The Braves are loaded with star power up and down their roster. Half the team made the All-Star Game, including their entire infield, and even the guys who didn’t turn in career years by the end of the season. There are so many different players that could end up defining this postseason run, etching themselves into Atlanta history for the rest of time.
However, sometimes it isn’t the superstars that define October. Every season, unsung heroes appear in the final month to disrupt the storyline. In 2021 for the Braves, it was Eddie Rosario, Tyler Matzek, Jorge Soler, and a fresh-faced Kyle Wright. Nobody expected them to have the impact that they did, particularly in critical moments, and without them, Atlanta might still be searching for their first title since 1995. Here are five under-the-radar candidates that could have a similar impact on the Braves postseason run in 2023.
For Braves fans, Marcell Ozuna may not be considered under the radar. The guy is a former All-Star and just finished arguably the best season of his career, blasting 40 home runs. However, I’m not sure the entire nation realizes that Ozuna isn’t just another guy in this lineup. He might be the most feared hitter on the entire team not named Ronald Acuna Jr. or Matt Olson.
Since May began, The Big Bear has hit nearly .300 with 38 homers — good for a .969 OPS — and we’ve seen him come up huge in the playoffs before. Think back to 2019, when he was with the Cardinals. Hopefully, I’m not bringing up PTSD for Braves fans, but Ozuna was a primary catalyst in St.Louis upsetting Atlanta, hitting .429 with a couple of homers in the series. He also had three homers in the Braves playoff run the following year. It’s been a rough going for Ozuna since then, but he is all the way back, and I would argue he looks better than ever before. If the Braves make a deep run, Ozuna is going to be a massive reason why.
4. Jesse Chavez
How could I not include Jesse Chavez in this piece? The 40-year-old reliever has been unbelievable for the Braves this season, posting a 1.56 ERA over 36 appearances. Even after he missed three months with a micro-fracture in his shin, he came back and didn’t miss a beat. Chavez is an ultimate professional. He’s not going to get scared of the moment and can go multiple innings. With all of the injuries to the rotation, Chavez could have a considerable impact on how far the Braves advance this postseason.
3. Eddie Rosario
How could I also not include one of the heroes from the Braves 2021 run to the World Series? When looking at this lineup, Rosario could be viewed as a “weak link.” However, I’m not sure there’s anyone else I would want in the box with the game on the line. Rosario wants to be up in those moments; there’s ice percolating through his veins. He’ll have at least one moment this postseason if the Braves are to make another run.
This one is a bit of a gamble because I’m not even sure AJ Smith-Shawver will be on the postseason roster. Then again, I’m not sure how the Braves keep him off. He’s been stellar in his six MLB appearances and turned in another gem yesterday during the Braves open scrimmage, tossing five scoreless innings against the Braves starting lineup. As I said above when talking about Jesse Chavez, the Braves are going to need some arms to step up with so many injuries to their rotation, and Smith-Shawver could be one of those guys at just 20 years old.
1. Kyle Wright
A year ago, nobody would have considered Kyle Wright “under the radar.” He was the only Braves pitcher in good form and healthy entering the postseason, and he delivered a gem in Game 2 of the NLDS, out-dueling Zack Wheeler. However, Wright hasn’t been healthy all season, and when he has toed the rubber, the effects of those injuries have taken their toll, leading to a 6.97 ERA.
I’m not sure what to expect out of Kyle Wright in the postseason. Will he start or come out of the bullpen? How much do the Braves trust him?
It’s possible we see very little of him this October, but something tells me his impact is going to be much bigger than we expect. Thinking back to 2021, the Braves handed him the ball in Game 4 of the World Series. To that point, he hadn’t even pitched nine innings in the majors that season, but on that day, the entire baseball world witnessed a boy become a man, as he tossed 4.2 innings of one-run ball.
Wright has some of the best stuff on the entire team, and he’s no longer afraid of the moment; he relishes it. Throw everything that transpired with him during the regular season out the window. If the Braves are to win the World Series in 2023, he’s going to remind everyone who he is.
Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire