After last night’s gut punch of an 8-6 loss to the Nationals in a game that ended almost four and a half hours after the first pitch was thrown, I have to say, I’m ready for a more traditional, drama-free defeat. I would have preferred the Phillies had just rolled over, lost 6-1, and called it a night. Instead, last night marked the latest exasperating loss triggered by an inept bullpen, and their latest implosion prevented what would have been a statement sweep of a Washington team that spent much of the game on the ropes.
It’s a weird dynamic following the Phillies right now. There’s much to be excited about. They have won four-straight series against stiff competition, and taking two out of three in Washington over the weekend is no small feat, yet it feels like they have left a lot on the table this past week. At 41-34, they wake up this morning in sole possession of the National League’s second wild card spot and sit only 2.5 games behind the Braves for first place in the division. Still, it’s hard not to imagine where they would be with even a league average bullpen, which it is clearly not. The unit’s 4.22 ERA is the ninth-worst in all of baseball. Over the last 30 days, its 5.70 ERA is the fourth-worst.
After the Phillies scored four times in the top of the fifth to take what would be for many teams a comfortable 6-2 lead, Nick Pivetta worked his way out of trouble with a key bases loaded strike out of Michael Taylor. Theoretically, Pivetta’s ability to quell such a threat should have been the knockout blow delivered by a Phillies team with a wave of momentum and a four-run lead, but in a completely predictable turn of events, six Phillies’ relievers combined to cough up six earned runs on nine hits in only three innings of work. And that is perhaps the most concerning aspect of these frequent disasters. It’s not a lone culprit–it’s everybody running through the bullpen doors right now. Edubray Ramos and Austin Davis were ineffective in the sixth, and Tommy Hunter danced out of trouble in the seventh before Victor Arano and a suddenly vulnerable Seranthony Dominguez collaborated on a disastrous eighth inning.
Much will be made this morning of Gabe Kapler’s decision to intentionally walk rookie sensation Juan Soto to load the bases with two outs for the struggling Daniel Murphy. Murphy, of course, made the Phillies pay with a go-ahead two-run single, but the unfavorable outcome of that sequence shouldn’t alone fall on the shoulders of Kapler. He’s playing with an extremely limited hand, and, I would imagine it’s difficult for a manager to navigate multiple high-leverage innings with essentially one truly reliable bullpen arm. Even Dominguez, who held hitters to a staggering .048 batting average while posting a 0.15 WHIP in 13.2 innings of work in May, has begun to spring leaks. In 10 innings this month, the 22-year-old has a 5.40 ERA, and that once pristine WHIP has ballooned to a pedestrian 1.50. There’s no denying Dominguez is a special talent, but he’s not infallible.
So what? What’s the fix? Don’t look to Kapler for it. Don’t look at a guy like Austin Davis to magically catch fire and consistently get critical outs against hitters like Bryce Harper. Don’t look to Adam Morgan to effectively navigate high-leverage spots. What they have isn’t good enough, and thus, it’s on the front office to find a remedy. The Phillies have consistently proven that they can hold their own against elite competition and will be a factor in the playoff race as this summer wears on. While we are still more than a month out from the trade deadline, and the market hasn’t fully developed, it’s up to this organization’s decision-makers to take a proactive and aggressive approach to help rectify this mess. With each passing week, this team is needlessly pissing away winnable games because of its architects’ inaction. It’s unfair to the manager, and it’s unfair to a group of players that with some help can realize their potential. They have earned that help. It’s not just that something needs to be done-that is stating the obvious. That something needs to be done before it is too late, and the July 31 deadline will be far too late.