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October 4, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Two Preview: Dodgers vs. Braves

by Mike Gianella

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Last night, the Braves’ Kris Medlen proved to be no match for likely Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw in Game One. Here is a look at PECOTA odds and projected lineups for Game Two.

Dodgers (Zack Greinke) at Braves (Mike Minor) 6:07 p.m. ET
PECOTA odds of winning: Dodgers 54.4%, Braves 45.6%

Projected Starting Lineups:

Dodgers vs. Minor (L)

Braves vs. Greinke (R)

Yasiel Puig (R) CF

Jason Heyward (L) CF

Carl Crawford (L) LF

Justin Upton (R) RF

Hanley Ramirez (R) SS

Freddie Freeman (L) 1B

Adrian Gonzalez (L) 1B

Evan Gattis (R) LF

Juan Uribe (R) 3B

Brian McCann (L) C

A.J. Ellis (R) C

Chris Johnson (R) 3B

Mark Ellis (R) 2B

Andrelton Simmons (R) SS

Scott Van Slyke (R) RF

Elliot Johnson (S) 2B

Zack Greinke (R) P

Mike Minor (R) P

Just like it did in Game One, PECOTA likes the Dodgers over the Braves for Game Two (although the advantage is smaller than it was with Kershaw toeing the rubber). Like Kershaw, Greinke has poor post-season numbers in a limited number of appearances/innings, but this should be ignored entirely.

Since allowing five earned runs in as many innings against the Rockies on July 3, Greinke has dominated, putting up a 1.57 ERA in 108 2/3 innings in 16 starts (Kershaw has put up a 1.75 ERA over that time). Greinke’s fastball velocity has dipped from 93.7 MPH in 2009 to 91.7 MPH this year, and in the first three months of the season, Greinke was still trying to rely primarily on his hard stuff. He adjusted in the second half by throwing fewer sinkers/cutters and relying more on a broader array of pitches, with a greater emphasis on off-speed offerings. His curve/changeup combination kept batters off balance and made his fastball appear to have more life to opposing batters.

Greinke faced the Braves on June 6 before his crazy hot streak started and had a strong outing, twirling seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts. However, the positive results came despite an inability to consistently throw strikes.

The Brooks Baseball data shows us a pitcher who was all over the place. Greinke threw 117 pitches but only 67 for strikes. His new and improved approach since July has led to far greater efficiency. Greinke’s strike percentage has jumped from 60 percent to 65 percent during his hot streak while his swinging-strike percentage has jumped from nine percent to 12 percent. Greinke’s improvements are legitimate, and even though he doesn’t breathe Kershaw’s rarified air, the Braves are still likely to have a hard time against the new-and-improved Greinke.

As was the case in Game One, while the Dodgers might have the pitching advantage, the Braves hurler was hardly a pushover during the regular season. Despite the higher ERA, Minor put up fairly decent numbers overall and is a solid pitcher in his own right. He faced the Dodgers twice this year and had two successful outings: a six inning, two earned run, nine strikeout affair in a 5-2 Braves win on May 19 and a six-inning, one-earned-run, six-strikeout game that Minor won in Los Angeles on June 9.

Minor’s lefty-righty splits were pretty close coming into this year, but in 2013, the southpaw has dominated left-handed batters like never before. We’re delving into dangerously small sample sizes here, but Minor has particularly killed lefties at home (.188/.216/.310 slash line). This won’t chase Crawford or Gonzalez out of the Dodgers lineup, but it is likely to send Schumaker to the bench. I’d anticipate that Scott Van Slyke gets the nod in a corner-outfield slot with Puig moving to center field.

This game has the potential for a low scoring pitchers duel, although I thought the same thing last night about what turned out to be a lopsided affair. My projected lineup for the Braves remains unchanged, but it’s entirely possible that Fredi Gonzalez shakes things up after a lackluster home opener. Twenty-one teams have lost the first two games at home in a best-of-five postseason series, and only two have come back to win: the 2012 Giants (against the Reds) and the 2001 Yankees (against the Athletics). The idea of a “must-win” game is anathema to an analyst, but the prospect of having to win three in a row, including another game against Kershaw, makes this game as close to a “must win” as possible for Atlanta.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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