Attempting to understand the Phillies’ relief pitching choices in historic collapse against Mets
The Philadelphia Phillies are in dire straights after relievers James Norwood and Corey Knebel combined to blow a six-run lead over the New York Mets in the ninth inning on Thursday night.
It should have been if not easy, at least doable. Aaron Nola had pitched seven innings of one-run ball, and the offense had provided a large cushion of run support.
Instead, fans are in shambles, the media is appalled, and Joe Girardi’s job is on the line, though that often seems to be the case. After beginning the season with millions in relief upgrades and only one blown save, the Phillies bullpen is a laughingstock yet again.
But how did this happen, really? Implosions of this magnitude are even rarer than you think. According to Elias Sports, it’s only the fifth time in 140 seasons that the Phillies have lost a game in which they led by 6+ runs in the ninth inning or later, and all but one other collapse took place more than 85 years ago, on a vastly different baseball landscape.
In order to try and excavate the ruins of this game, I turned to Stathead (subscription required) to deep-dive into Norwood and Knebel, as well as a few of the bullpen arms Girardi didn’t turn to when the game was on the line.
Norwood had faced the Mets three times in his career before this game, including twice in their series last weekend. His only scoreless appearance against them came on April 30, as in, last week.
Knebel has a longer resumé. Thursday was his 14th career appearance against the Mets, and the first time he’d allowed more than two earned runs to them, something he’d only done once. He’d shut them out ten times, including six no-hit appearances. Presumably, these numbers played a part in the Phillies signing him, as they face their division rivals so often.
Why not Brad Hand, though? He’d pitched an inning against the Texas Rangers the day before, but he’s pitched on back-to-back days before. He’s also quite familiar with the Mets, having pitched for them in 2021 and against them 31 times – including 20 scoreless appearances – since 2013.
Jeurys Familia pitched a scoreless eighth against his former team, his third shutout appearance against them this year. Too bad he couldn’t save them in the following frame.
The Phillies have struggled with their bullpen for years, but they spent some real money trying to change that this offseason. On the whole, the bullpen hasn’t even been as big of an issue as the inconsistent offense, but a loss like this puts everyone under the microscope.