Disgraceful Bullpen Lets Down Wheeler, Delivers Another Blow to Playoff Hopes

PHOTO CREDIT: JOHN GELIEBTER-USA TODAY SPORTS

This story should have had some cute headline following a Phillies win. Something like “Nailed it: Wheeler Delivers as Phillies…blah, blah, blah…

Nah.

Instead, the Phillies hit around reigning two-time National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, who gave up more than two earned runs for the first time in 10 starts this season. They got a gamer performance from starting pitcher Zack Wheeler, who pitched into the eighth inning against his former team, bum finger and all.

And then, well, the bullpen did what the bullpen always does.

First, it coughed up a lead. Then, it ruined what should have been a big night for a banged up team on the verge of a postseason spot. In doing so, it provided yet another reminder of why it is, without hyperbole, the worst bullpen this city has ever seen.

It provided this latest reminder because Adam Morgan couldn’t retire J.D. Davis in the eighth and because Hector Neris dropped a baseball that resulted in a key balk which set up a game-winning RBI single by Andres Gimenez.

For the ninth time this season, the Phillies blew a three-run lead. For the sixth time, they inexplicably lost a game in which they held a three-run lead.

This latest outcome is both a shame for a number of players in that clubhouse who have gutted it out to put this team on the verge of a playoff berth, and it’s utterly ridiculous for the fans who are subjected to watch the same nightmare unfold game after game after game.

I’d love to get inside Matt Klentak’s head tonight.

  • I’d love to know if he’s actually surprised by this bullpen’s performance.
  • I’d love to know if he’s annoyed that he didn’t have more cash to address what he should have known/better have known was a glaring deficiency last winter.
  • I’d love to know if he’s genuinely embarrassed by the bullpen he has built.

If he’s not, he should be.

Now, let’s rewind this latest mess.

Getting on deGrom

The Phillies stunned deGrom by jumping on him for three runs in the second inning. After just 40 pitches, he was done for the night after exiting the game with what the Mets termed as a right hamstring spasm.

The abbreviated effort didn’t result in a Mets loss, but it dealt a significant blow to deGrom’s hopes for a third consecutive Cy Young Award.

Jean Segura set the tone in what for awhile looked like the pivotal inning by aggressively legging out a hustle double. Andrew Knapp followed with a double down the right field line that kicked off the glove of Mets first baseman Dominic Smith to plate Segura and give the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

Knapp advanced to third after the throw to second base rolled away from Gimenez.

Following a Scott Kingery walk and Adam Haseley sacrifice fly that made it 2-0, Roman Quinn singled to put runners on the corners. Andrew McCutchen would then hit a ground ball to Gimenez who came home with the throw, but Kingery beat the tag (and the ball was dropped).

The Phillies would add to their lead an inning later against Michael Wacha when Segura roped his sixth homer of the season:

But nothing gold can stay, and the Mets quickly found themselves back in the game by the sixth inning when Davis took Wheeler out to right field:

Wheeler would rebound before departing with one out and a one-run lead in the eighth inning. He tasked the bullpen with protecting that lead and getting five outs. Predictably, it did not happen:

Adam Haseley could have made this play, by the way, but he didn’t, so the two teams headed to the ninth tied up. And that’s when the latest Neris meltdown sunk the Phillies back to the .500 mark with 12 games remaining:

 

Zack Wheeler’s Night

The Phillies desperately needed the type of outing they got from Zack Wheeler tonight. He allowed three earned runs on seven hits while walking none and striking out two.

It was just the latest in a line of outstanding performances from Wheeler, who now has a 2.62 ERA in 58.1 IP over nine starts. He’s been a horse, too, consistently giving the Phillies both quantity and quality in his starts. He finished the night in the top ten among National League pitchers in both earned run average and innings pitched.

It was obvious from the start that his velocity wouldn’t be impacted by the torn fingernail on his right middle finger. He came out pumping 97s and 98s from the jump, but he also didn’t feature a single offspeed pitch in any of his 13 first-inning offerings.

He would lightly showcase the rest of his pitch arsenal in the subsequent frames, but Wheeler relied heavily on his four-seam fastball (which averaged 97.3 mph) and sinker throughout his seven-plus innings of work. In fact, 66 of his 95 pitches were either four-seamers or sinkers, accounting for 70% of his pitches.

While this isn’t much of an increase from the 69% percent that those pitches accounted for in his start against the Mets nine days ago, it is a notable increase when you look at the distribution in relation to his last five starts:

  • 8/22 vs. ATL: 63%
  • 8/28 vs. ATL: 66%
  • 9/2 vs. WSH: 65%
  • 9/7 at NYM: 69%
  • 9/17 vs NYM: 70%

What on Earth Is Up with Bryce Harper?

After an 0-for-5 effort tonight, Bryce Harper is hitting just .243 with an .845 OPS. Dating back to Aug. 23, Harper has been held hitless in 13 of 24 games and is batting an anemic .159 (13-for-82) during that stretch. When asked about a potential injury issue for the star outfielder, Girardi deflects by simply saying he’s banged up because he’s playing every day. After Wednesday night’s loss, Girardi said Harper is in a “funk.”

Maybe, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a story emerges over the next few weeks about Harper playing through a more significant injury. He’s a streaky hitter, and he was never going to sustain the .343 average or 1.192 OPS he had through his first 22 games, but something, whatever it is, isn’t right.

Quick Notes

  • The Phillies’ three-pack of runs in the second inning ended a string of 14 starts, dating back to last September, in which deGrom yielded two earned runs or less.
  • With his double in the fourth, Scott Kingery now has an extra-base hit in three straight games. This is the first time he’s accomplished this feat since last season when he did it in three straight games from 9/1 – 9/3.
  • After allowing two earned runs in 1.2 IP on Wednesday night, the bullpen now has a 7.05 ERA this season.
  • The Phillies scored first for the 36th time in 48 games this season (75%). They are only 19-17 in such games.
  • Mickey Moniak, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2016 MLB Draft, made his major league debut tonight when he pinch ran in the ninth inning.

 

 

 

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