Bullpen Woes Put Phillies' Postseason Hopes in Danger

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On Sunday morning, back when FanGraphs gave them an 87% chance to reach the playoffs, the Phillies hoped they would play well enough to skip ace Aaron Nola’s final regular-season start and line him up for the postseason. Now that Philadelphia lost both games of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Nationals, the Phillies will be lucky if Nola even has a chance to pitch them into October.

If you’ve watched the team at all this year, you barely need the outline: The offense mustered three hits in Game 1. It recovered in Game 2, only to watch a reliever—this time Brandon Workman, but it could have been anyone—leave a cutter up to Washington rookie DH Yadiel Hernández. His major league career is 12 days old. He now has one career walk-off home run.

The Phillies’ bullpen might be the most inept unit in sports right now. It leads the league in blown saves, with 13. The team has lost 14 games after leading by at least two runs, by far the most in the sport. Its bullpen ERA is now 7.21.

Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi (25) shown in the dugout against the Atlanta Braves during the seventh inning at Truist Park.

“It’s hard to explain,” said manager Joe Girardi after the ball had landed. “We’ve worked at it and tried to get [the relievers] right. They’ve had success in the past and been pretty good. For whatever reason, it hasn’t happened here, and it’s extremely frustrating.”

That might be the worst part: The Phillies were buyers at the trade deadline. The guys who are lighting matches were acquired to help put out the fires. Take righty David Phelps, who had a 2.77 ERA with the Brewers when Philadelphia dealt a trio of minor leaguers for him. On Tuesday he allowed three runs without recording an out. His Philly ERA is 12.91. Righty David Hale had a 3.00 ERA with the Yankees when Philadelphia swapped a minor leaguer for him. His ERA with the Phillies is 4.09. Righty Heath Hembree wasn’t doing very well with the Red Sox—he had an ERA of 5.59—but he has gotten even worse since Philadelphia traded righty Nick Pivetta and a pitching prospect for him and Workman: 12.54. And then there’s Workman: 4.05 before the trade, 6.92 since.

Tuesday’s disaster dropped the Phillies’ record to 27–29 and their postseason odds to 35%. Especially in a season in which more than half the league makes the playoffs, it would be mortifying for a team that spent $182 million on this roster (before the pandemic slashed salaries) to extend its streak of missed Octobers to nine.

Philadelphia has four games remaining: one more against the Nationals on Wednesday and three against the AL East-leading Rays. The Phillies, fighting the Brewers (27–27), the Giants (26–27), the Mets (25–30) and the Rockies (24–29) for the final NL playoff spot, will probably have to win all four to survive.

But even if they can get to the postseason, it’s hard to imagine they’ll spend much time there.

Quick Hits

  • The Braves beat the Marlins 11–1 on Tuesday to clinch their third straight division title.
  • The Indians beat the White Sox 5–3 in the 10th inning on Tuesday to clinch a playoff berth. Third baseman José Ramírez hit a home run to walk it off. He leads the majors in FanGraphs WAR, with 3.0. At least one person thinks that figure should be even better:
  • Tuesday was National Voter Registration Day. Take it from Mookie Betts: