In an offseason where multiple big names were signed to the Philadelphia Phillies, the fans had all the reason in the world to be very excited about this season. They still do, as the Phillies currently own a 7-3 record and are on top of the National League East standings. A lot of money was spent in the offseason on new signings, such as Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper, and one bullpen perk in David Robertson.
Other trades were made to bring in certain players like JT Realmuto and Jean Segura. However, those moves were made to bring in fielding and hitters on the team. It was a need, but along with these moves, attention needed to be focused in at the bullpen. It isn’t just this season that this has been a major concern either. This was a concern before Gabe Kapler. Over the last four years, I have always said that “signing players are great and all, but you don’t win unless you close games.” In two of the three losses this season, that was exactly the case. However, last night was a game that really put this into perspective.
Aaron Nola pitched into just over six innings and the Philadelphia Phillies were leading the game 6-5 against the visiting Washington Nationals. Nola was pulled after he gave up two home runs, but the Phillies still had a real opportunity to win the game. As I have grown accustomed to, the uneasy feeling I get when I know the Phillies are going to have to rely on the bullpen to win a game, came back to haunt me as I sat in the two hundred levels with the rest of the Phillies fans in right-center field. My girlfriend attending the game with me says she is bad luck, but it’s been the bullpen for the last four years at least. She can’t put that “bad luck” evil on her. When Nola was substituted for Seranthony Dominguez, I felt okay because I know the potential Dominguez has. He did well in the seventh inning, allowing no hits to get out of any further damage.
In the eighth inning, the one pitcher that I had a problem with the most, Hector Neris. He walks two batters, which, in a one-run ball game is the last thing you want to do. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals first baseman and known Phillies killer, is at bat with two men on. Neris got the strikeout, which I’ll take that! Neris ultimately got out of the jam with a foul ball caught for an out and a fly ball to left field caught by Andrew McCutchen.
Now in the bottom of the ninth, it seemed to a lot of the Philadelphia Phillies fans that we all might be celebrating a win. Edubray Ramos was called upon to close the game and collect the save. The first batter for the Washington Nationals, Wilmer Difo, lines out to Rhys Hoskins at first base. While Hoskins couldn’t get it done at the plate on this particular evening, his fielding was on par. Second batter, Kurt Suzuki, strikes out swinging. It all came down to the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and two strikes against Victor Robles.
You know the saying, “you only hurt the one you love?” Yes, I love the Phillies, but last night it hurt. Robles ties up the game with a solo home run. Ramos is pulled out of the game in the ninth and replaced by Jose Alvarez, who was able to get Adam Eaton to ground out to close the inning. One strike away from a win, but we all know how last night ends. The bullpen blew the game and win for Aaron Nola. In the tenth inning, Juan Soto put the final nail in the coffin for the evening, driving a three-run home run against Alvarez.
Now, I’ll argue all day that the ball was foul. It was on replay and it was in right field where everyone could see. Even listening back to the Nationals call of that home run on Mid Atlantic Sports Network, they weren’t confident it was until the first base umpire made a late decision. I thought it was a bad call then and clearly I still do. However, at this point, it was 9-6 in favor of the Nationals, soon to become the final score of 10-6 when Robles doubled and drove in Zimmerman for another run. The Phillies went down in the bottom of the tenth in three straight plate appearances.
To be honest, this was a game that the Philadelphia Phillies had no business losing. As soon as Aaron Nola gave up that first home run in the seventh inning, he should have been replaced. He was already into the early nineties of his pitch count for the night. That would have limited the damage and even with the home run that Alvarez gave up in the ninth inning, the final could have been 6-5. With the way Seranthony Dominguez pitched in his opportunity relieving Nola, I don’t think that Howie Kendrick would have hit the extra home run that Nola gave up.
The real point here after all of the hysteria last night is that while Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, JT Realmuto, and Jean Segura are new and effective, the Phillies are already feeling the effects of the lack of upgrades in the bullpen. Even though Hector Neris got out of a jam last night, he still doesn’t reassure a sense of security when he steps on the mound. That is the entire point of bullpen pitching; security. You are the last line of defense in a designed selection to secure the bag and walk out of the ballpark with a win.
I look at the players that could have bolstered the bullpen. It’s fair that David Robertson was a signed free agent to the Philadelphia Phillies and I liked that deal. However, no moves on Craig Kimbrel was something that I didn’t understand. The guy helped the Red Sox win a World Series last year, was an All-Star, and to this moment is a free agent. I truly think that if the Phillies were to somehow manage to sign Kimbrel, this team would have a real opportunity for a World Series appearance in 2019.
It has to happen because scoring six runs isn’t always going to cut it as evident by last night versus the Washington Nationals. Having good hitters is always nice, but betting that you are able to score upwards of six runs a game for the season is just not likely. Alleviating that means that the starting rotation can be looser on the mound because the bullpen would now be a valid security blanket. Signing Kimbrel alongside players we have like Robertson and Seranthony Dominguez makes for a good three relief pitching group. One thing that I was not a fan of in particular was not offering a contract to Luis Avilan, who was 2-1 last season as a relief pitcher. I think having him as an option, especially when he is on the New York Mets now and is only getting $1.6 million on a minor league deal, would have been worth the offer.
However, the Philadelphia Phillies have not lost a series this season. That is the upside of the season so far. With north of 38,000 fans in attendance last night at Citizens Bank Park, people are definitely coming out to watch baseball more than they were this time last year. That being said, the Phillies organization has the funds available to make an offer to strengthen that bullpen with Craig Kimbrel. Make that move, the bullpen needs an upgrade!