The good news is the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen is not as bad as it was during the shortened 2020 season, when it was one of the worst bullpens in baseball history. The bad news is the Phillies bullpen is still among the least-reliable units in baseball, and that has been especially true the last few days.
Monday night against the Reds (CIN 12, PHI 4), Neftalí Feliz (yes, that Neftalí Feliz) and Enyel De Los Santos flushed a 4-2 lead down the drain in the seventh inning. Feliz, who was pitching in his first MLB game since 2017, got two outs and was charged with three runs. De Los Santos wore it in the eighth inning and was charged with six runs (two earned) in two-thirds of an inning.
"I've said all along that this team is pretty good about bouncing back the next day," Phillies manager Joe Girardi told reporters, including MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, following the game. "But it's extremely frustrating. I mean, I'm not going to sugarcoat it. It's really frustrating."
Monday's meltdown happened after a weekend series in which Philadelphia's bullpen blew multiple leads against the Mets, and even allowed runs in the games they closed out. The Phillies have blown seven saves in their last six games, and they've blown 21 saves overall. John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia notes that is the most blown saves through 76 games in history.
Here are a few more numbers on the bullpen's futility:
- Win probability added: minus-4.00 (29th in MLB)
- Shutdowns: 64 (14th fewest in MLB)
- Meltdowns: 53 (tied for most in MLB)
Shutdowns are relief appearances that improve the team's win probability at least six percent, and meltdowns are the opposite. They are relief appearances that decrease the team's win probability at least six percent. No team has more meltdowns than the Phillies, and only the Orioles, Reds, Astros, and Diamondbacks have a worse shutdown/meltdown ratio.
If we limit our look to relievers pitching in the sixth inning and later (to avoid "bulk" pitchers behind openers), the Phillies bullpen owns the fifth-worst ERA (4.75) and the eighth-highest WHIP (1.37) in baseball. They also have the eighth highest opponent's batting average (.247) and fifth highest opponent's slugging percentage (.422). It's bad. Real bad.
The blame starts with the players, obviously, though Girardi shouldn't escape criticism. On Saturday, for example, Girardi pulled starter Zach Eflin after only 82 pitches, and he used one of his most reliable relievers (Connor Brogdon) to get one out. Ranger Suárez and Hector Neris, who was replaced as closer last week, would combine to blow the game.
Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski overhauled his bullpen with trades (José Alvarado and Sam Coonrod) and free-agent signings (Archie Bradley and Brandon Kintzler) over the winter, though they haven't made much of a difference. Alvarado has 24 walks in 29 innings, Bradley has allowed 11 runs in 17 innings, and Coonrod and Kintzler are hurt.
At 36-40, the Phillies are in fourth place in the NL East, five games behind the first-place Mets and nine games behind the Padres for the second wild card spot. The Phillies have not been to the postseason since 2011, and if they're going to end the drought this year, they'll have to win the division. The NL West is too strong to count on a wild card spot as a fallback.