With the Cardinals beating the Brewers last night, the Braves officially clinched a first-round bye to the NLDS for the second consecutive season, but it didn’t exactly happen like they would have hoped.
How about Waino helping the #Braves tonight? Wainwright got his 200th win in a Cardinals victory that assured home-field advantage for Braves for the division series. Not that it was really going to be in doubt, but still, pretty cool that Waino got that 200th win that did it.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) September 19, 2023
The Braves tumbled their way into the first-round bye thanks to the fantastic baseball they have played for most of the season. However, four straight losses — most of which have been uncompetitive — aren’t exactly how a team wants to be playing with October around the corner.
Atlanta’s pitching has been abominable of late. Kyle Wright struggled last night in his second start since returning from injury, as the Braves lost 7-1. That, by itself, isn’t too concerning, but this came after a series against a below average Marlins offense in which Atlanta’s pitchers gave up an astonishing 36 runs over a three-game series.
I’m not going to get my panties in a wad over such a tiny sample size, especially when the Braves have been the best team in baseball for basically the entire season, but there are some issues worth mentioning that could prevent the Braves from accomplishing their ultimate goal next month.
Max Fried‘s blister concerns
Max Fried’s start this week was pushed back because of a “hot spot” on his finger. Given his previous issues with blisters, giving him some more rest was a no-brainer, but it’s definitely something worth monitoring when he does toe the rubber later this week.
Max Fried update pic.twitter.com/U2R1zlh9Nn
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) September 18, 2023
The backend of the bullpen
The best 26-man roster come October is usually the team holding up the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the season. For most of the season, the Braves have had incredible pitching depth, but that has begun to dwindle at the worst possible time. The top 5-6 guys in Atlanta’s bullpen have been reliable, but after that, there are questions that need to be answered. Can Kyle Wright have an impact in October? Can Jesse Chavez be relied upon after missing several months with a leg injury? If the answers to those two questions are no, then where do the Braves turn? Jackson Stephens, Lucas Luetge… there aren’t many options I feel confident in right now, and there’s even less time to figure it out.
Avoiding a drop-off
Since the Braves clinched the division last week, it seems like they’ve lost a bit of their sense of urgency. That’s not abnormal, but it’s important that they finish the season playing the type of baseball that got them in this position. We see teams every year clinch divisions early and then get bounced in the first round. Nothing is guaranteed once the playoffs begin, and nothing the Braves have done up to this point will matter once they take the field in Game 1 of the NLDS. I’m going to be looking at Brian Snitker over these final couple of weeks to get his guys focused on what is to come once the calendar flips to October.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire