The Phillies are Once Again Betrayed by Their Bullpen

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Rhys Hoskins put the Phillies on his back last night, but the bullpen crew decided they didn’t want to go along for the ride. The end result was a true Philadelphia Phillies special: a come-from-behind-win-turned-come-from-ahead loss that placed the ballclub back at the .500 level.

Thirty-one wins and thirty-one losses. A perfectly mediocre home for a perfectly mediocre baseball team.

Every season in recent years, it’s the same old story. Can’t beat the pesky Fish. Can’t escape the gravity of average baseball to soar into the postseason.

Can’t develop decent bullpen arms or find dependable relievers in free agency to fill the gaps. Every season, the front office wades aggressively into the free agent pitching market, and every season the roster plugs spring a leak.

Last night, it started with Jeurys Familia. Inheriting a 4-run lead in the 7th inning, all Familia needed to do was shut down the bottom of the Miami Marlins’ order. Instead, Avisail Garcia, a .228 hitter, roped a double that just eluded centerfielder Matt Vierling’s glove. After a walk and a strikeout, Familia gave up a three-run home run to Jacob Stallings, the light-hitting Marlins catcher who is batting just north of the Mendoza line.

Familia turned a comfortable lead into a razor-thin margin before he headed for the showers. Jazz Chisholm would tie the game after depositing a Seranthony Dominguez offering in the rightfield stands.

We can debate the wisdom of Phillies manager Rob Thomson going to the bullpen in the 7th inning with just 80 pitches on starter Zach Eflin’s ledger. After a rough first inning in which the righthander conceded four runs, Eflin was dominant. He sat down 13 Marlins in a row before giving way to Familia. To be fair, the Phillies strung together long innings in the 4th and 5th frames that may have persuaded Thomson to make the call to the pen earlier than he might have otherwise.

It really doesn’t matter. The Phillies gave $6 million to Familia to get outs in presumably high leverage situations. And I don’t think a 4-run lead in the 7th inning and facing a less-than-formidable bottom of the order qualifies as a pressure-packed scenario.

This is what the Phillies do. It’s what they’ve done for at least the past three seasons while masquerading as playoff contenders. Each year, they spend big bucks to fix this wretched bullpen, and every season it feels like the front office has purchased expensive curtains for a rundown shack.

It almost didn’t matter. Rhys Hoskins, in the midst of one of his patented heaters, hit a towering fly ball that landed just beyond the left field fence. It was his fourth hit of the night and sixth RBI. It gave the Phillies a late-inning lead they have been so good at relinquishing in recent years.

In strolled Corey Knebel to get the final three outs for the home team. Knebel has been something of a miracle worker this season. He has made me miss Hector Neris, a feat I thought impossible. Like a reliable Motel 6 manager, Knebel always leaves the light on for the opposing team.

In the blink of an eye, the bases were loaded, the game was tied, no outs were recorded, and the closer had once again failed to shut the door. Of the 16 pitches he threw, four found the strike zone. Watching Knebel struggle to command his pitches, particularly his curveball, this season has been like watching a drunk stagger to his front door, fumbling for his keys while hoping against hope to keep his balance.

Maybe the shoulder that stiffened on Knebel this weekend is more serious than he’s disclosing. If so, he’s not helping the team by taking the ball at the end of games. These wins he’s letting get away are going to hurt the club in a crowded and competitive wild card race while all but erasing any delusions they might vie for the NL East title.

Placed in an impossible situation, Andrew Bellatti nearly escaped the jam. But J.T. Realmuto, the putative “best catcher in baseball,” failed to catch a pop up in fail territory that would have placed the Marlins in a two-out bind. It was the cherry on top of the turd sundae Realmuto has served over the past two games:

Two pitches later, Jesus Aguilar drove a double to right field that would plate the decisive runs. Game over.

A more sanguine fan might suggest that getting angry over one contest in the course of a 162-game campaign is foolish. It’s a marathon, after all, and squandering one winnable game in June shouldn’t define the season. They just ripped off a nine-game winning streak. Don’t be a typical negative Phillies fan.

But it would be easier to resist that natural tendency toward pessimism if we weren’t watching the same old Phillies make the same old mistakes. The ongoing travesty of this bullpen situation has kept the franchise out of the playoffs for two straight seasons, and they’re well on their way to making it three. It doesn’t matter who they pay; the Phillies can’t get the outs from their relief arms consistently. They can’t get the outs when it matters.

And if you can’t get the outs when it matters the most, you won’t be playing when it matters the most.

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