National League Division Series Game 2: Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves - 6:07 p.m. (TBS)
ATLANTA - Whether it be from fatigue or just not his best stretch of pitching, Braves starter Mike Minor hasn't produced down the stretch like he had earlier in the season. Atlanta will need him to reverse course in Game 2 of the NLDS.
Much has been made of Minor struggling in his final starts of the regular season, and some of it is warranted. Over the final two months, spanning 10 starts, he has a 4.30 ERA. More importantly, he's giving up harder contact in the zone, including a 30 percent line drive rate, up from his 22 percent season rate.
A look at pitch usage over this stretch shows Minor is throwing a touch fewer changeups and more curveballs, but neither usage rate is way off from his season norms. The big difference in batted-ball data is a line drive rate on curveballs that has increased significantly over the stretch. His changeup's line drive rate has remained average, and he's giving up a few more line drives on fastballs, but the curveball is getting hit hard lately.
The attached map shows where Minor has had success on the curve over his career. He needs to keep it down and away to left-handed batters, and he must avoid the middle of the zone with it.
Similar to Kris Medlen on Thursday, Minor has to avoid the middle of the plate, and he can't afford to throw get-me-over pitches early in the count. Adrian Gonzalez made Medlen pay with a 0-0 changeup on the plate for a home run, and a couple fastballs on the plate were hit equally hard.
Minor's pitches might not be popping in the zone like they were earlier in the season, but if he has good command, he should be able to limit damage. I don't think he's getting the same kind of movement on his stuff as he did earlier in the year, and that means he has to spot better. He absolutely has to avoid the long ball; he has allowed seven home runs in his past 10 starts.
For Dodgers starter Zack Greinke, he has seen his fastball velocity decrease from 94 in 2010 to 92 this year, and his slider has dropped 5 miles per hour in that span. As a result, Greinke's arsenal has changed dramatically over the past few years.
Greinke now has the ability to throw six different pitches in any count. He throws three variations of a fastball: four-seam, cutter and sinker, the cutter and sinker around 15-17 percent. Greinke throws an equal amount of curveballs and changeups, the curve more to righties and the changeup more to lefties. He also throws a lot more cutters to righties. He used to throw a lot of sliders but has nearly ditched the pitch this season.
Greinke can cover the entire zone to both types of batters, but he tends to target the outer half to both sides. He especially stays away to left-handers with a good changeup that shows excellent separation and movement.
Where to attack Greinke? For right-handed batters, they have to get the barrel to inside mistakes and punish them. Greinke has great command, but if he spins a loose one to the inner half, it has to be picked up. For left-handed batters, it's a similar plan. Basically anything over the plate is hittable for lefties, and Greinke has to live on the outside corner against them.