The Athletic identifies Braves most indispensable ‘under-the-radar’ player

Braves injuries

The Braves hold the largest division lead in baseball, which means all that matters is building toward October.

Very rarely does the best team win the World Series; the hottest club is usually crowned champion. The 2021 Atlanta Braves are the perfect example of that. The Phillies from last year, the Nationals team a couple of years prior, and countless more are proof.

Now, it’s all about Atlanta playing their best ball when the lights are the brightest and being healthy down the stretch. As the postseason approaches, contenders will inevitably deal with injuries, which is just a part of the game.

Jim Bowden of The Athletic went through each contender’s roster and identified each’s most indispensable ‘under-the-radar’ player. The Braves candidate shouldn’t surprise anyone — Travis d’Arnaud.

Travis d’Arnaud was the starting catcher for the Braves in every postseason inning in 2021 when they won a world championship. He lost his starting job this past offseason when Atlanta traded for Sean Murphy, one of the best overall catchers in the game. D’Arnaud never complained and embraced his role as part-time catcher, part-time designated hitter, part-time pinch hitter and full-time leader. He proved that he’s about winning more than anything else. Instead of waiting to become a free agent in the offseason and signing with a team where he’d be the starter, in July he agreed to a contract extension through 2024 with a club option for 2025. Everyone in the Braves’ clubhouse knows he’s the most indispensable player in their organization. He’s instrumental in game-planning, calling, overall team strategies and, most importantly, player leadership.

Alex Anthopoulos, president of baseball operations: “He’s the glue to the team who connects with every player, coach and staff member.

‘Under the radar’ is important here. No, Max Fried, Spencer Strider, and Ronald Acuna Jr. shouldn’t be included. d’Arnaud is the perfect choice.

The veteran backstop is invaluable to this club as a leader, essentially acting as another skipper on the field. It also helps that he can provide Sean Murphy a breather if needed, with little drop-off.

I imagine Murphy will get most, if not all of the starts behind the plate during the playoffs; he’s arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball, but d’Arnaud will be there in case of emergency. Not many teams have that luxury.

A few other names that could’ve been candidates — Charlie Morton, Pierce Johnson, and Joe Jiménez.

The veteran starter has been rock solid all season. Morton continues to defy the laws of science in his age 39 season. No, he’s not the ace of the staff, but his presence is critical to the club’s aspirations. Everyone points to Fried and Strider as the horses; however, if the rotation lost Morton, it could be devastating, especially if Kyle Wright doesn’t make it back.

Johnson and Jiménez will assume set-up roles but many don’t consider them the most important pieces of the bullpen. Rasiel Iglesias and A.J. Minter likely hold those positions. Still, the pair is incredibly important to the Braves’ dominant relief core.

Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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