Braves bullpen strength: Keep the ball low

Just as it was through most of the 2011 season, the separation factor for the Atlanta Braves in their postseason quest is their bullpen.

Braves relievers threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings in their extra-inning win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night. That dropped their ERA for the month to 1.15.

It’s the second straight month in which the Braves bullpen has been dominant after a bit of a shaky run in May and June. Atlanta posted a 2.20 bullpen ERA in July but has been even better these past few weeks.

How did the 'pen succeed in this particular game? Of the 11 different hitters they retired, they got eight out on pitches in the lower half of the strike zone.

Let’s take a closer look at the pitchers responsible for Friday’s win.

Hanging Chad

Chad Durbin started the run with a scoreless eighth inning, after Shane Victorino was nailed stealing to end the seventh.

He got all three batters out with pitches in the lower half of the strike zone, an area in which he has thrived of late.

He’s retired 21 of the past 24 hitters with whom their meeting ended with a pitch in the lower half. That’s helped him to a 0.77 ERA in his past 13 outings.

Unusual K for Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel followed Durbin with a scoreless ninth, the highlight of which was getting Hanley Ramirez looking on a knee-high, 100 mph fastball.

Craig KimbrelKimbrelIt was his second career strikeout with a 100 mph pitch, the first in nearly a year (the last was against Mike Morse of the Washington Nationals on Aug. 31, 2011).

What's distinguished Kimbrel this season compared to last season is his success when he ratchets his fastball to that high a velocity. Kimbrel’s ratio of hitters retired to baserunners on pitches of 98 mph or faster is 33-to-3. Last season it was 38-to-11.

Lefties can’t touch O’Flaherty

Eric O’Flaherty closed a scoreless 10th by retiring Andre Ethier to evade a scoring threat. That was the 22nd straight lefty O’Flaherty had retired.

Eric O'Flaherty

O'FlahertyWhat makes O’Flaherty one of the NL’s best situational relievers is that he gets lefty hitters to pound offerings down in the zone into the ground. Of the past 16 lefties to hit the ball against O’Flaherty, 13 have hit the ball on the ground.

O’Flaherty’s ground-ball rate against left-handed hitters is 80 percent. That’s the highest rate among the more than 350 pitchers who have allowed lefties to hit at least 40 balls against them this season.

Venters back on track

Lastly, Jonny Venters matched his predecessors and ended up getting the victory. He, too, escaped trouble via the ground ball, this one a double play.

Jonny Venters

VentersOne of the things that have eluded Venters this season is the ability to get outs in key situations with men on base, which was integral to his 2011 success.

But the struggles from earlier this season seem to have begun to even out a bit. Opponents are 0-for-their-past-8 against him with men on base, after starting the season 24-for-80.

Six of those eight outs have come on a pitch in the lower half of the strike zone or below.