Three Cuts: Braves roster’s balancing act pays off with division title

Atlantas NL East championship roster never depended on one piece for too long

During the champagne shower in SunTrust Parks home clubhouse, the first such celebratory occasion witnessed by the young ballpark, Braves catcher Tyler Flowers gave his insights on how the party was made possible.

“It was a lot of work, but I think worthwhile for everybody. A lot of satisfaction in the progress we made throughout the year,” Flowers said. “A lot of fun looking around and seeing all the different guys that contributed at different moments throughout the entire season. Thats something big that this team did. It wasnt the same guy every night.

“It wasnt Freddie (Freeman) or Nick (Markakis) every single day, although they did it a lot. It was other guys that contributed at different times. Thats something youve gotta have to win a division title.”

In that moment, Flowers seemed to be approaching the situation at the micro level, which makes sense. He couldve spotted any number of teammates and called up a defining play. He couldve remembered key moments from past teammates no longer present.

Baseballs 162-game schedule practically demands those moments of playoff teams, drops that add up to a postseason pond.

Peter Bourjos, who finished the season in the Giants organization, threw out a runner then notched the go-ahead run in a key April win over the Nationals. Jose Bautista hit a pivotal homer in Wrigley Field in a win over the Cubs. Brandon McCarthy, who could not work his way back from injury, notched a 4-0 record with a 2.08 ERA against Atlantas primary division nemesis in Philadelphia. Rookie starters Mike Soroka, Bryse Wilson, Kolby Allard and Touki Toussaint each won their major-league debuts. Jesse Biddle picked up the starting staff and saved the bullpen by working multiple innings without allowing a run 11 separate times.

Charlie Culberson has a new nickname. Ender Inciarte won an April game with a bunt. Dansby Swansons glove saved a September win in the desert. Flowers himself tallied that much-needed home run off Chris Sale to salvage the series in Boston.

Each of those moments add up.

Even on a macro level, Atlanta never became overdependent on any select player or group of players for an extended period of time.

Yes, Freddie Freeman or Ronald Acuña Jr. led the team's position players in monthly WAR five out of six times, but five different players held that statistical title on the pitching side (Mike Foltynewicz was the only repeat name) and different key players contributed for long stretches.

March/April: Ozzie Albies looked like an MVP candidate at the end of April, slashing .293/.341/.647 with nine home runs to open the campaign. Do not overlook Shane Carle, though. The right-hander stormed out of the gate as one of baseballs most valuable pitchers in the early going, picking up the bullpen with a 0.96 ERA through his first 18 2/3 innings.

May: Nick Markakis best month of the season solidified his All-Star candidacy and gave Atlanta a potent middle-of-the-lineup combination while Sean Newcomb posted a 1.54 ERA across six starts.

June: Kurt Suzuki has been one of baseballs five best offensive catchers since putting on a Braves uniform, but hitting 61 percent above league average for the month helped Atlanta post a 14-11 June record.

July: In two of the first four months of the season, a reliever led the team in pitching WAR. Left-hander A.J. Minter caught fire in July even as the team stumbled to its only sub-500 monthly record. Minter logged four saves, struck out more than 14 batters per nine and did not allow a home run.

August: The addition of Kevin Gausman rejuvenated Atlantas rotation at the trade deadline and while Ronald Acuña was sprinting to the front of the Rookie of the Year pack, Johan Camargo was delivering key hit after key hit by slashing .327/.378/.491.

September: Ender Inciarte caught fire — providing much-needed production as other lineup mainstays struggled — and Anibal Sanchez, the unheralded veteran addition who helped stabilize Snitkers rotation, allowed just seven runs over 22 September innings.

This balanced effort allowed teammates to cover for one another, preventing a team collapse during times of inevitable individual slumps. It provided the front office and coaching staff with built-in contingency plans. And it provided the organization with its first reason to celebrate since 2013.

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