The Phillies were three outs away from sweeping the Washington Nationals and moving into sole possession of second place in the NL East on Wednesday. That did not happen thanks to a blown save in the ninth and a grand slam in the 10th off the Phils' bullpen. It is the 11th loss by a Phillies reliever out of their 38 total losses this season. Their bullpen loss rate of 28.9% (11 of 38 losses) is nearly as bad as last year’s rate of 33.3% (27 of 81 losses).
When the Phillies become sellers at the trading deadline (notice I said when), bullpen arms has become one of their needs. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Papelbon said during the offseason, "If we're not the top bullpen in Major League Baseball, we'll definitely be the top in the National League." Well, the Phils bullpen ranks dead last in the league this season with a 4.63 ERA.
With a young core of relievers, the growing pains were inevitable, but these ERA’s indicate more than just growing pains:
Phillippe Aumont – 4.15 ERA with Phillies, 6.75 ERA in AAA, 24 total walks in 22.1 innings
Jeremy Horst – 6.23 ERA
Jake Diekman – 5.70 ERA in AAA
Aumont was the closer of the future, Horst was the diamond in the rough, and Diekman was worth quitting your job as pitching coach to become his agent (as Dubee once joked about doing). Now Aumont has regressed, Horst has no future, and Diekman still has no control.
One way the Phillies hoped to offset their aging stars and huge contracts was with a quality, young, cheap bullpen. Now we have to question whether any of those young guys will ever consistently produce at the major league level. An area of strength has all of a sudden become an area of need. If the bullpen progressed according to plan, the Phillies would not have to worry about the 'pen and could focus on adding a boatload of hitting prospects at the deadline, but now they might need to add a few bullpen arms to the mix.
Excluding Papelbon, the more veteran guys in the bullpen have not been all that special, either. Mike Adams, who the Phils will not be able to trade, looks old and fragile and owns a 3.96 ERA. Antonio Bastardo has an acceptable 2.96 ERA, but his walk rand hit rates have gone up while his K rate has dropped dramatically from 14.0 K/9 to 8.1 K/9. Bastardo, Adams, and Papelbon don't exactly measure up to Romero, Durbin, Madson, and Lidge from 2008, do they?
The two possible bright spots are De Fratus (2.92 ERA) and Stutes (3.68 ERA), but they have not done it long enough or consistently enough to be guys to count on.
Papelbon might be proven right about his "top bullpen" comments, but it won't be on this team.
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