The Braves received some gut-wrenching news yesterday when Cole Hamels reported to Alex Anthopoulos, letting him know that he felt shoulder pain during his bullpen session. The 36-year-old veteran told the Braves’ GM that he did not feel like his arm was strong enough to be effective, and Anthopoulos proceeded to place him back on the Injured List where he will finish the season.
That opens up more opportunities for other starting pitchers in the postseason, especially if the Braves can get out of the Wild Card round. Remember, there will be no off-days this year in the NLDS or NLCS, meaning every team will need at least four starters, which sets up miserably for the Braves, who have only been able to rely on two rotation pieces all season — Max Fried and Ian Anderson.
Those two will now undoubtedly start Games 1 and 2 in the Wild Card series, but things will get interesting if the Braves have to play a winner-take-all Game 3 in round 1. As far as the team’s third starter goes, it is probably Kyle Wright after the way he’s looked in his last two outings. However, I have a hard time believing Brian Snitker would turn to him with that much on the line.
If the Braves are put in that situation, I think it is much more likely they turn to the bullpen for the full nine innings. That could mean a guy like Josh Tomlin or Tyler Matzek tossing the first couple of frames, but I wouldn’t even be surprised if Snitker turned to one of his more high leverage options, like Shane Greene, to get those all-important first three outs of a playoff game.
Regardless, I would be shocked to see Wright start Game 3 of the Wild Card series (if necessary). However, I expect the 24-year-old righty to be apart of the postseason rotation, assuming the Braves advance to the NLDS.
Once again, Max Fried and Ian Anderson will handle Games 1 and 2, respectively. The Braves are then likely to turn to Kyle Wright for Game 3, with a TBD in Game 4. If Atlanta’s backs are against the wall, Snitker will probably once again rely on his elite bullpen to carry the load. If the Braves are up in the series, we could see them utilize someone like Huascar Ynoa. Either way, I don’t expect the Game 4 starter to be used for more than three innings. In a potential Game 5, Max Fried would return to the mound, and Ian Anderson could be available out of the bullpen as well.
There’s also the chance we see one of Mike Foltynewicz, Tommy Milone, or Sean Newcomb before the season ends. It’s probably too late for them to earn a postseason start, but if they look good in their return, they could be used for a couple of innings during these aforementioned bullpen games.
All-in-all, I don’t think the Hamels’ injury changes too much as far as the Braves’ chances of making a deep playoff run go. However, it will put a lot more emphasis on Brian Snitker’s decision-making, which hasn’t been fantastic over the last two postseasons.
The Braves’ World Series hopes were always going to be determined by Max Fried/Ian Anderson, their prolific offense and bullpen, and Brian Snitker’s ability to pull the right strings. Cole Hamels returning from injury and becoming a significant contributor in the postseason was more of a lottery ticket than reality.