necessarily guaranteed if Atlanta plays poorly during the series’ first five games). I’m not sure any of us know for sure whether or not he’s currently vaccinated, but more importantly, the hope is that Soler is doing well and makes a full recovery.
A Soler-less roster
Potentially losing Soler for the first 3-6 games of the NLCS definitely isn’t ideal. The 29-year-old outfielder has been a staple in the Braves lineup ever since he was acquired from the Royals at the deadline, where he went on to hit 14 home runs and post a 132 wRC+ in 55 games down the stretch. But as we witness in the aforementioned Game 4 victory, this Atlanta offense is capable without him for a bit.
On Tuesday, manager Brian Snitker inserted Dansby Swanson in the lead-off spot, which went rather well. The shortstop led off the game with a line-drive double, and though he ended up with three strikeouts, he has gotten better at working counts. I believe perhaps a variation of Swanson or Joc Pederson is fine for the lead-off slot during the duration of Soler’s absence.
As far as who replaces Soler in the outfield, it looks as if Eddie Rosario has earned himself at least a few looks. The 30-year-old came up big in Tuesday’s win as a pinch-hitter, knocking in a pair of runs with a single; and in Game 3 (as a starter), he reached base twice. Rosario’s defense has been pretty rough in 2021, and even worse with Atlanta (according to FanGraphs UZR/150); however, Soler’s glove was already a weakness in the outfield, so it’s not as if it’s much of a downgrade for the Braves. Guillermo Heredia is another capable fill-in if needed, though it doesn’t look like Snitker trusts him too much at the plate, as he’s only logged one AB in the playoffs so far.
Regardless, hopefully Atlanta can continue to play well in the NLCS, and at the very least, force a full series. This offense sure will miss Soler, but last night showed it can still score plenty of runs.