Improved Phillies Bullpen Shows It May Actually Be Really Good This Year


There was something different about last night’s 3-2 win over the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. Something that reeked of competence. Something full of promise.Something about last night gave reason for people to feel, well, optimistic.

In holding onto a scant one-run lead for 3 2/3 innings last night, the Phils bullpen showed why 2013 may be a little different from 2012.

Ah yes, the bullpen, a sputtering and stuttering group of relief arms that blew a mind-blowing 13 leads in the eighth inning last season.

Think about that, 13 blown leads. Even if the ‘pen converts just 80% of those 13 blown leads into victories, that’s 10 more wins and a 91-71 record. The Cardinals captured the second wild card with 88 wins.

That’s right. As bad as they were last year, the Phillies were a Chad Qualls away from making the playoffs.

It’s the reason the Phils went out and signed Mike Adams as a free agent to take over the eighth inning, and so far, he’s been terrific. He pitched another scoreless inning last night, lowering his ERA to 2.00. And even though he’s not feeling 100%, has given up more home runs than he’s used to and his fastball is only sitting in the high 80s right now, he’s been tremendously effective.

Frankly, last year Chad Qualls or Josh Lindblom would have blown that lead.

Apr 18, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Mike Adams (37) delivers to the plate during the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park. The Cardinals defeated the Phillies 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

But Adams hasn’t been the only saving grace in the ‘pen. Antonio Bastardo had a weird year in 2012, posting an ERA of 4.33 that was mostly the result of some bad luck, as evidenced by his incredible 14 K/9 IP. This year, things have evened out a bit for him as he has allowed no earned runs in his first 7 1/3 innings. He has struck out seven and walked three. His control has been extremely good so far. He’s been the seventh inning man, and he’s been unhittable.

And of course, there’s the closer. Yes, the Phillies are paying too much money for an exclusive save-acquirer, but at the end of the day, Jonathan Papelbon has gotten results.

Listen, Papelbon is going to blow a few saves this year. It’s the nature of the business. Last year, he blew four and three of them ended up being losses for the Phils. Those kinds of games really hurt, but it’s a fact of life in baseball.

Apr 18, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) delivers to the plate during the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park. The Cardinals defeated the Phillies 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

This year, Papelbon has continued to be an excellent ninth inning pitcher, giving up just two earned runs in eight innings so far, for an ERA of 2.25, converting all four of his save opportunities.

Basically, if a starter can go at least six innings, the Phils have a chance to shorten games considerably.

There is also the very live arm of Phillippe Aumont, who has absorbed a couple of hard-luck losses this year, and still has a ways to go on harnessing his unbelievable stuff. Still, the young right-hander is a closer in the making, and has yet to give up an earned run this year in 5 1/3 innings this year. He has struck out six and walked six which again, is a ratio that needs improving. But with his kind of stuff playing in the sixth inning most times, he has the ability to be a nasty middle reliever.

And talk about hard-luck relievers, Jeremy Horst has been dinked and dunked to death so far in 2013, making his numbers look far less appealing than his pitching has actually been. His ERA is an unsightly 7.04, but he has pitched much better than that, as Crashburn Alley noted last week. He’s going to be OK.

The other two arms in the ‘pen, Chad Durbin and Raul Valdes, probably don’t need to be on the Major League roster. There are young arms in the minors like Justin De Fratus, Michael Stutes, Jake Diekman and Joe Savery that would give the Phils a stronger stable of arms for the middle innings. Because…

…I mean, come on, guys. We can do better than this.

Still, when they can get around using Durbin and Valdes, the Phillies have a much stronger chance of winning the late one and two-run games they so often times lost last year.

It was the bullpen that really cost the Phillies a playoff spot in 2012. So far, the 1-2-3 punch of Bastardo, Adams and Papelbon have shown the ‘pen may actually be a strength in 2013.