8

MLB playoffs 2020: Ian Anderson’s emergence makes Atlanta Braves biggest threat to Dodgers

Are the Atlanta Braves the biggest threat to the Los Angeles Dodgers, or is it the other way around? A case could be made for either declaration.

There isn’t a lot we can say definitively about this baseball season, with its short run and wonky, siloed schedule format. The Dodgers have been the consensus pick to win the World Series for months, arguably since Feb. 10 — the day L.A. acquired Mookie Betts from Boston. The regular season only solidified that rough consensus, as the Dodgers posted the fifth-best winning percentage in history, supported by a run differential (plus-136) at least 62% better than every other club in the majors.cheap nfl nike jersey

Yet, there is a problem with such a consensus, beyond the small sample size of a 60-game mini-season. The Dodgers played only nine of the other 29 clubs during the regular season, same as the Braves and everyone else. There were no common opponents among any of the teams who will ultimately meet in the League Championship Series round. Thus declaring the Dodgers as the No. 1 team is an article of speculation, much like a wire service college football poll.8

After Ian Anderson and the deep, veteran Atlanta bullpen throttled the Miami Marlins 2-0 on Wednesday, the Braves are one game away from their second straight sweep to begin the postseason. Three of their four wins have been shutouts. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, only two other teams have ever put up three shutouts in four games to start a postseason. Both of those teams — the 1905 John McGraw New York Giants and the 1966 pre-Earl Weaver Baltimore Orioles — won the World Series.

That’s good trivia but also a side point. The collective 1.13 ERA of the Atlanta pitching staff — including 1.59 for the starting pitchers — suggests that in an era when postseason pitching is so good that teams almost have to hit the ball out of the park to score, the Braves are positioned to go toe-to-toe with anyone. Even the Dodgers.

Anderson has emerged as a phenom since making his big league debut earlier this season. With his 5⅔ shutout innings against Miami on Wednesday, his career line including two postseason starts is 5-2 with a 1.43 ERA, 58 strikeouts in 44 innings and only one home run allowed. The success of Anderson’s changeup is becoming the stuff of legend. According to TruMedia, Anderson has thrown 234 changeups, against which opponents are hitting .079 with a .111 slugging percentage. Good luck with that, hitters.

“It doesn’t seem like the moment ever matters to him,” Braves manager Brian Snitker marveled after Wednesday’s game. “He just keeps pitching and trusting his stuff. [He’s always the] same guy. What a good sign, right?”cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Indeed. While the injuries piled up among the projected members of the Atlanta rotation — 2019 Cy Young contender Mike Soroka and veteran lefty Cole Hamels, while future Hall of Famer Felix Hernandez opted out — the starting staff emerged as the Braves’ Achilles’ heel. The bullpen was outstanding. The offense was almost as potent as that of the Dodgers’ at the bottom line, and was arguably more diverse.