October 4, 2012
On the Beat
Planning a Play-In Strategy
The Braves will make history Friday when they host the Cardinals in what is officially called the National League Wild Card Game but has is also being alternately called the Single-Elimination Game, The Knockout Game, The Preliminary Round Game, The Play-In Game, and The Coin Flip Game, among others.
Regardless of name, the Braves-Cardinals game will be unique, as will the American League wild card game between the Orioles and Rangers at Arlington on Friday night. Thanks to the addition of the second wild card this season, those four teams are in a one-and-done situation. (Granted, the Orioles and Rangers would still be involved in a play-in if there were only one wild card.) Win and move on to the Division Series. Lose, and the post-season experience lasted approximately 3.5 hours. In the NCAA Tournament, coaches like to say, "survive and advance," and that's exactly how Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is looking at it.
"It's a must-win game, as simple as that," Gonzalez said. "We've got to win it. There is no margin for error. We'll play the game like it's the last game of the season."
Teams can change their 25-man rosters between each postseason round. Thus, the Braves will carry fewer starting pitchers than normal and more position players for the wild-card game.
"We want to give ourselves as many options as you can because you might have to pull out all the stops in this game," Gonzalez said. "It makes for an interesting scenario and some potentially interesting strategy. Do you use more pinch-hitters because you have a longer bench? You might, depending on the situation, and any time you're in a must-win game, you can't be scared to use everyone in your bullpen, especially since they'll all be rested and ready."
The Braves finished the regular season with a 94-68 record, six games better than the Cardinals, who were 88-74, but Atlanta seemingly has little advantage in its upcoming game. However, Braves general manager Frank Wren is trying to look on the bright side.