The success of the Atlanta bullpen is a major reason why the National League champion holds a 2-1 advantage in the World Series over the Houston Astros.
Atlanta needs two more games of dominant pitching out of the bullpen to either finish off the series or bridge the gap back to Max Fried and Ian Anderson.
Atlanta was always in line to throw a bullpen game in Game 4, but it is forced to do that again in Game 5 because of Charlie Morton's broken leg.
Brian Snitker has a handful of options to use as Atlanta's Game 4 opener, but as of Saturday morning, that plan had not been revealed.
Houston is calling on Zack Greinke to kick off Game 4. The right-handed pitcher had a shaky 2021, so the Astros bullpen may be asked to cover most of the game, like its World Series opponent.
Game 4 Pitching Preview
The only certainty in the Game 4 pitching matchup is that Greinke will start for Houston.
Greinke has not been used since his start in ALCS Game 4 against the Boston Red Sox. He walked three batters and gave up two earned runs in 1.1 innings of work.
Dusty Baker could be inclined to pull Greinke early in Saturday's Game 4 because of the stakes attached to the contest. Houston can't afford to go down 3-1 with another game still to take place in Atlanta.
Greinke has had a reliable arm in previous postseasons for the Astros. He lasted at least four innings in seven of his eight appearances for Houston in the 2019 and 2020 playoffs.
The right-handed hurler is still capable of throwing five or six innings, but his recent form suggests he will be a two- or three-inning pitcher on Saturday.
Greinke allowed four or more earned runs in nine of his regular-season starts, and he was chased before the sixth inning in his last three starts.
Houston's most logical strategy would be to use Cristian Javier or Jake Odorizzi to piggyback off Greinke's start.
Odorizzi threw 2.1 innings of relief in Game 1, and Javier tossed 1.1 innings in Game 2. Both players could go multiple innings if need be.
If some combination of those three pitchers gets Houston into the sixth, Baker can use his normal bullpen strategy with Phil Maton, Kendall Graveman, Ryan Pressly, Ryne Stanek and Brooks Raley all capable of throwing one strong inning.
Baker utilized Raley and Graveman for one full inning in Game 3. Stanek pitched one-third of a frame.
Atlanta conserved some of its bullpen arms as well on Friday. Snitker used his regular combination of A.J. Minter, Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek and Will Smith for one inning each in relief of Ian Anderson.
None of Atlanta's long relievers were used in Game 3, so all of them should be available for the bullpen games we expected to come from the home team in Games 4 and 5.
Jesse Chavez and Drew Smyly could be used as openers, while young hurlers Kyle Wright and Tucker Davidson could put together a few innings each.
Wright could be Atlanta's X-factor to eat up innings. He spent the majority of the season at Triple-A Gwinnett, but he has experience from two postseason appearances last season.
Atlanta needs some combination of those pitchers to get it to the fifth or sixth innings. Then Snitker can call on his most reliable hurlers. Expect Minter, Jackson, Matzek and Smith to throw at least one inning each.
Both bullpen units have the potential to shut down the opposing lineups for long stretches. Unless a big inning breaks out on Saturday, we could witness a second straight tense low-scoring game at Truist Park.
Atlanta 3, Houston 1
Atlanta and Houston could be in a race to get to the sixth inning.
Once they reach that point, the scoring chances could be few and far between because of how strong the back end of both bullpens are.
The hitters in each order need to get to the more vulnerable parts of the opposing pitching staffs in the first five innings.
Greinke is capable of turning in a gem, but his recent form on the mound suggests that is more difficult said than done.
Atlanta has three more home runs than Houston, and it used a long ball from Travis d'Arnaud to earn some much-needed insurance in the eighth inning of Game 3.
The top part of Houston's order is still searching for hits. Jose Altuve had two hits in Game 2, but nothing else. Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman have one hit each in the series.
Conversely, Eddie Rosario, Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies all have three hits each in the World Series.
Atlanta's better ability to reach base and its shutdown pitchers in the sixth inning and beyond should give it the edge on Saturday night.
Statistics obtained from Baseball Reference.