Phillies: Bullpen Implodes in Heartbreaking Loss to Braves

It was bound to happen sooner or later. With six Phillies relievers on the injured list, last night’s loss to the division leading Braves was a long time coming.

After racing out to a 7-2 lead behind the bats of Bryce Harper, Scott Kingery and Rhys Hoskins — all of whom homered — the Phils found themselves in a familiar spot, holding a late-game lead with their bullpen called upon to secure the victory.

Despite mounting injuries in the pen, Gabe Kapler has been forced to rely on his relievers quite a bit this season, and for the most part they’ve been able to avoid collapses like the one we saw last night. But in a game that the Phils could have really used to keep pace with Atlanta in the NL East, the bullpen had one of its most disappointing outings of the season.

Nick Pivetta was able to pitch deep into the game, totaling 116 pitches before running into trouble in the seventh.  Then starter-turned-reliever Vince Valasquez failed to close out the inning after giving up an RBI single to Freddie Freeman that chopped the lead to 7-4.

The Phils were able to score another run in the eighth, but the four-run lead wasn’t enough to ensure a victory, as Jose Alvarez, Edubray Ramos, and Hector Neris combined to allow five runs over the final two innings en route to a devastating walk-off loss.

With the win, the Braves have now grown their division lead to 2.5 games. This isn’t the end of the world for the Phils obviously — they still have two games against Atlanta in this series and 15 total matchups against them over the second half of the season.

Last night’s game should serve as a wake up call for the front office, who should be preparing to add arms over the next month and a half before the trade deadline. The team has the bats to get them through the year (though their numbers could stand to tick up in the second half) but as we know, pitching wins in October. As of right now, the Phillies bullpen ranks 17th in ERA (4.40), and 24th in batting average against (.263).

The starting pitching also deserves some blame here (14th in ERA, 18th in .BAA). Their inability to go late into games on a consistent basis has left the bullpen exposed for stretches at a time, which has only exasperated the injury problems.

Fortunately, the team will be aided by the return of a relievers Pat Neshek, Adam Morgan, David Robertson, Tommy Hunter, and hopefully Seranthony Dominguez in the coming days/weeks along with Edubray Ramos (who just re-joined the team coming back from the DL) and Victor Arano by the end of the summer (no official timetable).

It might be wise of Matt Klentak to go out and find at least another dependable arm to add to the group, but assuming our current arms can get healthy, it’s not as big of a need as it’s being made out to be (plus, if Kapler just subs in a plus-defender for Jay Bruce in left field then we aren’t even discussing last night).

On the other hand, Nola-Eflin-Arietta-Pivetta doesn’t feel like a contending rotation in the slightest bit. I wouldn’t trust a single one of these pitchers to go 6 quality innings against the Dodgers or Cubs vaunted lineups in October, and therein lays the bigger concern for this ball club.

Stellar pitching in ’08 was a huge part to that championship team. With the trade deadline on the horizon (July 31st), I can’t imagine a scenario where Klentak doesn’t attempt to add a starter or at least an arm in the bullpen (hopefully both). If he’s serious about making a World Series run this season, pitching needs to be addressed one way or another.

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