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Dodgers’ bullpen is the lone bright spot in a disastrous series

Division Series - Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Two Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The first two games for the Dodgers in this year’s NLDS have not gone anywhere near according to plan.

For a team that had the second-highest run differential in the National League, the Dodgers bats have been silenced over their 18 innings of offense. The Dodgers have managed to put up just four runs over the first two games of the series, whereas the Arizona Diamondbacks have tallied 15 runs. The Dodgers have left 13 runners on base, including back-to-back failed opportunities with the bases loaded in Game 2, while Arizona has pounced on chances to add to their leads — which have both come before the Dodgers could get a single at-bat.

The Dodgers rotation’s struggles were well documented this season, and the inconsistencies felt by the rotation reared their ugly heads against Arizona, with Clayton Kershaw and Bobby Miller combining to record six outs.

The one positive in what has been an underwhelming and disappointing playoff series for the Dodgers has been their bullpen.

Dodgers’ relievers have been a saving grace this series, as they have allowed just five runs in 16 combined innings over the first two games, compared to the starters allowing nine runs in only two innings combined. Excluding the abrupt relief appearance from rookie starter Emmet Sheehan in the first game of the series, the Dodgers bullpen has allowed just two runs in 12⅓ innings of work.

Relievers Brusdar Graterol, Shelby Miller, and Joe Kelly have all shined in their limited action.

Graterol was arguably the most underrated Dodger and one of the most underrated relief arms in all of baseball heading into October, as his 1.20 ERA was the best for any reliever with 60+ innings pitched. Graterol was also carrying a 25-inning scoreless streak entering the series, and he ensured the streak would remain intact, blanking Diamondbacks hitters through two innings of relief.

Miller in his first year as a full-time reliever had a successful season in a season plagued by injuries. Miller pitched to a perfect 3-0 record with a 1.71 ERA in 42 innings of relief this season, the most he pitched since the 2019 season when he was with the Texas Rangers.

Miller had not pitched in the postseason since 2014, when he was a starting pitcher with the Cardinals. He was dominant in Game 1, striking out three Diamondbacks hitters in two shutout innings.

Joe Kelly has had an extensive and polarizing postseason track record throughout his career. Kelly has had dominant playoff runs, such as his 2018 postseason where he helped the Red Sox— along with future Dodgers teammates Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, and Ryan Brasier— win a World Series. Kelly has had disappointing moments in the postseason, such as Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS, where he allowed a go-ahead grand slam to the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals.

Kelly has dealt with his fair share of great performances and shortcomings on the mound since the Dodgers’ title run in 2020, allowing four earned runs over his past nine postseason innings. In his first postseason appearance with the Dodgers since 2021, Kelly tossed 1⅔ shutout innings in relief while striking out three in Game 2, one of which ended a bases-loaded threat by Arizona.

The Dodgers bullpen is not an area for concern, but the Dodgers can’t rely on them to extinguish the flames if they want to avoid being swept and sent home early in back-to-back seasons. The starting pitching needs to quickly learn how to pitch around Arizona’s lineup and the offense — especially the dynamic duo of Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman— will have to not let opportunities to score pass them by so easily.