On the morning after the Philadelphia Phillies tied the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League’s coveted third Wild Card slot, I stumbled across an interesting bit of data about the Phils’ bullpen. According to Crossing Broad’s Bob Wankel, Philadelphia’s relievers, since June 15, have MLB’s best overall WAR and ERA (2.23).
This followed four scoreless innings by Philadelphia relievers in an 11-0 laugher against the Nationals.
Their recent bullpen success can’t blind the Philadelphia Phillies to remaining needs as the trade deadline looms.
Hmm … this is the same bullpen that includes Jose Alvarado, a guy who could challenge Nuke Laloosh in a Hit the Bull Contest? The same bullpen that includes Corey Knebel, the demoted closer? And Nick Nelson, who gave up 3 ER to the lowly Marlins in two innings on Apr. 15, and 4 ER in 1.1 innings to the equally lowly Diamondbacks on June 12?
Boy, interim manager Rob Thomson must be a wizard in matching relievers to opposing batters. Or maybe the Phillies made a key hire for their analytics department in June. I’m sure they’ll let me know if that’s the case.
The question begs: Is the bullpen’s performance for three weeks an anomaly, or have those guys turned a corner?
Inquirer.com writer Alex Coffey sort of credits Thomson’s “more relaxed” approach. A Phillies fan on Twitter seems to concur, writing in response to a question about whether Thomson is really that much better than dismissed manager Joe Girardi, “Really hard to say. Thompson’s personality is more like [Charlie] Manuel’s.”
How being relaxed or like Manuel translates to a better bullpen and an overall 21-9 record under Thomson is what the hippies called a “heavy mystery” 50 years ago.
It seems wise, then, to assume the newly accomplished Phillies bullpen will falter in the relatively near future. And all of this brings us to the Phillies needs as the trade deadline approaches.
It’s reasonable to always say, “The bullpen is what it is. For most teams, it will go up and down.” If there’s a decent reliever to be had by the end of this month, Phillies president Dave Dombrowski should be able to find him.
The starters situation in Philly is more problematic. Two Phillies starters are on the IL, Zach Eflin and Ranger Suarez, and they’ve been temporarily replaced by Cristopher Sanchez and Baily Falter. Neither is actually adequate, Sanchez’ fine performance July 5 – five scoreless innings, two hits, two walks – notwithstanding.
Or maybe being more relaxed will turn Sanchez into Steve Carlton.
However, it might be better for the Phillies to call up the Pittsburgh Pirates and see what they might want in return for Roansy Contreras and Jose Quintana. Either could start or relieve; either could send Suarez back to the bullpen if his sophomore slump as a starter continues when he returns.