Assessing the Phillies After Bid for Perfect Weekend Falls Just Short

PHOTO CREDIT: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies were one bleeping out away from leaving Los Angeles Sunday evening with only one question to answer — should they go with the road grays or red alternates when they return to Dodger Stadium for the NLCS this October?

We kid, obviously, but a win that would have secured an unthinkable four-game sweep of what is arguably baseball’s best team, one that would have also pushed the Phillies over .500 for the first time since April 12, quickly turned into a supremely frustrating 5-4 walk-off loss.

It was a loss that instead raised an entirely different set of questions about, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, the bullpen.

The latest episode of this city’s recurring baseball nightmare played out as the $16 million tandem of Jeurys Familia and Corey Knebel failed to protect a 4-2 lead and seven innings of impressive work from Aaron Nola:

Now, let’s pause for a minute because some thing obvious should be noted here: a 5-2 west coast road trip, including a road series win over the Dodgers, is damn impressive. The Dodgers lost more games at home this weekend (three) than they did in their first 12 games of the season (two). The trip was also one nobody saw coming a week ago from what was an aimless 12-16 team slogging its way through the opening weeks of the season.

The offense exploded, the starting pitching mostly impressed, and some late-game resilience powered a week that brought the Phillies back to relevance.

But damn. One more out and there’s an exclamation point on a 6-1 road road trip and what would have been just the Phillies’ third five-game road winning streak since the start of the 2013 season.

In case you were mostly sleeping through their best week of the season (or the first 35 games of it), let’s hit the reset button and survey some of the good, bad and ugly.

The Bullpen Remains a Problem

It may seem a bit unfair to skew negative after a stellar week of baseball, but the bullpen, as you may have heard, has been and continues to be a problem here. Yes, the Phillies won three of four in Los Angeles, but getting lost in the end result at the expense of overlooking the process is foolish.

A quick refresher:

  • Thursday: Jose Alvarado blows a four-run lead in the eighth. Phillies survive, win 9-7.
  • Friday: Jeurys Familia blows a 9-7 lead in the ninth. Phillies survive, win 12-10. 
  • Sunday: Jeurys Familia struggles again before Corey Knebel blows a 4-3 lead in the ninth. Phillies don’t survive, lose 5-4. 

To be fair, the Phillies have had some bright spots in the bullpen this season. Seranthony Dominguez holds a 2.63 ERA and has yielded runs in just three of his first 14 appearances. Brad Hand has a 1.93 ERA while holding opponents to a .188 average, and Andrew Bellatti (2.89 ERA) has done a nice job in some tight spots.

Still, the overall product leaves a lot to be desired. Phillies relievers have combined for a 4.38 ERA through 35 games. Only the the Rockies, Reds and Diamondbacks bullpens have been worse. Taking a more isolated approach, the acts of Jose Alvarado and Familia have already worn thin, and the jury is still out on Knebel’s ability to consistently take down the ninth.

Aaron Nola, Man…

Here’s the line from Aaron Nola’s last six starts: 37.2 IP, 30 H, 12 ER, 6 BB, 43 K, .219 OPP BA., 2.87 ERA –

The Phillies record in those six games? How about 0-6.

In fact, the Phillies are 1-7 in Nola’s starts this season. They’re also 2-4 when Zack Wheeler starts. Together, they’re 3-11 when their two best pitchers take the ball and 14-7 when they don’t.

There’s a few ways to look at this, but let’s start with the positive outlook. Nola was a cross between underwhelming and a mess last season, so to see him string together an impressive run like this over six starts is encouraging. His recent performance has mostly quieted discussions regarding the trajectory of his career and what he is, while also significantly raising the ceiling of what the Phillies’ starting rotation can be.

And while all of this is great news, at some point, this team needs to start winning when he’s on the mound. While it’s almost impossible to pin this recent stretch on Nola, the Phillies are just 21-35 in his starts dating back to 2020. Just crazy.

That’s About Right

The latest head-scratching moment from Odubel Herrera came during yesterday’s seventh inning.

With the bases loaded and two outs, Herrera offered at a 2-1 slider from Dodgers reliever Yency Almonte that went between his legs. Not only did it look stupid, the whiff also shifted the tone of the at-bat. The pitch, which was non-competitive out of the hand, should have brought the count to 3-1. With the count instead evened up, Almonte would get Herrera to tap out, ending the Phillies’ threat:

It was a big spot, too, as the Phillies could have used the insurance. While a bad sequence — and on brand for Herrera —  I saw some people on Twitter blaming the loss on Herrera, but I’d be inclined to favor the bullpen in the event you need to point fingers. Herrera, who is making $1.75 million, has an .825 OPS this season.

As noted above, Familia and Knebel, are making $16 million. Hard to pin a loss on one at-bat, or be disappointed in an offense that produced 33 runs over four games against an elite pitching staff.

But dumb? Yeah, for sure.

As Advertised

If you’ve been following along lately, you’ve probably heard about some of the Phillies’ gaudy offensive statistics:

  • .256 BA (2nd)
  • .431 SLG (1st)
  • .750 OPS (1st)
  • 8.6% extra-base hit rate (1st)
  • .175 ISO (4th)
  • 44 HR (5th)

From a more advanced metrics standpoint, at 42 percent, the Phillies are fifth in hard hit rate. Their 89.7 mph average exit velocity also stacks up as baseball’s fifth-best mark, meaning they hit the ball with authority — and they do it often. That type of production is something to dream on.

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