Phillies: Opening Day proves how costly a bad bullpen can be

Manager Joe Girardi #25 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Manager Joe Girardi #25 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Phillies opening day disaster can’t be a sign of things to come

Entering the 2020 season the Phillies knew their biggest area of concern was their bullpen.

In 2019 their bullpen had a 4.38 ERA (15th in MLB), 29 losses (15th), a 0.8 WAR (23rd), 1.57 HR/9 (28th), and a 3.64 BB/9 (11th). In a mediocre free agent market they missed on Will Smith (who opted out of the season), Dellin Betances, and Will Harris.

Instead, they opted for some low-cost veterans like Francisco Liriano, Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Hunter, and Blake Parker. After two rounds of spring training, only Hunter made the team after recovering from COVID-19.

Liriano was thought to be a great pickup for the team, giving them a stable veteran who can pitch multiple innings if needed. Surprisingly, the team let him go and voiced their decision to go with younger relievers out of the shoot.

Of the 11 relievers on the roster, five had less than 20 major league appearances under the belt coming into 2019. Two of them (Ramon Rosso and Deolis Guerra) have no big league experience.

That decision has already cost the team in a year where one loss more consequential than ever.

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On opening day the Phillies got five really good innings out of Aaron Nola before he began to slip, allowing a walk, two-run home run, and double to the Marlins in the top of the sixth.

In relief came Rosso, a 24-year-old who had early success in the Phillies farm system but struggled in 14 AAA starts, finishing with a 5.50 ERA with 13 home runs allowed for the Iron Pigs.

Rosso was as wild out of the gate as Charlie Sheen in Major League before he got glasses. He walked the first batter on five pitches, allowed a run on a wild pitch, struck out Brian Anderson on a full count, allowed a second run on a wild pitch, then gave up an RBI double.

Unfortunately, all of those runs were credited to Aaron Nola, who left with three runs on the board but was charged with five.

In all fairness to Rosso, nerves may have gotten the best of him with two wild pitches and a walk. Of the 19 pitches he threw, only three were swinging strikes and just one was a strike looking.

J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius tried to calm him down at one point, but the damage was done.

Baseball’s new rule that a reliever has to face three batters certainly didn’t help. It handcuffed Girardi to watch Rosso flounder against the Marlins until he could mercilessly pull him from the game.

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The next three and a third innings from the Phillies bullpen was fair, but nothing fantastic. Reggie McClain, Austin Davis, and Trevor Kelly kept the game within reach with four groundouts and a strikeout.

Philadelphia’s anemic offense only produced two runs (one gifted to them by a bad outfield play) and failed to pick up the slack left by the inexperienced Rosso.

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This season, even before losing 102 games, wasn’t expected to be the most memorable year in Phillies history. It was a bridge year for the next wave of prospects to come up to a team with some pieces and a new manager. But now, with a real opportunity to make the expanded playoffs, the Phillies can’t let inexperienced arms dismantle another season of Bryce Harper and what could be their last year with Realmuto.