Nick Markakis made his return -- unsurprisingly, earlier than expected -- the Braves punched a second straight postseason ticket, and pushed pushed their streak of series wins to an MLB-best 15 straight.
But the focus as the series wore on in Washington, D.C., turned to Charlie Culberson, who was lost for the season after suffering facial fractures in a scary moment Saturday when he was hit in the face by a pitch.
How the Braves will cover Culberson's contributions as the postseason roster decisions loom is a point of interest as we open up this week's Three Cuts.
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1. How will losing Culberson affect postseason roster decisions?
The good news for Culberson is that he won't need surgery, but the loss of the utility man is a major blow to the Braves' depth.
It will also figure prominently in the makeup of the soon-to-be NL East champs' roster in the NLDS.
Atlanta was already down one versatile bench option with switch-hitting Johan Camargo on the 10-day injured list with a right shin fracture. The Braves haven't ruled out Camargo returning, with manager Brian Snitker saying the fracture is being treated like a bruise, but with an estimated timeline of 2 1/2-3 weeks, it makes it difficult to believe he'd be available by the start of the postseason.
The postseason implications were all secondary after Culberson was hit by a Fernando Rodney fastball, but now that the Braves know they will be without his services, it becomes a matter of trying to make up for potentially both of Atlanta's most box-checking options with multiple players.
"We got what we got right now," Snitker said after Sunday's loss to the Nationals. "It's hard to recover that and to cover that organizationally. ... We kind of are who we are right now."
Adeiny Hechavarria -- who is slashing .262/.347/.429 with 101 wRC+ in a Braves uniform -- becomes that much more important as he can fill the void for a bench option in the middle infield, and Austin Riley can pick up the backup role at first base.
That tandem makes up the most versatile options the Braves would have on a postseason roster, and if Ender Inciarte (hamstring) is unable to return in time, it likely means carrying Adam Duvall and Riley (217 and 152 wRC+ vs. lefties, respectively) and Billy Hamilton, alongside Ronald Acuña Jr., Matt Joyce and Nick Markakis.
With Culberson serving as the team's emergency catcher, this all but assures that Francisco Cervelli will join Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann on the postseason roster (but considering this team carried little-used Rene Rivera last season, three catchers was likely in the cards anyway).
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2. Foltynewicz trending toward making postseason rotation
Dallas Keuchel and Mike Soroka are givens in the Braves postseason rotation, and Max Fried -- whose 16 wins are the most by an Atlanta left-hander since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine had 18 in 2002 -- making a case to make that duo a trio, despite Sunday's struggles vs. the Nationals.
It's who makes up that fourth spot, though, that's up for debate.
Julio Teheran's 132 ERA+ is the best of his career and trails only Soroka (180) and Keuchel (138) among Atlanta starters -- but the Braves are 4-4 over his last eight starts. In that span, the right-hander has a 3.83 ERA and a .740 OPS against
Meanwhile, Atlanta has won each of Mike Foltynewicz's last 11 starters going back to June 11 and all eight outings since he came back from Triple-A on Aug. 6. That's the most team wins in starts for a Braves starter since they won an MLB-record 23 straight behind Kris Medlen from 2010-12.
Foltynewicz's last eight starts since returning from Gwinnett have included a 2.76 ERA and .659 OPS (and a 1.52 ERA over his last five, which included Saturday's six innings of one run allowed). That ERA after he rejoined the big-league club is the best of any Braves starter in that span and is tied with the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg for the ninth-best in baseball.
While Teheran has had an under-the-radar strong season with an option year looming, Foltynewicz trending toward his All-Star self of 2018 may trump Teheran when it comes to piecing this postseason rotation together.
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3. Ozzie Albies' strong second half has him chasing Atlanta history
Ozzie Albies' two doubles Saturday gave him 42 on the season, just one behind the Nationals' Anthony Rendon for the NL lead and it has the second baseman in line to challenge for the most by any Braves player since the move to Atlanta.
Albies is on pace for 45 on the season, which would be four away from the Atlanta record of 49 that Marcus Giles had in 2003. No Brave has had more than 44 since 2005 (Giles, again, with 45 that year.)
Whether he gets there or not, that chase is part of a strong second half for Albies, who is hitting 26 percent above league average. That comes a year after he faded down the stretch with a 67 wRC+ after the All-Star break and went on to hit .200/.200/.200 with zero extra-base hits in the NLDS vs. the Dodgers.