Ian Anderson helped subdue the concerns about the Braves’ rotation when he debuted in August, now he stands as a key reason why this October is shaping up to be a memorable one for Atlanta.
Anderson delivered yet another impressive scoreless effort, and Dansby Swanson hit the first of the two home runs that propelled the Braves to a 2-0 win over the Marlins in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.
“It doesn’t seem like the moment ever matters to [Anderson],” manager Brian Snitker said. “He just keeps pitching and trusting his stuff.”
“Even on his off days, he’s always locked in, paying attention to every day, thinking about how he could get [batters] out,” catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. “He’s just always been like that since I’ve been up here.”
Swanson and d’Arnaud both homered for the second straight day to back Anderson and put the Braves on the verge of sweeping this best-of-five series.
A little more than a month after dazzling in his big league debut on Aug. 26, Anderson has become Atlanta’s latest postseason hero. The 22-year-old hurler has made just eight starts since reaching the Majors, but that inexperience has not affected him -- he has thrown 11 2/3 scoreless innings over two postseason starts and moved the Braves a win away from reaching the NL Championship Series for the first time since 2001, when he was just 3 years old.
Teams taking a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series have gone on to win the series 73 of 83 times.
Working with a commanding series lead is unfamiliar territory for the Braves, who have won four straight postseason games for the first time since 1999. They have lost eight straight NLDS dating back to 2002.
“Obviously, to win three in a row would be huge,” d’Arnaud said. “Just to know that we advance to the Championship Series. But with that being said, we can’t take the Marlins lightly.”
With no scheduled off-days in the NLDS, bringing the series to a close as quickly as possible would be beneficial to the Braves, who have just three traditional starting pitchers.
Two of them, Anderson and Kyle Wright, entered this postseason having combined for 18 career starts. Wright, who finally started living up to his potential over his final three regular-season outings, will attempt to add to Atlanta’s pitching dominance when he starts Game 3 on Thursday afternoon.
The Braves have allowed a run in just three of the 40 innings they played this postseason. They stand with the 1905 Giants and 1966 Orioles as the only teams to record a shutout in three of their first four games of a postseason.
“It’s been fun to see them go out and do their thing,” Swanson said. “When they pitch like that, it makes the defense that much better.”
Anderson allowed three hits over 5 2/3 innings on Wednesday, with eight strikeouts, and has now fanned 17 through his first two career playoff starts. He joins former Brave Steve Avery as the only pitchers in big league history to put up five-plus scoreless innings with at least eight strikeouts in each of his first two career postseason appearances.
In his postseason debut, in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Reds, Anderson allowed two hits over six scoreless innings.
“I think I had more nerves today,” Anderson said. “I don’t know if it was the different site and seeing all the playoff stuff hanging up, but I was able to calm down and get in the groove of the game. It helped early on to get a couple guys on and get out of it.”
Anderson needed 24 pitches to get through the first inning, but he quickly settled in with the help of his trusty changeup. He got some comfort when Swanson homered off Marlins starter Pablo López in the second inning and d’Arnaud added a solo homer off López in the fourth.
d’Arnaud has accounted for three of the six home runs López has allowed over 259 plate appearances this year. This latest was a big one, but more important, he has been the guiding force for a pitching staff that has matched the franchise record for shutouts in a postseason.
This is the first time the Braves have produced three shutouts in a postseason since 1996 (NLCS Games 5 and 7 and World Series Game 2). The team also recorded three in 1991 (NLCS Games 2, 6 and 7).
Anderson’s day ended with a strikeout of Jesús Aguilar at the end of a 10-pitch battle with one on in the sixth. Darren O’Day then loaded the bases before getting former Brave Matt Joyce to ground out.
O’Day’s tension-filled effort came a few hours after he revealed he had nicknamed Anderson “Screech.” The nickname has drawn some laughs in the clubhouse, but the 37-year-old reliever was dismayed to learn the rookie had never heard of “Screech," a popular nerdy character from the 1990s sitcom “Saved by the Bell.”
“Maybe while I’m [in the bubble] I’ll have time to peek at that show and I’ll get back to you to let you know what I think about it,” Anderson said with a laugh.
Thanks to Anderson, the Braves’ life in a bubble might last at least another week.