Perhaps it’s just the result of unfortunate circumstances. Or maybe it’s a sign of the times in Major League Baseball.
In a critical Game 4 that will shift the World Series in one direction or another, the bullpens are likely to play a major role in the outcome Saturday night at Truist Park.
That’s because the Atlanta Braves are starting left-hander Dylan Lee, who has never worked more than 2.0 innings in four career appearances, as an opener. And the Houston Astros are turning to former ace Zack Greinke, who hasn’t pitched more than 2.1 innings in any of his three outings since returning from a late-season neck injury.
The Astros can’t afford to fall behind 3-1 in the series after Friday night’s 2-0 loss. They’re hoping to get at least three solid innings from the 38-year-old Greinke before turning things over to a bullpen that has worked an MLB-high 65.1 innings in the playoffs – an average of 5.0 per game.
The Braves have used their bullpen an average of 4.3 innings per game in the postseason, and that’s all but certain to increase following Game 4.
With key matchups in big moments likely to decide the outcome, let’s use our TVL data to break down how some of these showdowns might transpire in the late innings.
Potential Matchup: Atlanta’s A.J. Minter vs. Houston’s Yordan Alvarez
It’s easy imagine Minter coming in to face Alvarez in a lefty-lefty matchup since it’s already happened on three occasions this postseason. After he went 12 for 23 with a home run, triple and three doubles in the American League Championship Series, the Braves have held Alvarez to one hit in eight at-bats in this series.
And those moves to bring in Minter to face Alvarez have worked out, as the Houston slugger has gone 0 for 3 with two strikeouts in those matchups. How has Minter done it? He’s kept Alvarez guessing early in the count, intending to throw either a four-seam fastball up in the zone or a slider down and away.
With two strikes, Minter has tried to either go high with the fastball or fire it inside to jam Alvarez. But both strikeouts have come on sliders down and away (see the two higher purple dots in the bottom right zone below). That’s a pitch Alvarez will have to lay off if he hopes to have success in this matchup.
A.J. Minter Pitch Locations vs. Yordan Alvarez – Postseason
Potential Matchup: Atlanta’s Will Smith vs. Houston’s Michael Brantley
Smith has already closed out both the Braves’ victories in this series, but there’s no reason to think he won’t be out there again if the situation calls for it. That could mean another lefty-lefty battle with Brantley, who should be anxious to bounce back after his second hitless performance in 13 games this postseason.
Brantley entered their Game 1 matchup having gone 4 for 12 with a home run lifetime when facing Smith. But it’s clear the Braves closer isn’t going to give in to Brantley in the playoffs. He threw a curveball and two sliders, getting Brantley to roll over on one for a groundout to end Game 1.
Expect more of the same. The approach makes sense when considering Smith’s curveball and slider had a whiff+ of 201 and 154, respectively, versus left-handers during the regular season.
And Brantley only had a BIP+ of 92 – below the league average – when hitting a slider off a lefty.
Potential Matchup: Houston’s Ryan Pressly vs. Atlanta’s Eddie Rosario
After going 20 for 43 (.465) with three home runs and 11 RBIs during an 11-game hitting streak to start the postseason, Rosario has cooled off with one hit in seven at-bats over the past two games. Pressly missed the chance to face the left-handed hitting Rosario in his only series appearance so far – a scoreless inning in Houston’s 7-2 win in Game 2.
The right-handed reliever, however, should have a decent game plan for a potential matchup in Game 4 since he’s fanned Rosario both times he’s faced him.
In their last battle in July, Pressly challenged Rosario with a fastball and slider to get ahead. It wasn’t a unique approach; Pressly throws his four-seam fastball (42.2%), curveball (23.2%) and slider (34.3%) quite a bit with no-strike or one-strike counts.
Once he got to two strikes, Pressly buried an offspeed pitch to try to get Rosario to chase. He intends to do this 65.3% of the time against left-handed batters.
Pressly then hit his target perfectly with a high-and-away fastball at 96.7 mph to get the strikeout. Pressly doesn’t always go high with this fastball, but this has been an area of weakness for Rosario at times in his career.
He’s likely to try to exploit it again if it comes down to a late-inning showdown.
Graphic Design by Matt Sisneros.