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Dodgers need to play to their strengths in the NLDS

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

LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers’ biggest advantages in the NLDS are their offense and the back end of the bullpen. They desperately need the former to get to the latter, beginning in Game 2 on Monday night at Dodger Stadium.

Because of the schedule, with potentially three off days in a five-game series, plus the Diamondbacks obliterating Clayton Kershaw in Game 1, the Dodgers are well-equipped to use their best leverage relief pitchers in every single game in the rest of the series without overly taxing them.

Evan Phillips has been the Dodgers’ best reliever for two-plus years since they found him on waivers. Ryan Brasier was similarly snatched off the scrap heap in June after getting released by Boston, and has allowed six total runs in 39 appearances with Los Angeles, only three of the runs earned. Brasier turned it up a notch with a 30.8-percent strikeout rate since the beginning of August.

Brusdar Graterol doesn’t have a high strikeout rate, but he does limit hard contact and still gets results, including a minuscule 1.20 ERA this season. He (3.09) and Phillips (3.14) have xERAs in the top 10 percent of the league. Graterol last allowed a run on July 24, carrying a 25-inning scoreless streak into the postseason. He’s also retired his last 25 batters in a row dating back to September 9, nearing a hidden perfect game, something Phillips pulled off in 2022.

Graterol is an incredible athlete, which is evident with his quick reflexes and field coverage off the mound. Sometimes he tries to do too much, with a few key errors, but has limited the damage over the last three months. He’s also a blast to watch before a game, shagging flies in the outfield. Graterol tries to make every possible catch, and on Saturday before Game 1 made a few of what would have been highlight catches if in a game. He took a home run away, reaching just over the wall, and also made an acrobatic leaping catch on the warning track in center field.

That was Graterol’s only action in Game 1, but the Dodgers need to rectify that beginning in Game 2.

The Dodgers offense, second in the majors to Atlanta in both runs scored and home runs this season, will have their work cut out for them on Monday, having to face Zac Gallen. Gallen is going to be on several National League Cy Young Award ballots after a 3.47 ERA and 220 strikeouts in 210 innings atop the Diamondbacks staff.

The Dodgers scored more runs than Gallen’s innings pitched in both of his starts against them this season, but none of that matters much come Monday. Just ask Merrill Kelly, who pitched 6⅓ scoreless innings in Game 1 after going 0-11 with a 5.49 ERA in his career against LA before Saturday.

The Dodgers need offense any way they can get it. Yes, that means hits with runners in scoring position, but they need to actually get into scoring position too. Only six plate appearances, like what happened in Game 1, isn’t going to cut it. During the regular season, the Dodgers led the majors with 1,751 PA with runners in scoring position, roughly 11 per game.

They need to play from ahead for a change. The Dodgers have led after just four of their last 36 postseason innings, dating back to 2022.

Hitting the bejesus out of the ball would also be welcome. The Dodgers did not homer in Game 1, and they didn’t hit a home run in either of their last two losses in last year’s NLDS in San Diego. The last time the Dodgers won a postseason game without hitting a home run was Game 5 of the 2021 NLDS, a 2-1 triumph in San Francisco.

During this season, the Dodgers were 87-39 (.690) when they hit at least one home run, and were 13-23 (.361) when they didn’t.

The Dodgers only had three home runs against Zac Gallen in his first 10 career starts and 59⅓ innings against them, dating back to 2019. But they got him for four home runs on August 28, all by left-handers — Freddie Freeman, Max Muncy, Jason Heyward, and James Outman.

Those homers were in support of a Bobby Miller win at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers will need more of the same on Monday night.