The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night, tying the best-of-seven series at 1-1 ahead of Thursday's day off. Officially, the Rays' victory was credited to Nick Anderson, who recorded four outs in relief of Blake Snell. He allowed one run on a solo homer from Dodgers catcher Will Smith.
But for as unbeatable as Anderson looked during the regular season, when he posted a 0.55 ERA and struck out 26 of the 58 batters he faced, he's appeared conquerable this postseason. To wit, he's now allowed a run in five consecutive appearances, and he has given up at least one run in six of his eight games in October. For comparison's sake, Anderson gave up six runs -- as in six total -- in his 42 regular-season appearances since joining the Rays in July 2019. Oof.
There are other troubling aspects to Anderson's recent performances, too. He entered Wednesday having not struck out any of the previous 23 batters he had faced. He did change that during Game 2, punching out a pair, but it's fair to describe his K drought as uncharacteristic. He's also now given up three homers to right-handed batters during the playoffs after allowing just one hit to right-handed batters during the regular season.
Additionally, as The Athletic's Eno Sarris noted on Twitter, Anderson's fastball profile has changed.
His velocity is up slightly, according to TruMedia, but the pitch is featuring less spin and rise. He seems to have compensated for that by throwing more curveballs. Anderson has tossed 73 breakers in his eight playoff outings, as compared to 83 in his 19 regular-season appearances.
Whenever a pitcher goes through a down period like Anderson is, there's going to be speculation about injury or overuse. We can't say for sure how Anderson's arm is feeling right now, but we do know that rest may not be as much of an issue as it would appear. Indeed, so far this October he's made just one appearance on zero days' rest -- and that came during the wild card round. Anderson was asked to pitch multiple innings during the Rays' divisional round matchup, but he's been provided with at least two days of recovery before nearly all of his other appearances.
Whatever it is that's ailing Anderson, if anything specific, it has to be a growing concern for the Rays. They likely don't want to overreact to a string of shaky outings, but they have to balance keeping the wide view with the prospect of winning a World Series -- even if that means "demoting" Anderson from high-leverage work. It's similar, in a sense, to what they've had to weigh when it comes to second baseman Brandon Lowe.
Lowe, who has been mired in a postseason-long slump, may have broken out of it with a pair of home runs on Wednesday. The Rays can only hope that Anderson's reawakening is near, and that it will be similarly fruitful.