The Braves are now one win away from their first NLCS appearance since 2001, and the way that they’ve made it to the doorstep of baseball’s final four has been pretty impressive. Atlanta’s been clicking in every facet of the game. The offense may not be entering into a slugfest in every game, but they’re doing enough to win a couple of ballgames quite comfortably at the end and there’s no reason to think that a team-wide slump is coming. The bullpen has actually been better than advertised and is continuing to get the job done in high-leverage situations.
While those two aforementioned units were expected to do well, there was a question mark when it came to the starting pitching. Even with the Braves choosing to give their young trio of Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright a chance to get it done in October, there was still that worry that the pressure of forming a productive rotation during the postseason would prove to be too much for them. As of right now, both Fried and Anderson have proved that there was no reason to be majorly concerned about what the rotation could do. All you have to do is point to the scoreboard for the four games the Braves have played so far and that’ll tell you what the top two pitchers in Atlanta’s rotation have been capable of.
While Max Fried has been doing a good job in his first go-around as a starter in the postseason, it’s been awesome to see how the 22-year-old rookie Ian Anderson has been faring here in the playoffs. He already made history in the Wild Card series by becoming the first rookie to throw six shutout innings in a postseason game while turning Jeff Passan of ESPN into a soothsayer in the process. He followed up that performance by tossing 5.2 more scoreless innings against the Marlins in his second career playoff start. Getting nearly 12 scoreless innings from any pitcher over two starts in the postseason is like having gold in your hands. Getting it from a rookie at this point is absolutely priceless.
The @Braves are up 2-0 in the NLDS thanks to Ian Anderson, who became the 6th pitcher ever to start his first 2 playoff appearances and throw 5 scoreless innings in each, joining Jhoulys Chacin, Corey Kluber, Steve Avery, Phil Niekro and Christy Mathewson. pic.twitter.com/hW9bF5oKml— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 7, 2020
What was impressive was how, once again, Anderson never really looked flustered or like he was really laboring. Even during that first inning where it took him 24 pitches to eventually get out of the inning, it didn’t feel like he was flirting with imminent danger. It especially helped that Garrett Cooper didn’t get the memo about being patient and got too anxious when it came to swinging at a curveball that ended up being low and in the zone. The ball eventually landed comfortably in Nick Markakis’ glove and just like that, Ian Anderson was out of the first inning unscathed.
From that point forward, it was smooth sailing for the 22-year-old righty. Anderson tacked on six more strikeouts before he left the game and also exhibited a strong sense of command while he was on the mound. While his eight strikeouts were only one less than what he picked up back at Truist Park against the Reds, Anderson cut down on the walks and ended up giving up one lonely free pass to Brian Anderson. The only real drama was whether or not Darren O’Day would end up putting a blemish on Ian’s final line. O’Day only needed to get one out to close out the line and get the Braves out of that inning unscathed. He sure took the scenic route, but he eventually got out of it due to old friend Matt Joyce repeating Garrett Cooper’s mistake from the first inning.
That ensured that the Braves would be going into the final three innings of the game with the lead, and we all know how good the Braves have been this season when they’re ahead after six innings — 29-0, to be exact. You know how commentators always go on about teams trying to turn games into six-inning affairs? That describes the Braves to a tee at the moment. If the Braves are ahead by that point, it’s extremely likely that their bullpen is going to close the game out from that point forward. Getting five-to-six innings of work from the starters has usually resulted in good things for the Braves this year, since the team’s offense can strike at any time and the bullpen has been consistent all season. I’m saying all of that to say that Ian Anderson has been giving the Braves all that they could ask of him at this point in his career.
It’s exciting both in the short-term since it’s helping to solve a problem that the Braves have had for the majority of the 2020 season with their rotation and in the long-term since, again, Ian Anderson is only 22-years-old. This should have been Mike Soroka’s age-23 season. Max Fried is the so-called elder statesman at the ripe old age of 27. The Braves have plenty of business on their plate here and now, but you can’t help but dream of the possibilities with that trio forming a potential three-headed dragon at the top of Atlanta’s rotation going forward. It’s exciting right now, and it should be just as exciting going forward.
Marlins hitters had a .137 xBA in this game and a .146 xBA against Ian Anderson— Donglanta Braves Farm System Updates (@BravesMILB) October 7, 2020
In Anderson’s start against the Reds they had a .174 xBA against Ian and a .156 xBA for the entire game
While there’s still questions about whether or not Kyle Wright will take the baton and follow the lead of the other two starters and Game 3 may be when everyone’s talking about the young pitcher for the other team, the Braves have to be thrilled with where they’re at in this moment. They’ve got to be pretty happy about what they’ve gotten from their young starters so far, and now they’ve put themselves in a commanding position. They’re one win away from reaching the relatively uncharted territory of the NLCS, and part of the reason why they’re here is because of both Max Fried and Ian Anderson stepping up exactly when the rest of the team needed them to do so.