December 11, 2023

At the worst possible time for the Dodgers, the Arizona Diamondbacks have turned into the Dodgers.

Not the 2023 Dodgers. The Diamondbacks have pulled off a contemporary twist on the classic Dodgers.

The Dodgers’ parades through the streets of Los Angeles were powered by powerful arms, from Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale to Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser.

In October, nothing is as good as a good starter.

“I don’t think there’s a manager out there that wouldn’t want a guy that you can hand the ball to and go seven innings with,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

The Dodgers have not gotten even seven outs — combined — from their starting pitchers in the first two games of the National League Division Series.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have gotten two very good starts from two very good starters, and so the next game the Dodgers play will be an elimination game. Merrill Kelly got the Diamondbacks into the seventh inning of Game 1, and Zac Gallen got them into the sixth inning of Game 2.

“It’s a great luxury that I have,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said.

In 1963, when the Dodgers swept the New York Yankees, the World Series lasted 36 innings. The Dodgers’ starting pitchers worked 35⅓ innings.

Bobby Miller sits in the dugout.

Dodgers starting pitcher Bobby Miller sits in the dugout after the first inning in Game 2 of the NLDS on Monday.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

That was 60 years ago, long before pitch counts turned complete games into an endangered species. For a starter even to reach the eighth inning today practically requires divine intervention.

But openers and bulk pitchers and piggyback starters are not first choices. They are analytical substitutes when the starting pitchers are not good enough.

Of the eight teams participating in a division series, no team has gotten fewer innings out of its starting pitchers than the Dodgers — and no team has gotten more innings out of its starting pitchers than the Diamondbacks.

In Game 1, Clayton Kershaw got one out. In Game 2, Bobby Miller got five.

The Dodgers’ starters combined to give up nine runs in two innings, for an earned-run average of 40.50.

The Diamondbacks’ starters in the series have given up two runs in 11 2/3 innings, for an ERA of 1.54.

“They would throw 125 pitches if I let them,” Lovullo said.

“I would be out there for 200 pitches,” Gallen said, kidding but not entirely kidding. “Any time it’s less than that, I’m kind of, like, what’s going on?”

There was not much to analyze in Game 1, what with the Dodgers down 9-0 in the second inning.

In Game 2, however, with the Dodgers desperate to stay in the game, they deployed their hottest reliever in the second inning and mixed and matched the rest of the evening. With Gallen pitching deep into the game, the Diamondbacks lined up their four preferred relievers over the final four innings.

Zac Gallen pumps his fist.

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zac Gallen celebrates after striking out Freddie Freeman to end the fifth inning in Game 2 of the NLDS on Monday.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

“Going into that sixth or seventh inning allows me to be very creative with the back end of the bullpen,” Lovullo said. “Once again, that’s a great luxury that I have.”

Said Gallen: “Ideally the plan would be that your guys get you through six, seven. That usually means they pitched pretty well, especially in October. The leash just tends to be a little bit shorter.”

This is not a case of unlikely postseason heroics.

Gallen pitched 210 innings this season, second only to Logan Webb of the San Francisco Giants. Kelly pitched 178 innings, exceeded in the NL West only by Webb, Gallen, and Blake Snell of the San Diego Padres.

This is not a surprise, either. Kershaw led the Dodgers with 132 innings — his most in four years — and he is pitching with a sore shoulder. Miller is a rookie, and he never has pitched so many innings in his pro career. Walker Buehler, who pitched 208 innings two years ago, is working his way back from Tommy John surgery.

Lance Lynn, the Dodgers’ Game 3 starter, pitched 184 innings this year. In his 11 starts for the Dodgers, he averaged six innings.

That is good. This is not: He has not won a postseason game in 10 years. In his last postseason start, three years ago, he gave up five runs and did not survive the fourth inning.

For this year’s Dodgers, that would represent progress.

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