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Braves turn focus to potential NLDS matchups

September 22, 2018

ATLANTA -- Whenever Braves president and CEO Derek Schiller would mention celebration plans over the past week, general manager Alex Anthopoulos refused to tempt fate or jinx his team by discussing specifics. But once the magic number was reduced to two with Friday night's win over the Phillies, Anthopoulos went

ATLANTA -- Whenever Braves president and CEO Derek Schiller would mention celebration plans over the past week, general manager Alex Anthopoulos refused to tempt fate or jinx his team by discussing specifics. But once the magic number was reduced to two with Friday night's win over the Phillies, Anthopoulos went home and began an overnight cram session. He analyzed the many roster and matchup decisions the Braves will need to make once they learn who they will play during the National League Division Series.
"I stayed up late, I didn't sleep," Anthopoulos said. "I started looking at playoff rotations and opponents and lefty/righty [splits]. That was the first time I really allowed myself to look ahead."
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Having clinched the National League East with Saturday's 5-3 win over the Phillies, the Braves will now wait to see how the rest of the postseason picture develops. As of now, they would be lined up to face the winner of the NL West battle being waged between the Rockies and the Dodgers. But this could change if the Cubs slip during the regular season's final week and do not end up with the NL's best record.

"No one picked us to win the division this year, and I'm sure no one is going to pick us in the playoffs," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "But our goal is to get the 11 most important wins [during the postseason]."
The Braves stand 3 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the race for top seed in the NL and one game in front of the Dodgers for the second seed, which would ensure home-field advantage in the Division Series.
The team with the best record will draw home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs and play the Wild Card Game winner in the National League Division Series. If the Braves end up with the second-best record, they would secure home-field advantage for the other NLDS.
If the Braves were to finish tied with either of the two potential NL West winners, they would be deemed the third seed because of head-to-head season records. Atlanta went 2-5 against both Los Angeles and Colorado.
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"I think we should still keep trying to win ballgames," Freeman said. "If we keep winning, then we get home-field advantage. You've got to think about that kind of stuff. We'll enjoy it for a couple days, and then we'll get right back to work."
The NLDS matchup will influence how the Braves fill the final spots within their postseason rotation. Mike Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman and Anibal Sanchez will likely secure at least three spots in what would almost certainly be a four-man rotation. The NLDS schedule would require the Game 1 starter to return on short rest if a team wanted that pitcher to also start Game 4.

Over the past week, there has been much speculation about whether the Braves would give the final rotation spot to Julio Teheran or Sean Newcomb, whose recent struggles led the team to skip him during this weekend's series against the Phillies.
If Teheran pitches as aggressively as he did while working into the seventh inning of Friday night's win over the Phillies, the Braves would certainly be much more comfortable giving him a postseason start.
Concerns about the Braves' bullpen might decrease if Arodys Vizcaino and Chad Sobotka continue to impress over the season's final week. The question surrounding Vizcaino focuses on the durability of his right shoulder, which sidelined him for most of the season's final three months.
Vizcaino passed another test on Saturday, when he closed out the clinching win over the Phillies. If his shoulder cooperates, and he proves he can pitch on back-to-back days, there is a chance he'll get the closing duties instead of A.J. Minter, who has struggled since his lower back tightness began in early August.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.