Bullpen key in Arizona’s sweep of Brewers

PHOENIX – For the past several seasons, two significant concerns occupied the attention of Mike Hazen, the Arizona Diamondbacks general manager. If these areas were properly addressed, as his outline, then maladies of the past could be mitigated.

It was no secret to the baseball world that for the Diamondbacks to be competitive, in a highly competitive National League West Division, an overhaul of the bullpen and acquisition of strong right-handed hitting bats had to be procured. Reaching the nadir of despair and desolation following a 52-110 season just two years ago, Hazen and decision-makers went to work to restructure the team.

First, the right-handed hitting issue was addressed by securing catcher Gabriel Moreno and outfielder Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. from Toronto during the 2022-23 of-season The result was a dramatic rise in efficiency and production. Gurriel earned a spot on the National League All-Star team and Moreno emerged as a dependable hitter and leader.

Yet, a dramatic transformation of the bullpen enabled the Diamondbacks to remain competitive. The efficiency of the bullpen was highlighted during the sweep of the Brewers in the Wild Card series in which no runs were allowed over the two games.

“I think the bullpen has been our MVP the last month or so,” pitcher Zac Gallen told mlb.com after the series sweep. “I think it’s the part of our team that’s kept us in a lot of games. I mean, it’s not a secret that they had their struggles in the middle of the year. When you watch these teams that go deep in the postseason, the bullpen is usually the one that kind of prevails a lot. That’s what keeps you in games, so it’s been awesome to watch.”

Consider the body of work from the principals.

Over the past five appearances from closer Paul Sewald along from Kevin Ginkel, Andrew Saalfrank, Miguel Castro and Joe Mantiply, this combined unit allowed four runs over a collective last five appearances. Three of these were surrendered by Ginkel to the Yankees on Sept. 25. Mantiply gave up the other run to the Cubs on Sept. 16.

Otherwise, the ability to put up zeroes in a critical time supports the notion that Hazen’s reconstruction of the bullpen was significant and important. Without these efforts, the Diamondbacks would likely set tee times and employ seasonal jobs around the house.

Perhaps the most telling acquisition was Sewald, who came over from Seattle on July 31 for infielder Josh Rojas and outfielder Domonic Canzone. In 20 appearances for Arizona, he recorded 13 saves and posted a 3.37 ERA. Effectively, he shut the door on the Brewers in both games and recorded a save in each encounter.

With Sewald, Hazen’s search for a dependable closer stopped, and the Diamondbacks rode his success or failure. Plus, Sewald is under Arizona control for the 2024 season and will come into spring training as the closer. That’s a luxury Hazen and field manager Torey Lovullo has not had in recent seasons.

While Mantiply and Castro have been inconsistent for most of the season, Ginkel and Saalfrank, who was called from Triple AA Reno on Sept. 5, were dependable and reliable. Saalfrank proceeded to produce scoreless outings in all 10 games he appeared before the post-season. In game two against the Brewers, he pitched out of a bases-loaded, one out situation in the seventh inning and gave way to Ginkel, as an effective set-up reliever, and then Sewald, who slammed the door in the ninth.

Next …the Diamondbacks now move to Dodger Stadium to open a best-of-five National League Division Series. This set opens on Saturday at 9:20 EDT with Merrill Kelly (12-8. 3.29 ERA for 30 starts) to open for Arizona and veteran Clayton Kershaw (13-5, 2.46 ERA for 24 starts) goes for L. A. Game two is scheduled for Monday night in Dodger Stadium then the series moves to Chase Field in Phoenix for game three on Wednesday.

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