Braves: Once again, Ian Anderson will face his biggest test yet

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This is starting to become an every week thing.

It feels like every 5-ish days, Ian Anderson faces another unique challenge that is greater than anything he has ever gone up against before in his baseball career. First, it was his MLB debut against Gerrit Cole & his 27-game win streak. Anderson out-dueled the 324 million-dollar-man, giving up just one hit — a solo HR — over his first six innings. He then proceeded to prove that start was no fluke — posting a 1.95 ERA for the season over 32.1 innings — and his 2.54 FIP & 11.9 K/9 gave Braves fans hope that his performance was sustainable.

Anderson’s next challenge was a September 24th matchup against the Marlins, who were creeping up on the Braves in the division race. He once again stepped up and gave the Braves six solid innings, even though three unearned runs were charged to him in a loss. However, the regular season is the regular season. Would the former 3rd overall pick show up like the Braves desperately needed him to in the playoffs, or would he finally start to look his age?

The answer is the former.

Anderson received the nod in a series-clinching game against the very talented Cincinnati Reds in the new-look Wild Card Series. Under normal circumstances, this game isn’t played. However, 2020 is anything but “normal,” forcing Anderson to face off against fellow changeup extraordinaire, Luis Castillo. The rookie was once again taking another step, and in his most challenging test so far — he delivered one of the best performances for a Braves rookie in postseason history.

After a 1-0, 13-inning snoozer that saw Atlanta use a lot of bullpen arms, Anderson came out and put the team on his back. Finishing one pitch shy of 100 even, he had the Reds in Alcatraz. His final line of 6 IP, 2 H, 2 BB and 9 K is impressive — even for a seasoned vet (Quick note — the line should read 1 BB & 10 K, I haven’t forgotten Scheurwater stealing his 10th K). Anderson had Braves country swooning after their first playoff series victory since 2001, and his postseason debut proved that Atlanta had two starters they could lean on, which didn’t seem like a possibility after Mike Soroka‘s tragic injury.

The Braves would go on to play the Miami Marlins in the NLDS, the same team Anderson finished his 2020 season against. After Max Fried faltered in Game 1, Atlanta’s offense exploded to put them on top. You can’t rely on magic in the postseason, so Braves fans were hopeful Anderson could deliver in what was again — the biggest start of his career — and he did just that, as he’s done his entire rookie season.

Anderson’s changeup had Miami hitters tied up in knots — and the Fish, like the Reds, had no answers. His line for Game 2 of the NLDS was similar to Game 2 of the WC series — 5.2 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 8 K. Max Fried had gotten an early(ish) hook the day before, so once again, Anderson went out and gave the bullpen some valuable rest. Dominating is one thing; having an impact that helps the rest of the pitching staff is something you expect to see out of a seven-year veteran. Atlanta has notched four shutouts in six postseason games, and last night they were one bad pitch away from Max Fried making it five out of six. Anderson owns two of those.

Tonight, here we are again — “the biggest test of Ian Anderson’s young career.” This time, though, it’s about as tough of a challenge as a pitcher can face.

The LA Dodgers absolutely crush RHPs — which is why winning Game 1 was so critical for Atlanta. As a team, the Dodgers hit RHPs to the tune of a .837 OPS. Mookie Betts, who has some of the worst reverse-splits in baseball, hit righties for a .323 average and 1.061 OPS in 2020. The likely runner up for MVP will not go down as quietly as he did against the left-handed Max Fried.

Clayton Kershaw will be on the mound for the Dodgers, and while he’s had his issues in the playoffs, he’s dominated Atlanta, especially in the postseason (1 ER in 21 innings). Not to mention, he’s only given up three earned runs in 14 playoff innings in 2020. This season, Atlanta’s OPS against lefties saw a sharp dropoff — .754 v LHP compared to .852 v RHP. Thankfully, in the 2020 postseason — they’ve worn LHPs out. Their 1.036 OPS & 5 RBI as a team over 17 at-bats is encouraging, and it will be paramount to get Ian Anderson some support.

If we’re talking big-time baseball, it doesn’t get much bigger than this for Anderson. The 43-17 Dodgers barely edged out Atlanta for the best offense in baseball, and Freddie Freeman vs. Mookie Betts is a hot MVP debate (for some, it’s pretty obvious to me). Atlanta has been owned by LA in the playoffs, but up 1-0, this is a perfect time to get the monkey off their backs. Outside of Max Fried, there’s nobody more that I trust on this staff to get the job done than Ian Anderson. He’s proven himself time and time again, and I expect him to lead the Braves tonight with another sharp outing.

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