ATLANTA -- The Dodgers and Braves continue their best-of-five National League Division Series with an ace-in-the-hole opposing an ace-in-training.
Really, a majority of Major League clubs could send out Zack Greinke or Mike Minor in Game 1 of a postseason and folks wouldn't bat an eye. But the way Clayton Kershaw pitched all season and the way Kris Medlen pitched down the stretch dictated that both of these ballclubs would be trotting out an overqualified No. 2. On paper, it put both clubs in a comfortable position.
Now that we've seen the way Game 1 played out in reality, however, we can safely say the onus in Game 2 (6 p.m. ET Friday, TBS) is now on Minor, especially, to pitch like the ace he has so often resembled in this 2013 season.
"I hate putting labels on guys, especially young guys," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think when you've got six, seven years in the big leagues and been successful, that's when I think we should put labels or say this guy is an ace or a No. 1, or you've won some hardware to back it up. But I think Mike Minor is a really, really good pitcher."
Good enough, the Braves hope, to straighten out this series, lest they head west in an often inescapable 0-2 hole.
Tale of the Tape: Game 2
|2013 regular season|
|Overall: 28 GS, 15-4, 2.63 ERA, 46 BB, 148 K||Overall: 32 GS, 13-9, 3.21 ERA, 46 BB, 181 K|
|Key stat: 1.85 ERA in the second half||Key stat: 0-4 in five September starts|
|At Turner Field|
|2013: Did not pitch
Career: 2 GS, 0-1, 5.73 ERA
|2013: 17 GS, 6-5, 3.62 ERA
Career: 45 G (44 GS), 18-11, 3.51 ERA
|Against this opponent|
|2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA
Career: 3 GS, 1-1, 3.50 ERA
|2013: 2 GS, 1-0, 2.25 ERA
Career: 5 GS, 1-1, 2.32 ERA
|Loves to face: B.J. Upton, 2-for-23, 11 K
Hates to face: Justin Upton, 6-for-14, 2 HR
|Loves to face: Andre Ethier, 0-for-6
Hates to face: A.J. Ellis, 4-for-10, 1 HR
|Why he'll win: Has won 12 of past 14 decisions||Why he'll win: Dominated the Dodgers twice this year|
|Pitcher beware: Braves led National League in home runs||Pitcher beware: Has not pitched in the postseason|
|Bottom line: Stick to game plan, keep the ball in the park||Bottom line: Forget about rough September, don't get overwhelmed by the moment|
Minor has some straightening out of his own to do, having allowed 18 earned runs in his last 39 innings, in large part because of early aggressiveness from the opposition. The Dodgers will be familiar with those recent results and be more prone to swing early in the count and early in the game.
"Everybody has noticed it," Minor said. "Everybody has talked about it. I throw a lot of strikes, so teams don't want to get deep in the count."
Count this as the latest adjustment Minor will need to make to thrive in this type of setting, and he's already shown the ability to adjust. He's not nearly as prone to the big inning as he was early in his career, and that's why the 5.37 ERA he carried after his first 38 big league starts gave way to a 2.90 ERA in the time since.
Really, the maturation we've witnessed from Minor this season is a little bit reminiscent of the growth in Greinke in his younger days with the Royals. They both fit the mold of the classic right-hander with a four-seam fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. Greinke's got a little more gas in the fastball, but, for both men, the ability to add and subtract and mix and match is essential.
Minor might never ascend to the level Greinke reached in 2009, because, frankly, few do. The point right now is to reach a level in which he's assertive and unflappable on the game's biggest stage.
The Braves didn't carry either of those qualities in Game 1, and that's why they find themselves looking uphill. Gonzalez thought they were "over-amped" Thursday night, and it led to some early defensive issues that made the mountainous assignment of facing Kershaw an even taller task.
Greinke is no short order himself, which is the inherent beauty of the Dodgers' alignment, especially in this short series.
"You feel good when Zack is pitching," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "If we can put some runs up for him and make some plays, we're going to be in a position to at least be in a close game that you've got a chance to win."
The Braves' shutdown bullpen, which was excellent yet again in Game 1, gives them the advantage should Game 2 be a close one late. The Dodgers' lack of a dominant right-handed bridge to closer Kenley Jansen is one weakness the Braves hope to be able to expose in this series.
But they can only expose it if they put together a strong enough offensive effort to knock Greinke out of the game. That kind of effort didn't come in Game 1, even though Atlanta had Kershaw, who needed 77 pitches to get through the first four innings, on the ropes.
Against Greinke it might make sense to be more assertive early. Opponents are batting .255 off him within his first 25 pitches, versus a .242 average in pitches 26-50 and a .192 mark in pitches 51-75. It could be a case Friday night in which you either get to Greinke early or not at all, though it will be interesting to see if Greinke makes any personal adjustments after posting a 6.48 ERA in three starts for the Brewers in the 2011 postseason.
Greinke definitely wasn't planning any changes to his pregame routine.
"Probably just wake up," he said, "get some breakfast and go to the bathroom, come to the field."
How's that for inside baseball?
The Braves are hereby advised to keep it similarly simple, because to dwell on their deficit would be to go down a dark road of thought. They've already essentially surrendered the home-field advantage in this series, but they do have what amounts to an ace on the mound to protect their livelihood at Turner Field -- a ballpark where they were inordinately successful this season -- and even up this series.
"Hopefully we'll come out and play a little better baseball, a little calmed down," Gonzalez said. "It might give us a good opportunity to win the game."