The Phillies haven’t lost many games this season, but when they have, they have lost them in excruciating fashion.
Right when the baseball that traveled 399 feet off the bat of Bryce Harper landed in the left field seats last night, I was all geared up to write about him humiliating his former team (again) as Aaron Nola returned to form in a laugher of a win that moved the Phillies to 8-2. That, of course, was before Nola’s seventh inning self-destruction and the ensuing bullpen collapse that felt 100% inevitable. Alas, there will be no morning flex, or wood, just questions about a faltering bullpen and what to do about it.
Let’s attack this with honesty. The relief numbers are bad; the context in which these poor numbers have been compiled is worse. You don’t need me to tell you the 4.63 ERA and 4.93 FIP run up by this group is no good, nor is the 1.34 WHIP over its first 35 innings worked, but it’s the how and when of these failures that’s most concerning. There was last Wednesday’s matinee collapse that prevented the Phillies from earning a two-game sweep in Washington, Seranthony Dominguez’s rough ninth inning on Saturday afternoon that killed any hopes of a comeback in that game, and, of course, last night’s Edubray Ramos/Jose Alvarez tag team job that spoiled another would-be series-clinching win:
Juan Soto with a bomb to give the Nationals the eventual win in extras #OnePursuit
— Sports Daily (@SportsDGI) April 10, 2019
Not great! So, now what?
We tend to do this thing in sports where we conclude in absolutes. For those of you that read this site, you know that I’m guilty of doing this myself, but I don’t think making definitive judgments or overreacting to small samples is the right approach in this situation. The Phillies’ bullpen has been ineffective, it needs to be better, and to totally dismiss its struggles would be foolish. Losing the way in which they lost last night is bullshit and a blow to the undeniable momentum this team has built in the early going. Birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and the Phillies should be 8-2 this morning, four full games ahead of Washington. They’re not, and it’s totally understandable if you’re mad about it.
Gabe Kapler seems to be:
Gabe Kapler: "We weren't able to finish, we weren't able to close, and that's unacceptable." #On94WIP🎙️
— SPORTSRADIO 94WIP (@SportsRadioWIP) April 10, 2019
True, Gabe. Preach.
At the same time, people stomping for a Craig Kimbrel signing, of which there are many this morning, should consider the following: bullpen performance is often volatile, we’re only 10 games into the season, and the arms running through those doors should be better than what they have been moving forward. You won’t get an argument from me that Kimbrel doesn’t make the Phillies’ bullpen unequivocally better because he does, but making a second significant financial commitment to another reliever on the wrong side of 30 because the bullpen has sprung some leaks 10 games into the season would be a panic move that could prove even more costly later this season.
The same people banging the drum for an overpriced, aging closer, who currently remains unsigned for obvious reasons, will be the same people wondering why the Phillies aren’t making a play to bolster the starting rotation three months from now. I’m all for a better bullpen, and it’s an issue the front office will have to address if that uptick doesn’t happen from within in the coming weeks, but for the people banging their fists on the table, demanding the shiniest and most expensive toy on the shelf because their team is playing .700 baseball two weeks into the season, let’s maybe relax for a week or two. There will be other ways, much cheaper ones that prevent the type of roster and payroll inflexibility the Phillies need to stay away from, to address the issues at hand once there is a more complete and understanding based on a more thorough sample of what the issues actually are.
I know it’s been a while since we’ve done the competitive baseball thing, and it’s awesome that people are into it, but we don’t need to do the Eagles hot-takes and demand franchise-altering changes after what equates to roughly six percent of the regular season schedule.
Be sure to check out the latest episode of Crossed Up. Topics include the bullpen, bench, and Cesar Hernandez’s early struggles.