Skip to main content

No-name bullpen giving Diamondbacks a huge lift during unlikely run to the NLCS

Kevin Ginkel Arizona Diamondbacks Kevin Ginkel - The Canadian Press

PHOENIX (AP) — Andrew Saalfrank got the final out of the seventh inning on Wednesday night in a crucial moment of the NL Division Series and fellow Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Ryan Thompson was the first one out of the dugout — giving the left-hander a hearty handshake and hug.

A few minutes later, Kevin Ginkel handled the eighth, striking out Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, blowing a fastball past Freeman to get the second out for good measure.

Forgive even the most seasoned baseball fan for asking: Who are these guys?

The three D-backs relievers are part of a no-name bullpen that’s been fantastic during the team’s unlikely run to the NL Championship Series. Arizona swept aside the Los Angeles Dodgers in the best-of-five NLDS, clubbing a postseason-record four homers in the third inning of Game 3 in a 4-2 victory.

Next up is Philadelphia, which eliminated Atlanta with a 3-1 win on Thursday night. Game 1 of the NLCS is Monday night at the Phillies.

Arizona is making its first trip to the NLCS since 2007.

“There is an underdog, brotherhood, whatever you want to call it, with us,” Ginkel said. "We have so many young guys, but then some veterans who balance everything out. It's just love and appreciation. For me, I'm just proud.

“We were not handed anything this year.”

And neither were most of the guys in the D-backs' bullpen, which is a mixture of castaways, journeymen and youngsters. The D-backs wowed Chase Field with their homer barrage in the third inning, but it was the no-name bullpen that held off the mighty Dodgers in the final 4 2/3 innings.

First it was lefty Joe Mantiply, who delivered 1 1/3 scoreless innings. He didn't find a regular spot in the big leagues until he was 30 years old, becoming arguably the franchise's most unlikely All-Star in 2022. Then manager Torey Lovullo turned to Thompson, a righty side-armer who was released by Tampa Bay less than two months ago.

“He basically fell into our lap,” Lovullo said. “I know it was a waiver claim. I tell you guys all year long that our front office is so good at just combing through things, and they’re always trying to make us better no matter what time of year it is.”

Thompson, 31, didn't have his best night in Game 3, giving up the only two Dodgers runs. But Saalfrank entered to clean up the mess, coaxing a groundout from Austin Barnes to end the seventh. That led to the aforementioned hug from Thompson.

Saalfrank made his big league debut on Sept. 5 and almost immediately became an indispensable piece for the bullpen. He appeared in 10 games during the regular season and now has thrown in three postseason games.

He has not allowed an earned run.

“He's a low-heartbeat kind of kid,” Mantiply said. “Being able to come up and handle the environments he's been in, it's pretty special.”

Arizona turned to Ginkel for the eighth — a strapping, hard-throwing 29-year-old who struggled to establish himself in the big leagues until this year. He was great during the regular season with a 9-1 record, 2.48 ERA and four saves, and that production has extended to the postseason.

He blew a 98-mph fastball past Freeman for the second out of the eighth, drawing another roar from Chase Field.

Then there's one of the few established veterans of the bunch: Paul Sewald. The closer was added in a trade-deadline deal with the Seattle Mariners on July 31 and immediately solidified the back end of the bullpen. He saved 13 games in the regular season's final two months and is 4 for 4 in postseason save opportunities.

The combo of Mantiply, Thompson, Saalfrank, Ginkel and Sewald has given up just two earned runs on 12 hits over 17 1/3 postseason innings in five games.

“The fact that you have four, five or six guys that you trust to go out there is the difference — instead of just one or two,” Sewald said. “I'm excited to be the closer in that group, but I'm just one of the guys.”

Sewald is 33 years old now, but recalled his early days in the big leagues with the Mets, where he got knocked around from 2017 to 2020 with a 1-14 record and 5.50 ERA. He said that makes some of the exploits of his younger teammates — particularly Saalfrank — even more impressive.

“He's too young and too naive to worry about it,” Sewald said. “If I was in that situation, I'd be too nervous. He's just a kid who doesn't know he's not supposed to be ready for that spotlight."

Then he grinned.

“Don't tell him," he said. "Just let him roll.”