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The Phillies’ terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad bullpen

It seems no NL East team can assemble an effective bullpen, but this year’s Phillies’ ensemble may take the prize.

MLB: Game One-Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago I wrote about how the Mets’ bullpen would be the key to their success or failures this season. While New York has been hovering around the .500 mark, a divisional foe sits in the basement of the NL East with pretty much the same problem.

Timing is right to call out the Phillies for their bad play, after all, this team is coming-off a three-game sweep at the hands of the not very talented yet overachieving Orioles. In the three-game set, Baltimore scored 26 runs, a combination of terrible defense, poor starting pitching, and a reliever corps that is allergic to clean innings.

The Philadelphia Phillies bullpen has a 10.13 ERA, allowing 48 earned runs in fewer than 43 innings. Naturally, they have accumulated a negative fWAR on the season, and theirrelief corps has been a major part of why they are currently 5-9 (.357).

Philly relievers have pitched only 42 ⅔ innings, but have allowed a whopping 87 hits and walks, including 13 home runs. They are so far behind the second-worst-team, that 20 scoreless innings would not move them from the bottom-of-the-barrel position. Philadelphia relievers are basically turning every hitter into prime Barry Bonds, and unsurprisingly, it’s taking its toll.

Through only 14 games this year, the Phillies have called upon 15 different relief pitchers, none of whom has been particularly effective in any volume. It’s only a 12 game sample, but that’s 20 percent of this season.

To date, closer Hector Neris has faced 17 total batters in this 3 ⅓ innings, and he’s allowed seven of them to reach base. The two pitchers who have amassed the most innings, Nick Pivetta and Deolis Guerra, have combined for 10 ⅔ innings, and have allowed 14 hits, two walks, and six home runs.

The Phillies relief corps has technically only blown one save, but that belies the deep problems so far in the ‘pen. While the starting pitching has not been all that reliable, this Philadelphia offense ranks second-best in the National League by wRC+, which should keep them in most games.

Since the beginning of the year, Phillies’ relievers have added gasoline to mid-inning situations rather than come in as firemen. On Opening Day, Ramon Rosso (who was making his MLB debut) added two Miami runs to an already two-run deficit, two games later, reliever Cole Irvin inherited a 5-4 lead which he quickly turned into an 8-5 hole, which turned into an 11-6 loss.

While it’s easy to overreact one series into the year, but after 15 games, in a season that’s only 60 games (and probably less due to COVID-related postponements), positional upgrades and needs have to be identified early and plugged-up before the entire season sinks into oblivion.

In 2019, the front-office got burned by spending nearly $60 million on Pat Neshek, David Robertson, and Tommy Hunter, who all-told totaled a combined 30 innings between the three of them. While the results most-certainly stunk for the players and the team, General Manager Matt Klentak basically waved a white flag entering 2020, and threw a bunch of non-rostered invites into the mix to assemble this year’s putrid bullpen, while waiting for David Robertson to return from his injury (which likely won’t be until early September).

In past years, there was the opportunity to acquire relievers at marginal costs from non-contenders. Unfortunately for the Phillies, with this year’s expanded playoffs, there are not going to be too many teams looking to sell off relief arms, as most of the league will have a chance to make a playoff run. Not only that, but there are so many problems, and so many ineffective pitchers in Philadelphia’s bullpen, it would be darn-near impossible to assemble an entire ‘pen from scratch mid-season.

The Phillies need to protect late leads in games if they’re going to have any chance of making the expanded playoffs. The first piece is to stabilize a bullpen and get back to .500 in a competitive NL East, but the work required to do that may be too much in the nearer-term.


Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano