Thanks to a season-ending ankle injury to Tim Hudson, along with minor hiccups to the elbows of Paul Maholm and Brandon Beachy, most of Atlanta's playoff rotation is already set. But there is still one spot that could be up for grabs.
Should the Braves hand the ball to diminutive right-hander Kris Medlen, or turn their playoff life over to rookie southpaw Alex Wood?
The first two slots in the playoff rotation will have to go to Minor and Teheran on the strength of their regular-season performances.
In a season in which the Braves have had to deal with more injuries than I can count, Minor and Teheran have been Atlanta's most consistent starters. With a combined ERA of 3.12, the only question will be which one to start in Game 1 and which to hold back until Game 2.
The Braves' flat-billed spark-plug is currently in the middle of a late-season surge. He is 3-0 in his last three starts with a 1.29 ERA. And dating all the way back to July 28, Medlen is 7-2 with a 2.73 ERA.
Medlen's inclusion in the postseason rotation could have more to do with experience. Minor, Teheran and Wood have a grand total of zero combined playoff appearances and an average age of just 23 years old. At 27, Medlen is the most senior starter from which the Braves will likely have to choose.
And although the game ended in a loss, Medlen was the pitcher Atlanta rode with in its wild-card play-in game in 2012. Bad luck, and a very questionable in-field fly call, turned Medlen's two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings into a quick postseason exit for the Braves.
Medlen is currently the hottest starting pitcher on the roster and could be very motivated to make up for last October.
The 22-year-old rookie has been a welcome surprise after becoming a starter in late-July. Through his first seven games as a starter, Wood accumulated an ERA of just 2.14, but then September happened.
During his two starts in September, Wood has been shelled for 11 run in just seven total innings. He was unable to make it out of inning No. 3 against the Miami Marlins on Sept. 1, and then backed up that performance by pitching only 4 2/3 innings in a loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Sept. 7.
But Wood can be Atlanta's most dominating pitcher at times. With an average of 9.21 strikeouts per nine innings, Wood is the starter most likely to make opposing batters do an about-face and head back to their dugout. In the postseason, a pitcher who can rack up the Ks can be immensely valuable.
Atlanta's manager has started giving his starters more days off in the wake of the Braves' huge divisional lead, so perhaps the additional rest will help Wood bounce back, but right now Atlanta cannot be overly confident giving the ball to an unproven rookie in a slump when the bright lights of October start shining down.
Pitchers go through natural ebbs and flows in their season. Had this article been written in July, there would have been a need to discuss Medlen's struggles. Whoever has the hot hand is generally the option managers choose, but Medlen had the hottest hand in the entire National League last season and still came up short in the playoffs, so that rational should not always be taken as gospel.
In the end, starter No. 3 will likely come down to the matchups. If the Braves were to draw the St. Louis Cardinals in round one, Wood may have to get the nod. The Cards have the worst batting average of any potential playoff team against southpaws (.237), the importance of which becomes clearer when juxtaposed with St. Louis' lead-leading average vs. righties (.279).
But the opposite is true if Atlanta were to see the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs. The Buccos actually hit 23 points higher off lefties than they do against right-handers.
Still, Atlanta could choose to implement a four-man rotation, or have both Medlen and Wood waiting in the wings to start at a moment's notice.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Braves for over 20 years. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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