One of the biggest questions for the Atlanta Braves heading into the postseason was whether the lack of experience in their starting rotation and the absence of a true "ace" would come back to bite them.
Kris Medlen was 9-2 with a 2.08 ERA over his last 12 regular games—11 starts, one relief appearance—before getting lit up by the Dodgers (4 IP, 5 ER, 9 H) in the team's loss in the NLDS opener on Thursday.
With Games 3 and 4 of the series slated for Dodger Stadium next week, the pressure was on another regular-season star, Mike Minor, to help even up the series with a home victory on Friday night.
In his postseason debut, the 25-year-old Minor outdueled Zack Greinke as the Braves beat the Dodgers 4-3. The left-hander, who left with one out and his team leading 2-1 in the seventh inning, allowed just one earned run on eight hits while walking one and striking out five. It was the 12th time on the season that he's allowed one earned run or fewer, although he had only done it three times since the All-Star break before Friday.
After allowing an RBI double to Hanley Ramirez in the first inning, Minor held the Dodgers in check until his departure. While he didn't have his best stuff—he had only one 1-2-3 inning and allowed more than seven hits for just the seventh time all season—he worked his way out of trouble on numerous occasions.
The leadoff runner reached base four of seven times against him. None came around to score. He induced double-play grounders after leadoff singles in the second and third innings and left runners in scoring position in the first and sixth innings. He also got some help from his bullpen when lefty Luis Avilan got Carl Crawford to hit into an inning-ending double play with runners at the corners and one out in the seventh.
Not only did the Braves tie up the series at one game apiece, it was their first playoff win since 2010 and first such win at home since 2005, a season which capped off a run of 14 playoff appearances in 15 years.
Minor became the staff ace by default after Tim Hudson was lost for the season with a fractured ankle back in July. His overall regular season stats (13-9, 3.21 ERA, 204.2 IP, 177 H, 46 BB, 181 K, 72% quality start rate) show that he also pitched like a true No. 1 starter.
That's quite a feat for a guy who had a 6.20 ERA after 15 starts last season.
Last September, David Schoenfield of ESPN took a closer look at Minor's turnaround, which began on July 5, 2012 and was aided by an improved precision of his change up. In his last fifteen starts of the season, he had a 2.12 ERA while holding opponents to a .557 OPS. He came into 2013 a much more confident pitcher, and his success of his 2012 second half has certainly carried over.
In September, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was effusive in his praise of the young left-hander's growth as a pitcher.
Minor knew how much this win meant for his team:
After Minor added an impressive postseason victory to his resume, the Braves probably feel pretty good about their postseason chances if they can get past the Dodgers.
And it's safe to say that they probably feel pretty good about giving Minor the ball on Opening Day 2014.