Coming off career year, Braves lefty doesn't care if he's labeled an ace or a No. 5
ATLANTA -- For the most part, pundits analyzing this week's National League Division Series between the Braves and Dodgers have given the starting-pitching edge to Los Angeles, and for good reason. The Dodgers' staff is anchored by NL Cy Young Award shoo-in Clayton Kershaw, former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and Korean sensation Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Compare that to the Braves, who "may not have a solid No. 1 or an ace," in the words of manager Fredi Gonzalez.
"But we've got some pretty good pitchers, pretty good young starting pitching," Gonzalez added.
Case in point: Game 2 starter Mike Minor, who will face the Dodgers on Friday at 6 p.m. ET on TBS, with the Braves trailing the best-of-five series, 1-0. Though Minor may not have distinguished himself from the rest of Atlanta's deep young starting staff, his breakout season included career bests in every major meaningful pitching category: a 13-9 record, 3.21 ERA, 181 strikeouts and 46 walks over 204 2/3 innings.
"I don't really have dominant stuff," Minor said. "I don't throw 95 [mph]. But I don't really care. I don't really care what people call me, if they call me an ace or they call me a No.5. If I go out there and win ballgames, then nobody cares."
If Kris Medlen was the Braves' best starting pitcher this summer and Julio Teheran their most electric, then Minor was at least their most consistent. Even during his worst run of the season, which saw him go 0-4 over his last six starts, Minor posted 4.15 ERA with nearly four times as many strikeouts as walks. Though the Braves won only one of those six games, Minor kept his team in all of them.
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
So call him an ace or don't. It hardly matters to Minor. The Braves simply call him their best chance to win Game 2 opposite Greinke, who earned his own "ace" label years ago with the Royals.
"I think there was a point last year where he just turned it around and you felt comfortable with him," Gonzalez said of Minor. "You felt that he could minimize the damage. The innings didn't unravel on him. There's a number out there that people have said, 'You haven't been a Major League starter until you get about 32 to 35 starts under your belt,' and Mikey was about dead on. ... You started seeing him maturing, you started seeing him get confidence on the mound day in, day out."
Over his first 38 big league starts, Minor went 12-13 with a 5.37 ERA. Since that time, he has gone 20-13 with a 2.90 mark, the game's 10th-lowest ERA over that span. So if Minor is not among baseball's fraternity of aces, he's at least awfully close.
"You see every pitcher goes through [it] -- first and second or bases loaded, nobody out," Gonzalez said. "Before Mikey turned that corner, that would have been a four-run inning. Now he gives up one and he minimizes the damage and he keeps pitching, and I think that's the biggest growth. You've got to give him a lot of credit."
Whether that's enough to win Game 2 remains to be seen. Greinke noted that it's "out of the ordinary" for Dodgers starters not to pitch well, considering they do so far more often than not. Of the 15 NL starters with lower ERAs than Minor this season, three of them are Dodgers: Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu.
Then again, the Braves are the only other team boasting three of the league's top 16 ERAs. So call them aces or call them something different. It doesn't matter. What matters is that Game 2 should be an electrically charged matchup between two of baseball's best.
"He's a tough pitcher -- he's proven that," Minor said of Greinke. "He's been in the league for a while and he's dominated for a while. But I think anything can happen. Hopefully, I can hold them off for a while and let our guys do their work."