The Atlanta Braves won a World Series last year by not being afraid to buck convention and go to the bullpen early and often. It wasn't entirely out of necessity. And it may not be the methodology employed this postseason, especially if Spencer Strider has anything to say about it. The 23-year-old righthander with Dave Bergman mustache has been writing his name in the record books over his last two starts. In each he's struck out more than 11 batters while allowing fewer than two hits. No rookie had ever done that before.
He collected his first nine outs last night against the St. Louis Cardinals via the strikeout. No Atlanta Braves pitcher had done so previously. By the time he departed after six innings, he'd collected 12 punchouts and surrendered only two hits. It was one more strikeout and one more hit than his last start against the Cincinnati Reds.
Strider has shown versatility, with 11 of his 19 appearances this season coming out of the bullpen. Halfway through he sports a 4-2 record and a paltry 2.60 ERA. A 0.97 WHIP and absurd 14.0 K/9 which announces loudly that he's virtually unhittable. What an incredible fifth option he provides to an already solid staff. Max Fried is as good as they come, Kyle Wright has taken the next step, Charlie Morton has postseason mettle to burn, and Ian Anderson has been serviceable.
Atlanta has been gaining ground on the New York Mets and now sits 3.5 games behind. A Wild Card spot seems assured if calamity doesn't strike. Fans should get to know the name and the arsenal behind the mustache. Because he seems to be on a collision course with some high-leverage playoff pitches.
Considering the evidence to this point, that's great news for the Braves, who are quietly on the right track to a repeat.