Get To Know The Relief Pitchers Of The NLCS Before It’s Too Late
2:08 PM EDT on October 18, 2022
Aside from the star closers, and maybe a few elite set-up men, relief pitchers in the Majors usually work in relative national anonymity, spending fewer innings on the diamond than any of their teammates while rarely making the highlight reels after successful performances. For the vast majority of the year, a typical fan couldn't care less about some other team's LOOGY. And yet during the playoffs, an entire series can shift on whether or not these Tanners and Tylers and Treinens can find the strike zone, so it is helpful to know who they are before they get the call.
I'm going to level with you: This blog was originally intended to encompass both sides of the bracket, but with rain in New York forcing the ALDS to end on the same day the NLCS begins, it's going to arrive in two parts. First up: the Padres and Phillies who live in the bullpen, roughly in descending order of how cool it would be to hit a walk-off home run against them.
Josh Hader (LHP, Padres)
Taken as a whole, this looks like it’s been a very bad year for the perennial all-star, with a negative WAR and an ERA of 7.31 since he arrived in San Diego after a surprising midseason trade from the Brewers. But over the past month, Hader has approached something very much resembling his old self, putting up 14 straight appearances without allowing an earned run. Plenty of hitters have tagged him this year, which might make the occasion a little less special if it happens again in these playoffs. But even though nobody could have imagined saying this when he was flailing as recently as August, he’s got to—and is going to—get the ball in the Padres’ biggest moments.
José Alvarado (LHP, Phillies)
The playoffs have been less than perfect for him, but the Phillies reliever was pretty close to unhittable in the second half of this season, working a brutal triple-digit fastball/mid-90s cutter combo to keep hitters completely unsteady in the box. With a K/9 of 14.3, Alvarado can turn out the lights like almost no one else left in these playoffs, and while he still has more to prove, he’s a genuine threat to strike out the side in every inning he gets.
David Robertson (RHP, Phillies)
Yes, this is the same David Robertson who helped the Yankees to a World Series all the way back in 2009. After undergoing Tommy John in 2019, competing at the Olympics in 2021, and then re-entering the Majors, Robertson eventually found his way back to the Phillies at the trade deadline and, at 37 years old, became a valued, calming, sorely needed veteran presence in that pen. His command is brilliant. His strikeout numbers remain exceptionally good. The only hiccup was the injury he suffered while celebrating the Phillies’ wild card win over the Cardinals, which kept him out for all of the Atlanta series. If he’s healthy, though, he’ll bring more gravitas to an at-bat than anybody else the Phils can muster, and as such a walk-off against the former champion would be a uniquely emphatic way to end a ballgame.
Robert Suárez (RHP, Padres)
The Venezuelan 31-year-old arrived in MLB just this year after some standout seasons as a closer in Japan, and he’s been damn good so far, with six scoreless innings of postseason ball following a 2.27 ERA on the year. Particularly in Game 2 of the Dodgers series, Suárez showed himself to be adept at getting out of jams, first bailing out Yu Darvish with runners in the corners and nobody out with a 4-3 lead in the sixth, then recovering from a pair of one-out hits in the seventh with the slim advantage still intact. He further cemented his trustworthiness as a go-to stopper when he notched holds in the eighth innings of Games 3 and 4.
Luis García (RHP, Padres)
Not to be confused with the much younger Astros starter of the same name, the 35-year-old Padres reliever spent 2011 and 2012 out of the MLB system entirely after the Nationals bailed on him as a prospect. But the team he’ll face in the NLCS, the Phillies, gave him another shot and carried him on their roster for six seasons. He was wildly inconsistent year to year, posted a 7.56 ERA for the Rangers in 2020 that should have ended his career, but bounced back with the Cardinals in 2021 and just finished a solid year in San Diego. He can come close to triple digits and does a great job of avoiding solid contact, with just three dingers allowed across 61 innings.
Seranthony Domínguez (RHP, Phillies)
One of a few very unpredictable top arms for Philly, Domínguez can both blow hitters away and get blown away himself. In his fourth year for the club, Seranthony struck out nearly 11 per nine innings and had an ERA of exactly 3.00, but the memories of his struggles—giving up nine runs across his last 7.2 innings of the regular season—feel more vivid than the successes. He’s been nearly flawless in the postseason, striking out eight of the 12 batters he’s faced, but when he’s not missing bats he can be vulnerable to some pretty hard hits.
Zach Eflin (RHP, Phillies)
Eflin looked pretty mortal as a starter to begin the year but, in a twist, became one of the better options out of the Phillies bullpen in the final weeks of the season. However, the Cardinals and the Braves both got him to him in tricky ninth innings of games he eventually managed to close out, so his standing has fallen a bit in these playoffs. With masterful command and a knack for avoiding the barrels of bats with his sinker, Eflin is the guy the Phillies would like to trust with the game on the line. But as with the rest of these Philadelphia arms, they can never quite be sure of what they're going to get.
Brad Hand (LHP, Phillies)
The platonic ideal of a journeyman reliever has been steady in Philadelphia after bouncing through three teams last season. Surprisingly, this is Hand’s first time in an LCS after 12 years in MLB, but he clearly earned a key spot in the Phillies’ pen with three scoreless showings against Atlanta in the divisional round, which made up for a rocky conclusion to the end of the season. Nothing about Brad Hand is going to blow anyone away, but that slider’s been good enough all this time to ensure he’s never been out of a job for long.
Tim Hill (LHP, Padres)
Tim Hill hates the Dodgers, has a gawky sidearm delivery, and really screws with lefties even though he barely throws into the 90s. His best moment yet was when he limited the damage in the Padres’ clinching Game 4 over L.A., getting a strikeout and a groundout with runners on second and third to earn a win when the Padres rallied for five runs in the bottom of the seventh.
Connor Brogdon (RHP, Phillies)
If you only listened to pessimistic Phillies fans, you’d probably believe Connor Brogdon deserves to be at the very bottom of this list and that it would be not all that exciting to take him deep. In reality, he’s OK! But the third-year reliever has also had the misfortune of some high-profile poor outings as the Phillies limped to the final playoff spot. The nerve-wracking climax of this underwhelming stretch happened when Brogdon allowed two walks and two hits when he came on with a 7-1 lead in Game 1 against Atlanta, giving Philadelphians a chance to fantasize about a dramatic collapse. But then he redeemed himself with a perfect ninth inning in Game 3. If he does give up a game in these playoffs, though, the cries of “Of course!” will be deafening.
Steven Wilson (RHP, Padres)
The rookie out of Santa Clara University has 53 acceptable Major League innings under his belt, with an ERA of 3.06. That’s not a very large sample size, and he’s certainly beatable, but when his slider is working the results can be very funny.
Nick Martinez (RHP, Padres)
Martinez was a fringe starter in Texas from 2014 to 2017, went off to Japan, won a silver medal for the U.S. at the Olympics, and returned to MLB as a Padre this season. He’s got a change-up that can really mess with your head, but as is the case with dudes who lean on the off-speed stuff, he can be especially vulnerable to a patient slugger, and the dong he surrendered to Pete Alonso saddled him with the loss in Game 2 of the wild card series. A high-pressure situation for Martinez will have Padres fans clenching their teeth.
Andrew Bellatti (RHP, Phillies)
Not a particularly trustworthy option. Bellatti had only 26 MLB innings to his name when the Phillies took a shot on him at age 30. He recovered from a disaster of a 2021 with the Marlins and looked perfectly respectable, with an ERA of 3.31 and a 12.9 K/9. But he’s very much an all-or-nothing guy. Hitters take huge hacks against his slider, and they miss it a lot, but they can also tag him for very hard contact when they do connect. Something has gone very wrong for the Phillies if Bellatti even has the chance to give up a walk-off.
Pierce Johnson (RHP, Padres)
Another guy that the Padres brought over from Japan. Johnson missed a bunch of this season due to injury but looked impressive when he delivered a pair of 1-2-3 innings in Game 1 of the NLDS. He’s mostly a big question mark, but that 5.02 regular season ERA, even if it’s only over 14 innings, won’t scare anyone.
Adrian Morejón (LHP, Padres)
The 23-year-old has enticing stuff but faltered in the final stretch of the regular season and failed to record a single out as he was shelled by the Mets in his only appearance of the playoffs.
A.J. Minter (LHP, Atlanta Braves)
Ope, just kidding! The Braves aren't in the playoffs anymore!