Braves clinch a trip to the NLDS on the strength of their… starting pitching?
Mike Soroka. Mike Foltynewicz. Cole Hamels. Felix Hernandez. Sean Newcomb. All of these would have been a more likely candidate to pitch the Braves into the NLDS than the rookie Ian Anderson, but none of those 5 were available to the Braves on Thursday as they looked to close out the three game series against the Cincinnati Reds. This as much as any other stat, metric, or gut feeling was the reason that the Reds were overwhelmingly picked to advance to the next round of the playoffs by industry “experts.” The Braves sent two relatively inexperienced starters to the mound against the Reds vaunted pitching staff, including presumptive Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer (just ask him) and Luis Castillo, a hard throwing right-hander with one of the best changeups in the game. It would have been very easy to pick the Reds even knowing how ineffective their offense had been all season, and most experts did just that. Someone forgot to tell Fried and Anderson they were overmatched.
Game one saw Max Fried go pitch for pitch with Trevor Bauer, giving the Braves seven solid innings of scoreless ball. To the national media he may have been overshadowed by Bauer, who went 7 2/3 innings and struck out 12, but anyone who has watched the Braves this year with more than just passing interest knows that Max Fried steals souls not with strikeouts but by making you feel like less than a man as you ground out weakly to Freddie Freeman. Besides, Bauer’s strikeout numbers aren’t all that impressive when you consider that the Braves struck out 573 times in 60 games this season, good for third-most in all of baseball. Bauer was great, sure, but Fried was every bit as impressive without the obnoxious behavior. A pitchers duel turned into a long distance relay race, with each team handing off the baton to reliever after reliever, and 13 anxiety-filled innings later Freddie Freeman finally walked the Braves off with a soft liner to CF off Amir Garrett, scoring Cristian Pache and ending insanity.
As the spotlight turned to Game 2, the discussion turned to Ian Anderson. At the beginning of the season most fans were just hoping to get a look at him this year in a spot start or two. No one could have imagined that the life span of a Braves starting pitcher would be less than that of a human crash test dummy, however, and the role of “next man up” ultimately fell to Anderson. Taken 3rd overall in the 2016 draft and recognized as the best pitching prospect in the Braves farm system, he debuted on August 26th against Gerrit Cole and the Yankees and held them to 1 hit in 6 innings and never looked back. Even in that first start it was hard to tell he had never pitched in a big league game before. He showed a remarkable amount of poise for a 22 year old and an advanced feel for working hitters with his offspeed pitches. As with any rookie with little to no track record, however, questions remained as to whether or not he could be trusted to bring that same poise and performance to bear in a pressure-packed post season game. You have questions? Anderson had all the answers:
- How far can you honestly expect a rookie to pitch into this game? He gave you 6, could have gone longer but with the best pen in baseball behind him 6 was plenty.
- Will the pressure of the moment be too much for him? He sat the Reds down 1-2-3 with 7 pitches in the first inning. Nervous? Please…
- But how good will he ultimately be? How about 2 hits, 9 k’s and 2 walks in those 6 innings and afterwards being compared with Steve Avery and John Smoltz. Is he good? Yeah, he’s good.
The Braves took Anderson down after 6 impressive innings and the offense piled on late against the Reds bullpen, giving the Braves a 5-0 win and punching their ticket to the NLDS against the winner of the Cubs/Marlins series. Maybe if the Cubs win the Braves can actually start a game after rush hour on the East Coast and we can get a watch party down at Parkway Pourhouse, but if you’re MLB a Braves/Marlins series just about demands a noon start time for all 5 games. The Respect “Insert Team City Here” campaign by MLB does not extend to the assigning of time slots for games, apparently.
@Baueroutage? more like @bauer-Pout-age, amirite?
Much like Lightning McQueen, Trevor Bauer creates feelings in others they themselves don’t understand. You either love him or you hate him; there is zero middle ground with the emotional ace of the Reds. From custom cleats with his web site emblazoned on them to a press conference T-shirt begging for 100K subscribers on YouTube, Bauer is a shameless self-promoter and intense competitor. If you want to know how talented Trevor Bauer is, just ask him. He will likely point you to his website, YouTube channel, Twitter feed, or simply direct you to FanGraphs and tell you what stats to look at.
He is definitely a departure from what Braves’ fans are used to from their stars, who typically speak in well-worn clichés with proper deference to the abilities of their opponents and praise for the efforts of their teammates. Asked after game 1 about his impressions of the game, Bauer essentially said they couldn’t blame the pitching for the loss and that you can’t expect to win if you don’t execute. Asked about his own personal performance, he told reporters that he had been told all week that he needed to bring his A game to beat the Braves offense, and he brought his A game. No lack of self-confidence for Bauer, that’s for sure, and he definitely isn’t shy of offending his opponents. As he walked off the mound after dominating a power-laden Braves lineup, he mimicked the Tomahawk Chop to the cardboard cutouts in attendance.
Braves fans, including our own Corey Lester, took issue with the antics of Trevor Bauer and weren’t shy expressing themselves on Twitter:
Bauer had a message for Braves fans who were giving him hell in his mentions, of course:
If you were wondering if anyone from the Braves saw this and had a reaction?
Ronald, we hear at ChattTennSports want to express our undying love and devotion to you. It’s been decades since the Braves had a personality that could come close to what you bring to the game, and we appreciate you.
So now the Braves wait for the winner of the Cubs/Marlins series, postponed yesterday due to rain with the Marlins leading the series 1-0. The Braves offense matches up well with either club, and the only question for Atlanta at this point is whether or not they have any starters ready to step up behind Fried and Anderson in a 5 game series with no days off. Kyle Wright, step to the front and accept the title of “next man up” from Ian Anderson. It’s your turn. Go Braves!
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