Except for a few brief periods in the team’s 140-year history, Philadelphia sports fans were generally resentful of the Phillies. In recent history, much of that fan frustration comes from the bullpen, which had a 7.06 ERA in 2020 (the highest in 90 years) and last season threatened the record for missed saves in a season. The Phillies went out and signed two hitters this offseason in hopes the bullpen wouldn’t be such a problem. They also got a few helpers, but the plan was clear: get enough runs that it doesn’t matter what the bullpen does.
About that. Although they started slowly, the Phillies sluggers actually batted for much of the year. It wasn’t always enough. Earlier this month, the Phillies smothered a 7-1 lead in the ninth, losing to the Mets. Last night the bullpen did his thing again, although it wasn’t the pitchers but the manager pushing the old anger.
Here’s why Joe Girardi takes the blame for last night’s 6-5 loss to the Braves. After Bryce Harper hit a double-barreled homer At the top of ninth place to give the Phils a 5-4 lead, Girardi exited Nick Nelson to win ninth place. Nelson had pitched 17 pitches earlier in the inning and gave a double to Dansby Swanson, who advanced to third on a wild pitch and hit with a sacrificial fly from Ronald Acuña. Oh, and then Acuña scored on the William Contreras single because Roman Quinn dropped the sack fly. Good win.
Phillies closer Corey Gag didn’t pose.
Closer Corey Knebel was unavailable because he had been working in an unsafe situation for the last two days, Monday, and Girardi has a policy of not using helpers for three days in a row because it’s a long season and: ‘The price is in October,” he says.
Jim Salisbury, NBC Sports Philadelphia
Alongside gags were assists Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado in addition not available. So how did it come about that the entire back of the bullpen was out of order? It begins with the Phillies 4-3 win over the Dodgers on Sunday. The Phillies were close to losing that one until Max Muncy botched a game-ending groundout late in 10th place; Fast Roman Quinn scored from second place in the Phillies’ 4-3 win. It’s all ok! But the problem there was Knebel, who was closer to the team this year. He threw 23 pitches in the 10th, allowed a run but clinched the win.
The Phillies beat the Braves 7-3 on Monday; they were 7-0 at one point. Perhaps concerned about another implosion like the one against the Mets, Girardi suggested gag Tuesday. (Baseball reference gave the Phillies a 99 percent chance of winning for ninth place, but come on, it’s the Phillies bullpen, so we can basically round down to 98 or 97 percent.)
The unavailability of Knebel, Dominguez and Alvarado meant James Norwood — a pitcher with an 8.53 ERA who was partially responsible for the collapse against the Mets — got into a tie in game six on Tuesday night. Norwood put up four batsmen, gave up a pair of runs and didn’t get an out.
“We were close in the bullpen tonight, really close,” Girardi said after the game. Phillies pitchers will all be rested in October to win the real prize — really rested when they’re home as usual. Knebel said he was okay with Girardi’s rule, but Knebel really shouldn’t have served Monday with a 7-3 lead in a game the Phillies were almost certainly going to win. If a process is difficult to figure out, here’s a step closer to understanding why and how Phillies fans feel what they’re feeling.
Girardi’s bullpen reign dates back to his days with the Yankees. To limit the workload, especially early in the season, pitchers are limited to back-to-back outings. “It’s the thought process from the start — I don’t kick guys out three days in a row,” he said in 2015. “We think about it really hard. And so I’m pretty steadfast in my rules, no more than two days in a row just because I want them to be healthy and strong in September.”
Back in 2009, when the Yankees won the World Series, his pitchers were actually pretty fresh. Only two assistants were in the top 25 for AL appearances (Phil Coke had 72 appearances, Mariano Rivera 66). The Yankees had a 3.58 bullpen ERA during Girardi’s time in New York. But yes, a team’s bullpen will be better when Mariano Rivera is at the back end. (Rivera came out on Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”; Corey Knebel came out on the Godsmack version of the Joe Walsh song “Rocky Mountain Way”. Jesus Christ.)
Last season, Girardi actually allowed his helpers to pitch three days in a row starting in early August. The first to do so was Archie Bradley, who arrived on August 2 for a third straight game and made a save in a game the Phillies eventually won. Bradley told that questioner to then that he could serve more: “I’m a proven major league arm. I’ve won three in a row, I’ve gotten four out of five – and I’m willing to take on that burden and the role of pitching as much as possible to win this NL East.”
In August and September, Bradley had a 4.57 ERA with two failed saves and an added negative win probability. The Phillies were 15-6 in games he fielded and still haven’t sniffed the playoffs. Sometimes it’s hard to say whether to blame the artist or the tools. Could be both.