AA’s failure to acquire another stating pitcher before Monday’s trade deadline had dominated the comments around these parts. The prospect of heading into the playoffs with the current rotation has generated much wailing and gnashing of teeth; I know I’ve done my share of gnashing and wailing.
But hey, there have been two starting pitching performances since the trade deadline, and they have both been excellent. True, they happened to be by the only two starters who seem even marginally serviceable, but at least we do now have two starters to get excited about. Ian Anderson followed up his magnificent major league debut last week against the Yankees with a very solid six innings against the Red Sox, leading the Braves to a 10-3 victory.
So, you could say, “Anderson and Fried, what more do you need?” The problem comes in the gap between this game and the next time Max Fried takes the hill. As my Daddy used to say, “The starting rotation path runs straight through Fried and Anderson, but then it meanders, son.” Max and Ian and pray for oblivion. The New Yorker and the Angeleno and pray for a tornado. Speaking of Los Angeles, how about Aqualung and Varsity Fried and pray for a mudslide.
The Braves really need to find another effective starting pitcher or two, both to have a decent shot in the playoffs and to prevent me from coming up with more bad rhymes.
Back to the game: The final score would indicate that this was a laugher all the way, but through five innings the score was tied 2-2. Former Brave Ryan Weber started for the Bosox. See—it’s possible to have a worse rotation than the Braves. Before yesterday I had not realized he was still in the big leagues. In fact, I had given Ryan Weber no thought at all in in several years—I suspect that’s suppressed memories of the trauma that was the second half of 2014 and 2015.
Anyway, Weber has been just about the worst starter in baseball so far this year. And after three batters in the top of the first, the Braves led 2-0 on a walk by Freeman and a two run blast over the Green Monster by Ozuna. D’Arnaud followed with single and Riley hit a 415 foot double to right center, but both were left stranded. Still, you figured many more runs by the Braves were to follow. Turns out, though, that Weber pitched another three and a third innings, giving up only one more hit.
Meanwhile, Jethro Tull, while not quite as sharp as last week, still looked very good. The Bosox managed two runs in the third on three singles and a wild pitch but that was to be the only scoring they managed off Anderson. Finally, in the top of the sixth, the Braves broke through to score two on RBI singles by Riley and Inciarte. Riley’s was hit very hard; Ender’s was not—he hit a high chopper off the plate that he just managed to beat out, scoring Travis from third.
Anderson came out to pitch the sixth, having already thrown 78 pitches. He got through the sixth unscathed, completing his night’s work with 96 pitches, leaving up 4-2 (and in line for the WIN! as Chip excitedly told us). Anderson’s line: 6IP, 6 hits, 2 runs, 8 Ks, and 1 walk. You’ll take that every day of the week and twice on Saturday (that’s our next doubleheader against the Nats). So far, Ian has struck out 14 and walked only 3. In his first start, he relied primarily upon excellent fastball command and a terrific changeup. I’d been hearing about his great curveball for years, and last night he showcased it a lot more, especially as the game wore on. Anderson got 19 swinging strikes on the night (most by any Braves pitcher on the season), and all but two of them were on the changeup and the curveball. I know the sample size is ridiculously small, but so far Anderson looks like the real deal.
After Anderson left the game, the Braves bats exploded, headlined by two more monstrous dingers by Ozuna, who finished with three homers and six ribbies. The Mime silenced his critics, as he was the first NL player to hit three home runs in a game in Fenway. (Actually he hasn’t really had critics; he’s been a wonderful addition. I just wanted to use that line.)
In the end, the Braves finished with 14 hits and 10 runs, with multiple hits by Swanson, Ozuna, d’arnaud, Riley, and Enciarte(!). And Freeman extended his hit streak to 15 games, reaching base 3 times. Beyond the obvious performance by Ozuna, perhaps the most promising thing about the offense is that Riley continued his tear. He is looking much more like the guy who came up last June. He is avoiding the sliders outside in the dirt, and crushing the fastballs over the plate.
That’s 28 runs scored in the last 3 games. As Chip said in the pregame: “The Braves bats have come to life in the last two games. And coincidentally the Braves won them both.” I’m starting to think it’s not a coincidence.
* * *
Tuesday night’s game marked the tenth anniversary of Freddie Freeman’s first big league game. Bryce Harper said something Sunday night about how underrated Freddie is. It’s hard for me to judge that, living in Braves country. But I do wonder if even Braves fans appreciate how well he stacks up against other franchise greats. In his career to date, Freeman has generated 35.6 offensive WAR (BRef version). With only 3 or 4 additional solid seasons (and remember he only turns 31 this month), he could have the second most offensive WAR of any Atlanta Brave. Chipper had 88.3, so that is likely out of reach. But Andruw had 39.8 (defensive accounts for a large percentage of his total WAR), and Murph had 48.7 as an Atlanta Brave. By the way, in case you kids ever wonder what was the big deal about Henry Aaron, the Hammer had a total of 132.5 offensive WAR in his career. Mr. Aaron was already older than Freddie is now when the Braves came to Atlanta, and he still had a total of 49.9 over the next nine years in Atlanta. Freddie is not likely to have a decade like that, but he is now hitting as well as he ever has; he could end up with HOF-worthy numbers. Of course, Murph and Andruw pretty much fell off a cliff when they reached their early thirties. Still, I like Freddie’s chances of several more excellent seasons.
* * *
This is the first series win by the Braves at Fenway Park since 2002, when Mike Remlinger won two games in relief. But the Braves’ history in Fenway is not all dismal. I imagine you realize that the Braves, who are the oldest continuous franchise in major league history, have won only three World Series since 1900. They won the first of those three in 1914, playing in the almost new Fenway Park. The Boston Braves were building a new stadium, so they rented Fenway from the Red Sox for the 1914 miracle season, and they finished their World Series sweep that year with two wins in Fenway Park.
* * *
Well, Ian Anderson has started two major league games, and I recapped both of them. I realize that correlation is not causation, but I’m willing to take responsibility. We’ll see how he does with another recapper in his next start. RustyS—no pressure, I have confidence in you.
Tonight the Braves go for the sweep behind Robbie Erlin. The Bosox counter with someone named Mike Kirkham, who has a career ERA of 10.98 in 14 games. How the mighty have fallen!