Daily Notes: Sunday, October 17

-Clint Manry

The Braves somehow found a way to win last night’s thriller of a Game 1 against the Dodgers, thanks to Austin Riley’s two key hits. It’s crazy: the Atlanta offense was out-hit by LA 10-6 and the Braves managed just two runners in scoring position the entire game (compared to eight from the Dodgers), but somehow the good guys came away with a win. This morning I did the Game 1 recap over at SportsTalkATL, and I’m still feeling pumped about that huge hit by Riley… but I’m can’t help but feel concerned about tonight’s matchup with Max Scherzer.

The 37-year-old Scherzer appears to be revived from his down 2020 campaign, and judging by his gem last week versus the Giants, there aren’t any signs of him slowing down yet. In that third game of LA’s DS matchup with the Giants, Scherzer struck out 10 in a start in which he allowed just three hits over seven innings. His only real mistake was a solo-homer by Evan Longoria in the fifth, though Buster Posey did also crush a harmless 101.8-MPH single in the first. But other than that… nothing. Given how punchless the Braves offense was last night against LA’s revolving door of relievers (save for Riley, of course), I’ll admit I’m a bit worried when it comes to facing Scherzer.

And I’m tellin’ ya… last Monday was peak Scherzer. The man was generating whiffs like he was still in his early-30s… with four different pitches. Seriously, his four-seam, slider, changeup AND cutter each finished with a swing-and-miss rate of at least 30% in that game (well, his fastball was actually at 29%… but you get the point). Somehow, though, the Giants still managed to win 1-0, even though LA outhit them 5-3, and, just like versus the Braves last night, put more runners in scoring position. Baseball can be a crazy game sometimes.

But to prevent this post from looking like a recent LA Times column, I must give some credit to Scherzer’s opposing starter tonight – Braves righty Ian Anderson. At just 23, this will already be Ian’s sixth career postseason start, and boy has he grown up before our eyes. And I know he hasn’t been as dominant as he was last year, when he posted a sub-2.00 ERA with Atlanta, but I actually like this version of him. It seems more sustainable, and believe it or not, even in his first full campaign this season, the kid has been just as durable as in 2020 in terms of innings per start, averaging 5.3 frames. Of course, we’ll probably need more than five innings from Anderson tonight… or at least it would be much more ideal. Although I’d be crazy to complain about another three-hitter (like he did vs. MIL). Regardless, Anderson will need to be a bit more efficient in tonight’s outing.

Anyways… it looks like Eddie Rosario is back at the lead-off spot tonight for Game 2…

Minor looksies

Given the minor league season is over, these new daily columns will mostly cover the big league team and its current playoff run, but the other day I posted an update regarding the Arizona Fall League (which kicked off last Wednesday). I recommend checking out Ryan Cothran’s write-up from earlier this month for more info regarding the players participating from the Braves organization, but going forward I plan to share some notes from each game. The Peoria Javelinas, which features seven Braves participates, have had a rough go to start the AFL season, beginning the fall campaign 0-4. The team is off today but will start back on Monday, so I’ll post some notes from the game in tomorrow’s daily write-up. Spoiler: Shea Langeliers has not played in a game yet.

Let’s go get another win tonight and make it FIVE in a row this postseason! Go Braves!

Ian Anderson and the Braves can clinch a playoff spot tonight  

Thursday, September 30, 2021

-Clint Manry

Just one more win. That’s all the Braves need to clinch a fourth-straight NL East title. With a series finale versus the Phillies coming up tonight at 7:20 PM (ET), Atlanta can punch its ticket to an NLDS matchup. All they have to do is win just one more.

Charlie Morton and Max Fried took care of business in the series first two games, going the distance with back-to-back seven-inning outings that featured a combined 16 strikeouts. Now, coming off the second-best start of his 2021 season (per Game Score) versus the D’Backs, it’s Ian Anderson’s turn to shut down the Phillies.

The 23-year-old Anderson has pitched well against Philly so far this season, going seven innings himself in his most recent outing versus the team (back on June 10). In four total starts against the NL East rival in 2021, Anderson owns a 3.09 ERA to go with 24 strikeouts in 23.1 innings. Phils batters are hitting just .224 against the Braves righty this season, and their .671 OPS doesn’t exactly scare anyone either. Can Anderson keep up the good work?

As many of us are aware, Thursday’s matchup is no doubt the biggest game of the Braves season thus far. With the NL Central already decided by the Brewers’ clinching this past Sunday, Atlanta’s postseason opponent is set. In the West, the Giants and Dodgers are battling it out for first, though both are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. The East is currently the only NL division still waiting for a postseason representative. But that can change tonight at Truist!

Young starting pitching has been a bright spot in what’s been a disappointing 2021 for the Braves 

I’ve never been too good with timing, so I’m aware that immediately following a 20-2 rout over the Mets, this particular post is perhaps a bit unnecessary at this point. But even with an 18-run victory last night and a respectable 5-5 record over their last 10 games, the Braves 2021 season has been a complete disaster. And unfortunately, wins like Wednesdays keep pulling us back in, fooling us into thinking that the team will turn it around. Isn’t it great being a fan?

However, despite Atlanta’s incredible inability to even play .500 ball this season, resulting in their current third-place standing in the NL East and below-15-percent odds at making the postseason, there is one thing that has created some enjoyment: their young starting pitching. 

Huascar Ynoa 

Prior to his self-inflicted injury and the disappointing outing that caused it (on May 16), Ynoa was among the 15-best starters in baseball in terms of run prevention. As he walked off the mound following six innings of solid work versus Philadelphia back on May 9, the then-22-year-old — he turned 23 on May 28 — sported a stingy 2.29 ERA in his first 39 ⅓ innings as a regular starter in the Braves rotation and was a winner of four-straight decisions. 

Maybe it was because of his contributions on offense, which featured a .353 AVG with two homers and six RBI in 17 PA, or perhaps the team just loved playing behind him. But for some reason, Atlanta just simply played better overall when Ynoa was on the mound. His four consecutive wins mentioned above illustrate it, but the Braves not only won with him… they usually won handily, outscoring opponents 55-24 in games he started (up until the final one, in which he hurt himself).

Ynoa was an underdog even to be included in the starting staff entering the 2021 regular season. Not only did he make it, but he also put together an incredible stretch of dominance on the mound (and power at the plate). August can’t come soon enough…

Ian Anderson

At least in terms of his impact on the Braves, much of what I just wrote about Ynoa can also be said for Anderson (except for the offense part). Not only did the former third-overall pick post a 3.46 ERA during that same month-long span mentioned above for Ynoa, but Atlanta won five of Anderson’s first seven starts.

Given the incredible year he had in 2020 and a pair of good but not great outings in the middle of April, there was some concern that perhaps Anderson was headed for much more regression than anticipated in 2021. However, that hasn’t been the case. In fact, since Ynoa went down with his injury, Anderson has been the best starter in the rotation, narrowly logging more fWAR than Charlie Morton since we received the horrible news regarding Huascar back in mid-May. For a kid in his 20s to again put the staff on his back, even though he hasn’t quite dominated opposing batters as he did a year ago, it just shows that Anderson definitely has the talent to be a team ace. 

Tucker Davidson 

Until his most recent outing, a June 15 start versus Boston in which it was clear something wasn’t right with him (ending with five earned runs in 2 ⅓ innings), the 25-year-old Davidson was on a helluva ride with the Braves as he was finally receiving consistent opportunities to showcase his talent in the majors. The dreadful performance against the Red Sox quickly made sense when it was reported that he’d sustained a forearm injury, an ailment we now know will keep him out until at least August. 

However, during the three starts leading up to that unfortunate injury, Davidson was nearly unhittable. He posted a 1.53 ERA, with strong performances against the Mets, Nationals, and Phillies — although the Braves somehow lost all but one of those. Reaching the 6th inning in all of those outings, it was clear that Davidson had made some impressive strides, and if given a chance, could help lead the Braves to a playoff spot down the stretch. The young southpaw can still become a big part of Atlanta’s postseason push; it’ll just have to be during the final month or two of the regular season. 

Kyle Muller 

After a slow start in Triple-A Gwinnett, Muller started garnering attention when he put together a three-start stretch down in the minors in late May to early June in which he struck out 20 batters in 16 innings and held opponents to a .148 AVG, leading to a mid-June call-up to The Show. Of course, the Braves manager had to make the big lefty’s debut as difficult as possible as Brian Snitker called on Muller in the 5th inning of a one-run ball game against Boston. Still, as we know, more opportunities presented themselves later on.

Since that relief appearance versus the Red Sox, Muller has made two solid starts with Atlanta, combining nine total innings of two-hit ball, going with one run allowed and 12 strikeouts against both the Mets and Reds. That most recent outing versus the Reds featured a five-inning one-hitter in which Muller punched out nine and walked two. For a guy with some concerning control issues in the past, this kid is trending up, and even better… he’s healthy.

The contributions of this quartet of 25 and under has, in their own respective ways and at different junctures in the season, really been the only bright spots for the Braves so far in 2021. And though there’s plenty of season left, it’s not like we’re just getting started. 

So there’s a way for the Braves to, in fact, turn this around, but it’s likely going to require more strong pitching from the young guns.