Phillies’ Bullpen Proving to be Their Achilles Heel

As the Phillies entered the 2016 season, there wasn’t much to get excited about. The team has very little chance of making the playoffs this year, so any excitement would obviously be directed towards the development of young prospects. Nonetheless, there was still a buzz in the air on Monday when the first pitch of the Phillies’ season was thrown.

Raisel Iglesias and Jeremy Hellickson went toe-to-toe for six innings, with each man putting together a strong outing. Iglesias allowed two runs over six innings, while Hellickson threw six innings of one-run ball (that run was unearned). The Phillies held a 2-1 lead heading into the eighth inning, when things would start going downhill. David Hernandez was brought in to relieve Jeanmar Gomez, but couldn’t even last one-third of an inning. Hernandez threw 16 pitches, allowing three runs before even recording an out. Hernandez was yanked, in favor of James Russell. Russell at least made it through one-third of an inning, although he allowed a pair of runs off of 10 pitches. With that, Russell was lifted in favor of Hector Neris. It was too late though, as the Phils fell to the Reds by a score of 6-2.

Fast forward to Wednesday night, and you’ll find a similar situation. Aaron Nola and Brandon Finnegan had quite the pitchers duel going. Nola went seven strong innings, allowing only one run. Finnegan allowed a pair of runs over six innings. Nola got lifted in the eighth inning for David Hernandez. Unlike Monday though, Hernandez made it through a full inning of work without allowing a run. Move ahead to the ninth inning, and things got dicey. Dalier Hinojosa was brought on to close things out, but did the complete opposite. It only took him 16 pitches to allow a game-winning two-run double to Scott Schebler, giving the Reds a 3-2 victory. Two games in, and two late leads blown by the Phillies bullpen.

The next day, the Phils and Reds played the finale of their series. Philadelphia entered the fourth inning with a slim 2-1 lead which didn’t last too long, as Jay Bruce took Charlie Morton deep for a three-run home run. With the Reds up 4-2, Morton was taken out. The game was still within reach for the Phillies, that was until Daniel Stumpf took the mound. Stumpf couldn’t even record one out in the inning, but he did allow the Reds to extend their lead by four more runs behind a grand slam from Eugenio Suarez. Stumpf was later yanked in favor of Brett Oberholtzer. Oberholtzer went 3.1 innings allowing only one additional run, but the game was already out of hand. For the third straight game, the Phillies bullpen allowed the game to get away from them.

Friday afternoon, the Phillies started a three-game series with the Mets. Jacob deGrom and Jerad Eickhoff took the mound for their respective teams, and it was a compelling battle through six-and-a-half innings. deGrom put together six innings of one-run baseball, while Eickhoff pitched five innings of two-run ball. Entering the bottom of the seventh inning, it was a 3-1 lead for the Mets. The Phillies brought in their third reliever of the game in James Russell. Russell proceeded to allow four runs on three hits. A two-run deficit had suddenly become a six-run deficit and they weren’t able to rally back. Four games into the season, and all four have either gotten away from the bullpen or been lost directly by the bullpen.

Out of the seven relievers that have taken the mound this season, four of them have ERAs higher than 8.00. Dalier Hinojosa has an ERA of 9.00, David Hernandez clocked in with a 16.20 ERA, while James Russell and Daniel Stumpf find themselves with ERAs north of 40.00. Those four combined have an ERA of 11.44. If you factor in the outings of Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez, the Phillies bullpen has an ERA of 8.49, not that an 8.49 ERA is much better than 11.44.

The point I’m trying to make here, is that the Phillies bullpen is costing them games, whether it’s directly or not. In two of their five games this season, the relievers have directly blown a lead late in the game. In another two games, the relievers were responsible for putting the game out of reach. The only game that hasn’t been negatively impacted by relievers was last night’s 1-0 win over the Mets, in which Vincent Velasquez pitched six brilliant innings.

Towards the end of Spring Training, the Phillies organization cut ties with a pair of veteran relievers in Andrew Bailey, and Ernesto Frieri. To me, it was a head-scratcher. Bailey seemed to be clearly locking down the closer’s position, and Frieri put together a not-so-solid spring allowing ten runs in seven innings of work. But, I can guarantee you that they would gladly take Frieri’s stats over what they currently have. A name to keep an eye on as the season progresses is Edward Mujica. Mujica was also cut towards the end of Spring Training, but re-signed with the Phillies after about 32 hours on the open market. If the relievers can’t turn things around soon, you could see Mujica make an appearance on the main roster.

Entering the season, there were some question whether the Phillies could secure another top pick in the MLB Draft for 2017. If the bullpen keeps pitching the way they have been, I can say with the utmost confidence that they will.

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