As the Astros look to stay alive back home in Game 6, we’re using TVL data to explore Luis Garcia’s success following a knee injury and whether the Braves’ Max Fried can finally pitch like the ace he was during the regular season.

We didn’t expect this.

Certainly not after the first-inning grand slam that looked to have put one hand on the World Series trophy for the Atlanta Braves.

But staring defeat square in the face, the Houston Astros fought back to force a Game 6 back on their home soil at Minute Maid Park.

The victory, though, came at some cost. When Framber Valdez stuttered in his start, Dusty Baker had to reach back into his rotation and press projected Game 6 starter Jose Urquidy into action.

Although he would throw just 14 pitches in one scoreless inning, asking Urquidy to bounce back for an extended start wasn’t an option. As a result, Baker is having to turn back to Luis Garcia on short rest with the season on the line.

Max Fried vs. Luis Garcia comparison

In his only career start with three days between outings, the right-hander allowed one run and three hits while striking out six in a 1-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners on April 29.

Garcia is also just two weeks removed from being forced out of a start in the American League Championship Series with a knee injury. But two steady, if not spectacular, appearances since suggest that issue might be behind him.

After allowing one hit and fanning seven over 5.2 scoreless innings in a 5-0 win over the Boston Red Sox in Game 6 of the ALCS, he gave up one run and three hits while striking out six over 3.2 innings in a 2-0 loss at Atlanta in Game 3.

Once again, Garcia’s fastball velocity in Game 3 remained higher than his season-long average, though it was slightly slower than in his Game 6 performance versus Boston. It’s uncertain how much a change in mechanics may have helped, but the rookie right-hander’s heater has come in 2.5 mph faster since returning from the knee injury (see below).

Luis Garcia Usage & Velocity Comparison

Pitch TypePre-Injury UsagePre-Injury Avg. VeloPre-Injury Max VeloUsage Last 2 StartsAvg. Velo Last 2 StartsMax Velo Last 2 Starts
Four-Seam Fastball45.1%93.397.057.4%95.897.8

The reality is that the Astros are likely going to have to get creative again with their pitching staff to get the 27 outs needed to force a decisive Game 7. Kendall Graveman is pretty much the only reliever who isn’t an option following his two-inning performance that, vitally, allowed closer Ryan Pressly additional rest.

Don’t be surprised to see Jake Odorizzi, who hasn’t pitched since striking out five over 2.1 scoreless innings in Game 1, and Cristian Javier coming in for potentially lengthy spells. Javier will be looking to bounce back after allowing the tying home run to Dansby Swanson and the go-ahead shot to Jorge Soler in the seventh inning of a Saturday’s 3-2 loss in Game 4.

On the surface, the Braves should be feeling confident with ace left-hander Max Fried on the mound. Fried, however, has given up 10 earned runs and 15 hits over 9.2 innings while losing his last two postseason starts – including a 7-2 loss to the Astros in Game 2.

Using our TVL data, we delved a bit deeper into what he could do heading into his Game 2 start. And while he did occasionally throw the changeup to left handers, it was actually his slider that the Astros took a liking to with five well-placed singles that helped them take an early 5-1 lead.

Max Fried pitch intent vs. location

The area of growth for a pitcher like Fried who targets the strike zone more than the average MLB hurler is his ability to keep his pitches down wherever possible to help limit the amount of damage caused by extra base.

And while he did keep a number of sliders down or down and in versus right-handed batters, there were quite a few that ended up higher and out over the plate – and one that sailed almost too high to measure (above).

Fried ranked fifth in the majors in ground ball percentage (52.2) and sixth with 0.81 home runs allowed per nine innings during the regular season, but he’s allowed seven extra-base hits – including three homers – in 21.2 innings this postseason.

The Braves should have plenty of options if Fried’s struggles continue after only Drew Smyly (3.0 innings), Jesse Chavez (1.2), Chris Martin (1.1) and A.J. Minter (1.0) worked in relief in Game 5.

Coming off Monday’s travel day, key bullpen arms Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson and Will Smith figure to be rested and ready to go as Atlanta looks to secure its first World Series crown since 1995.

Graphic design by Matt Sisneros.