Philadelphia Phillies: Bullpen struggles overshadow recent success

(Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Phillies may be six games over .500, but their struggling bullpen could continue to define them moving forward.

There are usually two types of fans in the sports world. You have the optimist, and you have the pessimist, with nothing usually in between. In the case of the 2018 Philadelphia Phillies, both ends of that spectrum have plenty to say.

The optimists will obviously point to the fact that the Phillies are six games over .500, or that they continuously find a way to win no matter the circumstances. On the other hand, the pessimist may point to the fact that no offensive player is hitting over .300, or the fact that the bullpen has been a thorn in the side of this team for the better part of the last two and a half months.

For today’s sake, we are going to focus on the latter of that last statement. The Phillies have won three games in a row, but the last two wins have been overshadowed by a struggling bullpen nearly costing them the game. Saturday’s win in Milwaukee was smooth, but Sunday and Monday; not so much.

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It has become a custom at this point for Phillies fans that the first week or two of every season, the bullpen tends to struggle. Which theoretically makes sense; guys are still growing comfortable and finding their roles, while managers are still figuring out which guys are best for which situations.

While those are typical struggles in early April, it is not something a team should be going through in late-June. Amidst all these struggles, the Phillies are lucky to sit just 3.5 games back in the division and sit tied for the second wild-card spot.

It is not fair to assess all of the blame on Phillies manager Gabe Kapler for these struggles. His presumed closer starting the season Hector Neris struggled to the point to where he was demoted to AAA, and anyone else entrusted with pitching the ninth has been inconsistent at best. As a team in 2018, the Phillies have already blown nine saves, and we are only 70 games in thus far.

But, one of the main criticisms of Kapler, has been that he has yet to establish a closer, and is approaching the ninth inning in a closer by committee way. When asked about his approach in the ninth and possibly using a guy like Seranthony Dominguez as the closer Kapler had this to say:

What Kapler is saying does make sense in theory; that there will be some instances where a guy like Seranthony would be needed to be used earlier in the game where there is a high leverage situation, so it would be foolish to blindly designate him the closer.

But the thing is, that has been said around baseball for years, is that not every pitcher is able to handle pitching in the ninth inning. It takes a certain breed of pitcher to be able to handle those high leverage situations. Even guys like Brad Lidge or Jonathan Papelbon, whose roles were the ninth inning, struggled at times; showing how tough that role really is.

It is fair to understand where Kapler is coming from when he says that he trusts all his guys and wouldn’t hesitate to put them in save situations. But the fact of the matter is the Phillies don’t have a lot of guys who can handle those situations and Kapler needs to identify the guys who are his best ninth-inning guys and stick with them.

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The Phillies best two relievers this season have been Dominguez and Edubray Ramos and they look to be the two best guys to pitch in those high leverage ninth-inning save situations.

Monday night’s win over the Cardinals featured everything, from bloody noses to walk-offs and everything in between. But the one thing that remained the same was the bullpen collapsing in the ninth inning, and on this night it was Victor Arano and Adam Morgan responsible for the meltdown.

We are less than two weeks away from July, and the Phillies are going to have to make some tough decisions very soon. Are they going to go for it and make a deal or two to bolster their roster, or will they stand pat at the deadline and make a run for it in 2019? All of that will be indicative of how this team plays over the next 30 days.

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If the Phillies are to remain in the thick of things then the bullpen is going to have to perform better, and they are going to have to close out games more often. If not, then the postseason drought in Philadelphia will reach seven years.

After Monday night’s game, Kapler said a change in the way he approaches the bullpen doesn`t seem necessary but did talk about the luxury of having a guy who can come in and close out games. This courtesy of Joe Bloss from

"“Everybody wants to have a guy that’s absolutely, lights-out dominant,” Kapler said. “Those guys don’t grow on trees, and I really like our guys.”"

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Kapler may be noncommital on a change in his bullpen philosophy right now, but if there is one thing we know for sure is that something needs to change fast, or Kapler and the Phillies are going to have a lot of questions to answer down the road.