Braves: Can Ian Anderson still salvage the weekend?

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This weekend has not gone as we hoped. Entering Friday’s game between the Braves and Blue Jays, many in Braves Country — including me — felt as if the momentum was on Atlanta’s side after winning three of four versus the Cubs earlier in the week. Hell, even Chicago’s 9-3 drubbing on Thursday night couldn’t bring us down. The Braves were playing good baseball, and as I mentioned in my Braves-Blue Jays preview on Friday, Atlanta had been one of the best overall performing teams in the majors over the last 3-4 days.

From my post a few days ago…

“But if you look at the way Atlanta has played in the three games before Thursday and after Sunday… this has been a hot team of late. In fact, from Monday to Wednesday, the Braves offense collectively posted twice as much fWAR than any other team in baseball, thanks to a team-wide 187 wRC+. It hasn’t just been the offense, either. The Braves starting rotation — albeit a trio featuring only Huascar Ynoa, Ian Anderson, and Charlie Morton — and its 2.55 ERA tied for the third-most WAR in MLB during those three days this week. On top of a surging lineup and dominant starting pitching, Atlanta’s bullpen held up its end of the deal too. In those three games — all against Chicago — Braves relievers combined for a 1.93 ERA to go along with 9.6 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 in 9 ⅓ innings.”

So yeah, to see the Braves drop two consecutive games versus the Blue Jays on Friday and Saturday — by a combined score of 19-10, including eight home runs by Toronto — it’s a bit surprising. After posting a sub-2.60 ERA during a three-game stretch, Atlanta’s starters have been rocked pretty good in this series with Toronto. Lefty Drew Smyly pitched Friday’s game and was knocked out after just four innings when he allowed six runs — five earned — from seven hits, including four walks and three homers. I wrote about his unfixable issues following his outing, but really it wasn’t just him in that game.

On Friday, the Braves bullpen surrendered seven runs, including three more homers and three walks, in their four innings of work. Charlie Morton was supposed to tie the series up on Saturday. He’s been one of the more consistent Atlanta starters. But, despite pitching better than Smyly, Morton couldn’t keep the ball in the park against the Blue Jays either as he allowed four runs from five hits — including a homer — in 5 1/3 innings. The Braves bullpen also improved a little relative to Friday, but on Saturday night, Atlanta’s relievers pitched around four hits, two runs — one earned — and a homer while striking out three in 4 1/3 frames.

Having allowed 23 hits combined between its starters and bullpen over these last two games, Braves pitchers are reeling. Just look at their rate stats so far for this series…

  • Braves starters vs. TOR:  8.90 ERA, 8.9 K/9, 5.9 BB/9, 3.9 HR/9
  • Braves bullpen vs. TOR:  17.77 ERA, 13.3 K/9, 9.9 BB/9, 7.7 HR/9

But if there’s anyone that can right the ship and get the Braves back in the win column on Sunday, it’s righty Ian Anderson — winner of his last two decisions. At 1:07 PM (ET) today, Anderson will face the Jays for his fifth start this season, so far posting a 2.48 ERA / 3.54 FIP in his first 29 innings in 2021. I’ve already gone into depth about just how great Ian has been for Atlanta, even claiming that he’d officially found his groove in my last piece regarding the pitcher. The Braves need him to do what he’s been doing all season long: Dominate.

Anderson’s last three outings have consisted of just five hits allowed, zero runs allowed, five walks, 12 strikeouts, and zero homers in 13 2/3 innings. With each passing start, he’s gotten closer and closer to getting back to his 2020 ways, and fortunately for Atlanta, it appears Anderson is all the way back now. In his most recent start, versus the Cubs, Ian tossed a one-hitter and struck out eight in seven innings, only needing 90 pitches as he’s become more efficient and crisp since his first start of the season.

The Braves need Anderson to tap back into whatever he had last week versus Chicago. With the bullpen already logging over 12 innings so far in this series, Atlanta’s relievers could use some rest. Luckily, which is usually the case for Ian, no one in the Blue Jays lineup has ever faced Anderson in the regular season, so the Braves starter will have a bit of an advantage from the get-go.

This weekend series with Toronto has definitely been a disappointment. The Braves entered Friday’s first game against the Jays, just a game under .500 (12-13) and only one game behind the Phillies for first place in the National League East. Now, with two-straight losses, getting back to .500 is going to take a nice little winning streak by Atlanta, not to mention they’ve dropped two more places in the division standings… to fourth. Getting swept by the Blue Jays isn’t necessarily the end of the world, but with the next four series consisting of 15 games against the Nationals, Phillies, Blue Jays, Brewers and Mets… the Braves schedule will be getting fairly tough. But if there’s one guy I’d want to start for Atlanta at this point, it’s Anderson. Hopefully, he can salvage what’s been both a rough weekend and a poor start the month of May.

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