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Atlanta Braves' Playoff Strategy: Who Should Be the Game 1 Starter?

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COMMENTARY | Manager Fredi Gonzalez may have been the man sitting on the bench while the Atlanta Braves won their first division title since 2005, but his job as decision-maker-in-chief is now done.

We'll take it from here Fredi.

The first order of business is to decide on our Game 1 starter. The Braves have gotten remarkably consistent starting pitching all season long, but a late-season surge from Kris Medlen, coupled with the September struggles of Mike Minor and Alex Wood, makes picking the first hurler out of the shoot a little more complicated than it would have been, even as little as a month ago.

And Then There Were Three

Wood is the first man to fall out of the race after Gonzalez announced he would be sending the rookie southpaw to the bullpen for the duration of the postseason. The 22-year-old had a remarkable month of August for the Braves, giving up only three runs in 30 innings as a starter. But in September, Wood was unable to make it out of the fifth inning in any of his three starts, and he allowed 11 earned runs in just 11 1/3 innings.

This may actually be the best move for the Braves as Wood's value as an everyday left-handed option out of the 'pen could be much higher than as the one-game starter of a series. As a reliever, Wood recorded a 2.29 ERA and continually proved to be tough to hit when it mattered most. He allowed opposing batters to hit just .181 against him with runners in scoring position.

Minor Setback Leaves Just Two From Which to Choose

For five out of the six months of the MLB schedule, Minor would have been the likely choice to start Game 1 of a playoff series, but his inconsistency of late may make some very leery about the Braves' chances to come out of the gates strong if he were the first man to climb the bump.

Minor will get his chance to grip the rawhide this postseason, but Atlanta wants to make sure they take Game 1 and put the pressure on early -- particularly if they are unable to secure the NL home-field advantage. The Atlanta lefty is 13-8 this season with a 3.22 ERA, but Minor has not won a game in any of his last five starts. These recent outings have also seen Minor walk six and surrender seven home runs.

The one silver lining to take away from Minor's struggles is that he has still given Atlanta a significant number of innings. He has averaged 6 2/3 innings in each of his last five starts, including three outings in which he went at least seven. It wouldn't be the worst thing to have Minor pitch Game 1, but there may still be some better options left to consider.

Teheran vs. Medlen

Here we are: The 22-year-old rookie verse the savvy salsa-dancing veteran.

Teheran holds the team lead in starter's ERA (3.09) as well as having the highest WAR (3.4) of any pitcher on the staff. He has also surrendered fewer hits and fewer runs while striking out more batters than has Medlen. On paper, Teheran is the only choice. He has been the most consistent pitcher for the Braves all season while pitching no fewer than six innings in any of his last eight starts.

Still, how confident would Atlanta be with the decision to give the Game 1 ball to a rookie making his very first postseason appearance?

Why Medlen needs to be the Game 1 Starter

Teheran is the choice based solely on the numbers, but I want my Game 1 starter to be pitching with a little something extra to prove.

Medlen was the pitcher asked to take the hill for Atlanta's wild-card playoff game against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012. Although Medlen gave up just two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings, the ambiguity of the infield-fly rule ensured the Braves were back from the postseason party well before curfew.

Aside from Medlen's need for payback, he also happens to be the hottest pitcher on the staff. Medlen is 4-0 in his last five starts with a microscopic 1.03 ERA. The flat-billed righty is also 8-2 dating all the way back to July 28.

Teheran would be a fine choice to start Game 1, but I'll put my money on the monumentally motivated Medlen to immediately get Atlanta pointed toward a World Series crown.

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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