In the second part of our two-part series, we look at the tough personnel decisions faced next week by National League postseason contenders ...
Braves: With Takashi Saito's shoulder seemingly healed, the Braves have six of their seven postseason bullpen spots spoken for: Saito, Billy Wagner, Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel, Eric O'Flaherty, and Peter Moylan. With three competent left-handers already in the fold, the Braves might like to fill the final spot with a right-handed pitcher, with trade deadline acquisition Kyle Farnsworth and long man Cristhian Martinez being the primary candidates. If the Braves draw the Reds in the first round, they might opt to carry a fourth left-hander in an attempt to neutralize the likes of Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. In that case, rookie Michael Dunn, acquired in the Javier Vazquez trade last winter, would likely get the call. And they'll definitely want the fourth lefty on the roster if they advance to the NLCS and have to face Philadelphia.
-- Peter Hjort, Capitol Avenue Club
Giants: Bruce Bochy certainly can't start thinking seriously about the playoffs yet. But we can, because the Giants are now a great bet to win either the wild card or the National League West. And if they reach the playoffs, Bochy is hoping to see the Pablo Sandoval of 2009 rather than this year's version. Lately, Sandoval's lost some time at third base to Mike Fontenot. But with Freddy Sanchez nursing a sore shoulder, Fontenot's shifted to second base and Sandoval's been back at third. After picking up a couple of hits Tuesday night and another Wednesday, Kung Fu Panda seems to have gained back some of Bochy's confidence. But Sanchez is due back soon. And if Panda doesn't hit some balls hard this weekend, he might find himself fighting for playing time in October.
Padres: Their postseason issue is the same as their last-weekend issue: Who is going to give them some production in the outfield? Will Venable's been hot for the last couple of weeks, but he's also missed a couple of games with a sore back. Ryan Ludwick, acquired for his bat, hasn't hit and doesn't field. Tony Gwynn has returned from the DL, but gives the Padres no offense at all. Earlier this week, Bud Black was so desperate that he resorted to giving Matt Stairs three starts in left field. It didn't "work," as Stairs went 2-for-8 and didn't drive in (or score) any runs. Bizarrely -- or sadly, depending on how you look at these things -- Chris Denorfia has been the Padres' best outfielder this season. But he's started only two games in the last week, suggesting that Black knows his only chance is to keep mixing and matching. And praying.
Phillies: With Jimmy Rollins back in action, if Placido Polanco's minor elbow injury is actually minor, the Phillies will have a completely set lineup ready next week (and of course it's an excellent lineup). In the rotation, they've got baseball's best Big 3 in Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels (or "H2O," as the fans like to say). The fourth slot in the playoffs might be interesting, though, as Charlie Manuel can choose between Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton, two right-handers who have pitched almost exactly the same number of innings and posted almost exactly the same ERAs. The Phillies won't actually need a No. 4 starter in their Division Series, thanks to off-days. But Blanton figures to get the nod in the NLCS -- assuming the Phillies advance, of course -- on the strength of his 2.73 ERA in his last nine starts, stretching back to the middle of August. Given a choice between two equals, Manuel might as well go with the hot hand.
Reds: By far, the biggest question for the Reds as they enter the postseason is what Dusty Baker will do with the rotation. Bronson Arroyo will likely start Game 1; he isn’t the best starter, but he’s been pretty good and he has the veteranny goodness that Dusty Baker loves. After Arroyo and Johnny Cueto, however, things begin to get interesting.
Travis Wood has pitched well and, as the only lefty in the rotation, seems to have the upper hand for the No. 3 spot, despite the fact that he’s a rookie. Homer Bailey and Edinson Volquez are fighting for the last spot, and what a battle it has been. Though each has pitched very well down the stretch, Volquez has ace-caliber stuff when he’s on, and those close to the organization feel that he probably has a slight edge at this point.
-- Chad Dotson, Redleg Nation