Phillies: Still work to do with the bullpen before we talk title-chase
The Phillies bullpen remains a problem, especially vs the Nationals.
This weekend, we were treated to an epic showdown for the ages… in the vein of a battle of the bands between Limp Bizkit and Nickleback. The Phillies bullpen and the Nationals bullpen went head to head in an epic battle for the title of worst bullpen in baseball, or at least it felt that way at times.
Here’s the thing, the Phillies bullpen has been mostly good overall, except against the Nats. In their eight head-to-head matchups with Washington, the Phillies bullpen has pitched 31 innings, and yielded seven homers and 27 total runs (including Aaron Altherr’s one inning, one run outing in the 15-1 blowout loss).
In seven of their eight matchups, the offense has handed the bullpen a lead heading into the eighth. The bullpen has blown that lead three times.
As a whole, the bullpen numbers for the Phils are middling. They rank ninth in the NL with a 4.24 ERA and have allowed 62 total runs (t-8th) on 17 homers (t-7th) in 116.2 innings. Against MLB teams not named Nationals, they’ve allowed 35 runs in 85.2 innings. So in their eight games against Washington, they’ve yielded eight fewer runs than in their 25 games against the rest of the league. That means Washington has accounted for 24% of their schedule, and 44% of the runs they’ve allowed.
Every team in every sport has at least one team they always beat up on, and one team they always struggle against for years. The Nationals (along with Colorado and the Mets) are the latter for the Phillies right now. Right now, the Phillies are an even 4-4 against Washington and 3-3 against the Mets.
They’re going to have to do better than that if they want to beat these teams for the division crown.
This Phillies team has been drawing a lot of comparison to the 2008 World Series team, and rightly so. Their thumpers match up pretty well, and this year’s starting rotation is arguably better. The most obvious difference comes in the bullpens.
The 2008 team had Brad Lidge and his perfect 48 save season, along with guys like Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero. Who do the 2019 Phillies have? Adam Morgan has been the Phillies best reliever so far, but he hasn’t been used as the closer, and absolutely imploded Saturday against Washington. Seranthony Dominguez has elite stuff, but hasn’t been as dominant this year, and Hector Neris‘ splitter is deadly when on, and ugly when off.
If the 2008 team took the lead late, they won the game. Period. If this team takes a lead late, it feels like a coin flip as to whether or not the bullpen holds it.
Baseball reference ranks Lidge, Chad Durbin, Madson, Clay Condrey, and Romero as the Phillies top relievers for ’08. That group allowed 123 runs in 367.2 innings (0.33 runs/inning), this year’s top group of Hector Neris, Adam Morgan, Seranthony Dominguez, Pat Neshek, and Jose Alvarez have surrendered 32 runs in 65 innings (0.49 runs/inning)
The bright spot for this year’s Phillies team is that their bullpen numbers are unevenly skewed by their numbers against Washington. Take away those games, and the ‘pen ERA drops to 3.36.
Then again, this team hasn’t faced many elite offenses yet either. If the Phillies do make the postseason, they’ll likely face the Dodgers, Cubs or Brewers. These teams all have extremely dangerous hitters, and the Phillies haven’t seen any of them yet this year.
So the question becomes, will the bullpen pitch like it has against Washington, or like it’s pitched against the rest of the league? The numbers suggest they’re just not good, but common sense tells me otherwise. Opponents are certainly putting the ball in play against Philadelphia’s bullpen. They’ve allowed the second highest opponent batting average this season (behind only Washington) at .270 and most total hits in the NL at 123.
Common sense tells me their overall numbers are too heavily skewed by their incomprehensibly bad performance against Washington. I think the return on David Robertson could help this bullpen, and I really think it’s time for Gabe Kapler to just pick a closer already.
Overall though, the bullpen’s pension for blowing leads is concerning enough that I think it’s going to cost them if they don’t turn it around. If not in the regular season, then in the playoffs for sure.