Ian Anderson becoming the Braves' best postseason starter was unthinkable in February. Or even July, when MLB returned from the virus-induced hiatus with a 60-game schedule and expanded postseason.
Amid all the unpredictability of the past few months, Anderson's blink-of-an-eye ascension from touted prospect to playoff ace ranks among the Braves' most unexpected on-field developments of this bizarre season.
And because of it, the Braves have withstood months of rotation losses and sit one victory away from the National League Championship Series.
With an opportunity to take command of the best-of-five NL Division Series, Anderson shut out the Marlins across 5-2/3 innings in the Braves' 2-0 win Wednesday. Dansby Swanson and Travis d'Arnaud provided the offense with solo home runs off Pablo Lopez, who hadn't allowed multiple homers in a start before Game 2.
It was the Braves' third shutout in four postseason games. They're 4-0 in the playoffs, sweeping Cincinnati in the two-game wild-card series and besting the Marlins in the first two games of the NLDS.
The game was held in Houston as part of MLB's 2020 postseason bubble. The Braves need one win to advance to the NLCS, which will be held about four hours north in Arlington, where they would face the winner of the best-of-three Dodgers-Padres series.
The Braves are on the cusp of advancing thanks to their rookie right-hander. Anderson, making his eighth career start, struck out eight and walked one, keeping the Marlins' offense quiet as the Braves slugged a pair of solo homers to take and extend the lead.
Anderson could've pitched deeper had his pitch count not climbed early. He required 24 pitches to get through the first inning, pitching around two base runners. He retired eight consecutive Marlins before Brian Anderson laced a one-out double in the fourth. Anderson coaxed two fly outs to finish the inning.
He retired 15 of 17 to conclude his outing. Anderson's change-up was exceptional, generating 22 swings (nine whiffs) on 30 pitches. His four-seamer drew 14 called strikes or whiffs on 49 pitches, and his 14 curveballs prompted eight swings and two called strikes.
The Braves did run into trouble in the sixth, when they lifted Anderson at 94 pitches with two outs and a runner on. Darren O'Day, who epitomizes "solid" in the Braves' bullpen, hit Brian Anderson and walked Garrett Cooper to load the bases. Matt Joyce grounded out to first base on the first pitch he saw, however, and the Braves — and Anderson's pitching line — escaped a rocky inning unscathed.
Anderson's postseason numbers through two starts: 11-2/3 innings pitched, 17 strikeouts, three walks. He's held the opposition to five hits and no runs. The Braves were confident Anderson was up to the postseason challenge, but he's thrived under the spotlight.
Kyle Wright takes the mound Thursday against Sixto Sanchez and the Marlins. The Braves would earn their first NLCS berth in 19 years with a win.
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