Diamondbacks: Relievers Continue September Momentum in Wild Card Victory over Brewers, Form Must Continue against Dodgers

Diamondbacks closer Paul Sewald celebrating their Wild Card series win over the Milwaukee Brewers. The Diamondbacks face the Dodgers next in the NLDS.
(Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

Diamondbacks: Relief Pitching Key in Wild Card Victory over Brewers, Form Must Continue against Dodgers

For much of the season, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Achilles heel was relief pitching, especially the back end. Even trading for elite closer Paul Sewald on July 31 seemed to merely be a drop in the bucket, for the Diamondbacks had trouble getting to him with a lead. It took until August 6 for him to even get a save opportunity, his first in nine days. The Minnesota Twins won that game without making an out, tying the game with a solo home run on Sewald’s first pitch and winning the game two batters later after another home run. But in late August, with the call-up of rookie left-hander Andrew Saalfrank and the acquisition of Tampa Bay Rays castoff Ryan Thompson, the Diamondbacks relief unit locked into place. Everyone had an established role, and they did their jobs to the fullest. Through the month of September, they were among the best in the majors. That momentum continued into the Wild Card round, as they completely shut down the NL Central Champion Milwaukee Brewers in a two-game sweep, allowing no runs in either game.

Dominant Diamondback Relief Unit Down the Stretch

Miguel Castro, who had some success late in close games early in the season, had his struggles in August. However, the aforementioned roster additions allowed manager Torey Lovullo to use Castro in a middle relief role, and he flourished. Castro has not allowed any runs since August 26, a string of 15 straight appearances when including the postseason.

But Castro is merely the biggest example of lights out. Most of the rest of the relief corps has been stingy in months ending in R. When considering earned runs only, and including the two Wild Card games, Saalfrank is 11-for-11 in scoreless appearances. Joe Mantiply, a lefty middle reliever, is 8-for-10 (80%), 10 pct points higher than the league average across the same stretch. Setup man Ryan Thompson, who tends to pitch the seventh inning, is 13-for-14 (92.9%), his lone run coming on an Oswald Peraza home run in a driving Yankee Stadium rainstorm. Kevin Ginkel, the eighth-inning setup man, is 11-for-13 (84.6%). Sewald? 83.3%.

In the late innings of close games (seventh inning onward, tie game or while holding no more than a two-run lead), their performance rose from near the bottom to near the top. From September onward, they faced that situation in 16 separate innings (including three in the postseason). They only allowed an earned run twice — a 7-to-1 ratio. (Historical average is 3-to-1; league average since September 1 has been 2.5. And yes, those who are wondering — these are Goose Eggs and Broken Eggs.)

Can’t Score If You Don’t Reach Base

Part of keeping runs off the board is avoiding baserunners. The average WHIP across the NL from September 1 to October 1 was 1.322. For the Diamondbacks, the team average was 1.017, second-best in both the NL and the majors. Eight of the ten Diamondback relievers to make more than one relief appearance from September 1 onward had a WHIP below the NL average. These were Joe Mantiply (1.114), Kevin Ginkel (1.091), Andrew Saalfrank (1.065), Bryce Jarvis and Paul Sewald (both 1.000), Luis Frias (0.951), Miguel Castro (0.636), and Ryan Thompson (0.583). The two who didn’t — Scott McGough (1.895) and Kyle Nelson (1.571) — were not on the Wild Card Round roster.

Look again at the WHIPs for Castro and Thompson. They are less than half the league average. To break it down even further, consider this. Castro faced 41 batters. Thompson faced 42. Each of them allowed a grand total of eight baserunners — six hits, a walk, and a hit batsman by Thompson; five hits, two walks, and a hit batsman by Castro. They did so with different approaches, Castro by strikeout (39.0%!) and Thompson by inducing soft contact (19.0 K%).

Diamondbacks–Dodgers Comparison

Obviously, the Diamondbacks relievers need to keep their current form in the Division Series to even have a chance against the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, the Dodgers relief corps was among the select few to outperform the Diamondbacks down the stretch.

Six pitchers (excluding position players) appeared in at least nine games of relief for the Dodgers from September 1 onward. Of the six, the lowest scoreless percentage (earned runs only) was 84.6% (Alex Vesia, 11-for-13). Another reliever — closer Evan Phillips — had 90.9% (10-for-11). The other four — Brusdar Graterol, Caleb Ferguson, Ryan Brasier, and Shelby Miller — had perfect scoreless percentages of 100%. But it wasn’t as if they did so in one or two appearances. Graterol appeared in thirteen games, Ferguson nine, Brasier thirteen, and Miller ten.

In addition, Ferguson had a WHIP (1.304) slightly better than league average. The other five each had a WHIP below 1.000. Vesia was 0.909, Graterol was (giggle) 0.375, Phillips was 0.971, Brasier was 0.774, and Miller was 0.700. The team WHIP, even when including those who pitched in fewer than nine games, was 0.927 — the only team in either league with a sub-1.000 WHIP.

This series, when the starting pitchers leave the game, will quickly turn into one where runs are a premium if each team maintains their September form. And each team, of course, will need its ‘pen to do so. First pitch of Game One is Friday at 6:20 pm Pacific. Should be fun.

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Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

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