October has finally arrived. In less than a week, the Braves will take the field at Truist Park for Game 1 of the NLDS against either the Phillies or the Marlins.
It’s been a year to remember for baseball fans in Atlanta. The Braves have broken more records than I can count, thanks to an offense that may go down as the best in MLB history. They won 104 games, two shy of the franchise record set back in 1998, and finished with the best record in the entire league.
If the Braves make it to the World Series, they will have home field advantage throughout. The accomplishments deserve to be celebrated, but this group is far from flawless, and in October, those flaws can sometimes rear their ugly head. If the Braves want to win their second World Series in the last three seasons, these questions must be answered.
3. Can the Braves get offensive production from their catchers?
Sean Murphy was the best catcher in baseball for the first half of the season, but he’s become an automatic out in the second half, hitting just .159 with four homers since the break. His defense alone brings so much value, but I’m interested to see how Brian Snitker handles his two catchers this postseason. Unfortunately, Travis d’Arnaud has been just as bad offensively over the same time span, hitting .177 with three homers. This is supposed to be a leg up the Braves have on the rest of the league, but it hasn’t been that way for quite some. Atlanta needs one of these guys to step up with the stick in October.
2. Who will step up in the bullpen?
The Braves bullpen has been a lot better than many will give them credit for. With that being said, there are legitimate concerns. Can Raisel Iglesias be a lockdown closer in October. Can Joe Jimenez, Pierce Johnson, and Kirby Yates be trusted in big moments? Who will step up when the Braves need middle and long relief?
Atlanta’s bullpen in 2023 reminds me a lot of the group they had in 2021 when they won it all. The 2021 bullpen was far from perfect all season and didn’t feature a lot of guys that lit up the radar gun, yet they were nearly flawless in October. Guys just stepped up in the biggest moments, and that’s what the Braves are going to need again if they want to raise the trophy at the end of the season.
1. Who will be the Braves 3rd/4th starter?
Perhaps the biggest issue the Braves face heading into the playoffs is figuring out their rotation. Charlie Morton is out for the NLDS. Thankfully, the Braves will only need three starters in the first round. Max Fried and Spencer Strider can pitch four out of a potential five games, but the Braves still need to figure out who will pitch Game 3.
Bryce Elder has been unreliable since the All-Star break. He owns a 5.75 ERA over his last 14 starts, and I’m not sure how the Braves could trust him in a pivotal Game 3 on the road based on how he has performed of late. However, do they have any better options? Kyle Wright has been used out of the bullpen in his last two outings, and there’s no way the Braves would throw out an unproven rookie on the road in Game 3. Or would they?
I’m not sure what they are going to do, but the issue will only be magnified in the NLCS when the Braves will need at least four starters, especially if Charlie Morton isn’t able to return. It’s probably not going to be pretty, which puts a lot of pressure on Max Fried, Spencer Strider, and this offense to carry the load.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire