Game One of the NLDS has come and gone. The Dodgers have only used four pitchers. The bullpen only allowed one hit.
That is not anything close to the regular season narrative Dodgers fans are used to. The Dodgers usually employ a wide variety of arms to get through even a 6-0 win like the victory over the Nationals last night.
But that was not the case in Game One. Walker Buehler lasted six innings, allowing no runs and one hit while walking three and K’ing up eight. But maybe even more impressive than Buehler was Roberts’ perfection in calling the right arms out of the bullpen.
He’s been questioned by plenty of fans all season long, but he surely silenced the critics tonight. Adam Kolarek came in and retired Juan Soto to help Buehler escape the outing without a blemish. Kenta Maeda followed behind him and kept the Nats from reaching base. Joe Kelly allowed a lead off double to Trea Turner in the ninth, but he finished off the rest of the order, using a 98 mph two-seamer that zipped by Soto to end the game.
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The bullpen looked perfect tonight, and it nearly was, even against a Nationals lineup that hits nearly as much as the Dodgers’ own. Part of the reason is that they all had some of their best stuff. Maeda has looked sharp for much of this season, but his curveball looked like it had some extra life in Game One.
Regardless of uncharacteristically strong performances, this iteration of the Dodgers bullpen is better than any that has been displayed at any point this season. The back of the bullpen is strong, even if Joe Kelly has been struggling to keep his legs under him since early September. Kenley Jansen has three straight scoreless outings under his belt in which he racked up four punchouts.
But even more important than the back of the bullpen is the corps of long relievers, made up of an impressive group of arms. In what could be a near-playoff caliber rotation on its own, the collection of starting pitchers occupying most of the room in the Dodgers bullpen, Maeda, Ross Stripling, Julio Urias, and Rich Hill, is one of the most overlooked pieces of this Dodger team.
Maeda has been solid in the postseason plenty before, but having Stripling to complement Urias and Hill to complement the rest of the hard-throwing righties in the bullpen, namely Dustin May and Pedro Baez. Having so many arms who can go one inning, or two or three, or even four innings in an extra-innings game, is a luxury almost no other team in baseball has.
Much like the rotation the Houston Astros had in 2017 (sorry to bring this up but it’s relevant), the Dodgers have All-Star starters out of the bullpen who can act as an insurance policy for both starters and relievers, much like Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers did for the ‘Stros.
Especially now that Jansen, Baez, and three of the four bulk pitchers got a chance to rest, Roberts will have a plethora of options to go to in what promises to be a close game against Stephen Strasburg and the Nats, so don’t be surprised if far more than four pitchers come trotting out of the bullpen tonight.