The Phillies’ opening series at PNC Park drew up a very specific formula for the season.
The big weakness was offense — the Phillies hit .204/.264/.255 with three extra-base hits.
The unit that blew Sunday’s series finale, however, was the bullpen. Say whatever you want about offense, when you allow seven baserunners over the final 2.2 innings, that is the root cause of a loss.
In Sunday’s game, the Phillies used Michael Stutes in the seventh inning (allowed two runs), Kyle Kendrick and Antonio Bastardo in the eighth inning of a one-run game (blown save) and David Herndon in the ninth, with the score tied 4-4.
This type of setup could be used in many games this season, especially those started by Worley or Joe Blanton. The Phillies right now don’t have a specific eighth-inning reliever. They don’t have a Mike Adams or a Ryan Madson of old.
They have an Antonio Bastardo who has lost velocity and may have to nibble more, leading to even worse control. They have Stutes, who is coming back from shoulder soreness in the spring and may have had his best success before the league knew what to expect from him. They have Kendrick, a career starter/long-man who has the exact skill set you don’t want coming out of the ‘pen late. They have Herndon, a groundballer who leaves too many pitches high in the zone and routinely allows early baserunners.
All of these pitchers could have good seasons. All of these pitchers could struggle mightily. No conclusions are being formed after three games, these are simple facts.
What it boils down to, however, what we saw first-hand in the three games at PNC Park, is that the Phillies will be playing in so many one-run games that the bullpen’s success or failure will determine the season. If the bullpen is as good as it was last season, the Phils can win 94-96 games. If it’s average or worse, they could win 88.
I don’t think many folks realize just how critical the bullpen was to the team’s 102 wins last season. The Phillies’ bullpen, as a unit, blew just three saves in the first 110 games of 2011. That’s not just ninth-inning blown saves, either. That’s blown saves in any inning.
It is unrealistic to expect that sort of effort this season. It’d mean the Phillies would allow the tying run(s) to score after the starter exits in just 1.9% of the next 107 games.
But this was the missing piece of the discussion when comparing last year’s team to this year’s. Yes, last season the Phillies were without Chase Utley until May 23, and the second base fill-ins combined to hit .211 with no home runs. Yes, last year’s team began the season without Hunter Pence.
But last year’s team also saw a mixture of solid bullpen work and incredible late-inning luck that doesn’t figure to carry over. Getting leads will be one hardship for this team. Maintaining them will be another.