Rookies flourish during an October devoid of fans and a feverish playoff atmosphere
Had this been a regular postseason, Atlanta pitcher Ian Anderson would have made Tuesday’s Game 2 start in Dodger Stadium with more than 50,000 hostile fans doing everything they could to intimidate, harass and distract the rookie right-hander.
Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the game to Arlington, Texas, at neutral-site Globe Life Field, where a quarter-capacity crowd of 10,624 was split between the Braves and the Dodgers and nowhere near as intimidating as a packed house in Chavez Ravine.
Anderson, who made all of six big league starts before these playoffs, blanked the Dodgers on one hit for four innings of an 8-7 victory, running the 22-year-old’s postseason scoreless streak to 15-2/3 innings in three starts.
Two days later, fellow 22-year-old rookie right-hander Bryse Wilson, who also had six big league starts before the postseason, threw six dominant innings against the Dodgers, giving up one run and one hit in a 10-2 Game 4 win Thursday night.
Earlier Thursday, in an empty Petco Park in San Diego, five Houston rookies — Luis Garcia, Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb and Brooks Raley — combined to yield two runs and four hits in 6-2/3 innings of the Astros’ 4-3 win over Tampa Bay in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.
A healthy breeze disrupted pitches and some players’ vision in the Atlanta Braves’ Game 4 win over the Dodgers on Thursday. The roof again will be open.
Dodgers rookies Edwin Ríos, Dustin May, Brusdar Graterol, Victor Gonzàlez and Tony Gonsolin have had their moments.
And the breakout star of this postseason has been a rookie, Tampa Bay outfielder Randy Arozarena, who entered Friday’s game with a .417 average, 1.357 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, six homers and eight RBIs in 12 games.
Which raises the question: Could the circumstances of this postseason — games played in neutral sites with no fans or a minimal number of fans — make it easier for rookies to thrive?
“I think that might be part of it,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Friday. “But I also think that in this game, in general, players are younger. We’ve seen it in the postseason. You’ve seen it also on a position player side, even from [the Braves].
“So I think that guys are just arriving earlier and feeling more comfortable in the big leagues. But certainly, when you’re not playing in a hostile environment on the road, it’s a little different than even here, when we got, call it 12,000 sort of neutral-ish fans, or Braves-Dodgers fans. A mixed bag.”
Anderson and Wilson are two of three rookies in Atlanta’s rotation. The other is 25-year-old right-hander Kyle Wright, who threw six shutout innings in an NL division series Game 3 win over Miami but was rocked for seven runs in five hits in the first inning of a 15-3 Game 3 loss to the Dodgers Wednesday.
“The stage they’re on right now, it’s pretty remarkable,” Braves veteran reliever Josh Tomlin said. “You talk about experience — no one ever has experience until they actually have to go through it. Those guys asked a lot of questions of guys like us. We try to give them the best advice, the best information we can.
“They listen, asked all the right questions. They understand who they are as pitchers now. I think that’s the biggest part, understanding who you are, what makes you good and not trying to do anything more than that. If it wasn’t good enough, you wouldn’t be here.”
After going heavy with left-handed hitters in the middle of the order for Game 4, the Dodgers are going back to a more normal order in NLCS Game 5.
Rookie pitchers might also benefit from the novelty effect. The Dodgers had never faced Anderson, who baffled them with his fastball-changeup combination, or Wilson, who featured a 95-mph four-seam fastball, a 94-mph two-seam sinking fastball, an 87-mph changeup and an 80-mph curve.
“Guys are stepping up and pounding the strike zone and having success,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “Part of it is, I think, a lot of guys haven’t really seen those guys, so we’re looking forward to getting another crack at them.”
The Dodgers pounded Atlanta for 15 runs and 13 hits, including five homers, in the first three innings of Game 3.
The way the Braves responded in Game 4, snapping a 1-1 tie with a six-run sixth inning in a 10-2 victory to move to within one win of their first World Series berth since 1999, was further evidence of the character and resolve manager Brian Snitker believes his team possesses.
“I call it the ‘it’ factor—I don’t know [what it is], but this team has it,” Snitker said. “You can’t create it. It happens with the personnel. They care about each other. They pull for each other. This is a group … with grit, the resiliency to put [Game 3] behind them.”
With Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Bryse Wilson, the Atlanta Braves have developed a strong young core of players capable of reaching the World Series.
Snitker knew the Braves had the talent to contend for a pennant, but it took a month or two of regular-season games for the club’s personality to emerge.
“I think you have to wait for the season to unfold and see how they react to situations,” Snitker said. “You have a really good feel [for the team] because of the personnel, but until you get into the wars, you’re not 100% sure.”
DiGiovanna reported from Los Angeles.
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