Philadelphia Phillies bullpen could still struggle greatly in 2023 season

Seranthony Dominguez #58 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Seranthony Dominguez #58 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

Will the Phillies build on their strong 2022 postseason showing?

It is no secret that the Philadelphia Phillies have struggled to find consistent bullpen pieces in recent years. Fans often dread the latter innings because of the countless blown saves. That is why it was a pleasant surprise to see the growth of many relievers during the recent World Series trip — more notably Seranthony Domínguez.

Even though there were some evident bright spots, it is not enough to persuade fans that next season will be any different. They have already lost David Robertson, Zach Eflin, and Brad Hand. Although Hand was not a vital contributor down the stretch, Robertson and Eflin pitched some crucial late innings.

Matt Strahm and Craig Kimbrel are the most recent bullpen acquisitions, but neither provide immediate stability. Kimbrel — one of the game’s best relievers in his generation — was very inconsistent for the Dodgers last season.

The Phillies’ bullpen has posted some horrid statistics in the past several years. The last time they finished in the top half of the league in combined ERA was their mediocre 4.18 ERA in 2017. The club’s bullpen has not posted a sub-4.00 ERA in the regular season in seven years. It is hard to forget their 7.06 ERA in the shortened 2020 season, which happened to be the second worst in MLB history — only trailing the 1930 Phillies.

Why should anyone expect things to be different in 2023? There might be some recurring issues, but the key to success will be the continued improvements of Domínguez and José Alvarado. After having Tommy John surgery in July 2020, Dominguez’s long-awaited return was nothing short of what fans expected. He pitched to a 3.00 ERA in 51 innings, despite some second-half drawbacks.

Meanwhile, Alvarado’s success occurred during the second half. He owned an 8.36 ERA in the middle of June, yet allowed just five runs in his final 40 appearances. The hard-throwing left-hander was perhaps the best reliever for the Phillies all year.

One of the most important keys to an improved bullpen will come with middle relievers like Connor Brogdon and Andrew Bellatti —both of whom had exceptional 2022 seasons. Backup options like them are needed in case of injuries, which are inevitable.

It will be difficult for the Phillies’ bullpen to perform well with its lack of depth. Assuming the team chooses Kimbrel as its closer, some more daunting ninth innings could be in the forecast. Similar to last season, the Phillies will have to win games with their powerful offense and elite starting pitching.

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