Entering tonight, the Philadelphia Phillies are nine innings away from breaking out the brooms and sweeping the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers. Whether or not they complete the task, one thing is certain — we still don’t know how to read this team.
The 2014 Phillies are a hodgepodge of question marks tip-toeing on the verge of retirement, mediocrity and other things. Veteran reliever Mike Adams has returned. Jonathan Papelbon has been immaculate since getting blown up earlier this month. Chase Utley is hitting the ball well and Ryan Howard is being more patient at the plate. At the end of the day, hope prevails.
Or does it?
The bullpen remains the worst in baseball. This is extremely significant. Aside from questionable depth within the ranks of the starting rotation, no lead is safe with the current makeup of the Phils’ bullpen. Contrary to this notion though, this team has a dependable option in left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo.
At this juncture in the season, only two National League pitchers have more wins than Bastardo — Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn of the St. Louis Cardinals. At 3-1, Bastardo is still sporting a horrid 4.35 ERA in just 10.1 innings pitched. To be fair, three of the five earned runs the lefty has allowed came on April 9 versus the Milwaukee Brewers. Aside from that outing, Bastardo has allowed just four hits in nine appearances.
His walk rate is discouraging though. With six walks issued in the nine games outside of the Brewers meltdown, Bastardo continues to contradict the positive take-away’s of his early start to the season. Sure, the sample size is minute compared to the marathon in which the Major League Baseball season is so nothing here will be exact two or three months from now. Then again, the early start for Bastardo could be indicative of what to expect as we trot through the season.
The expectations are mysterious though. In even numbered years, Bastardo has sported a plus-4.00 ERA. In odd-numbered years, his ERA has never been higher than 2.64. While his K/9 innings pitched rate is trending in the wrong direction since peaking in 2012, Bastardo is also toting a much improved Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP). His BABIP has dropped from .306 in 2012 to .200 this season. Therefore, opposing hitters are not getting the wood on Bastardo like they used to. With just a little under a month into the 2014 season, one may be skeptical of Bastardo’s early 2014 BABIP as compared to his 2012 BABIP. Well, his 2013 BABIP was an improvement as well. This leads to a downward trajectory favoring improved performance from Bastardo on the mound.
If anything, Bastardo is a pitching contradiction.
He exemplifies what to expect from the Phillies this season. His mysterious ways leaves us with hope and worry. Hitters aren’t cracking the ball too hard against him yet he is issuing walks at a higher rate than his career suggests he should. Expect Bastardo to tone down the free passes to a rate more adequate with what his career suggests. Mishaps will occur. It’s not like he is Mike Adams in his prime. Rather, Bastardo is an above average reliever on a club built with the potential to finish with above average results, so long as everything goes accordingly.