The Phillies are shuffling up their bullpen, as manager Joe Girardi announced to reporters today that lefty Jose Alvarado will be first in line for save opportunities for now (Twitter link via Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer). Hector Neris has been the team’s primary option in save opportunities this season, but he’s been tagged for six runs over his past five outings — a span of 4 1/3 frames. Neris blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s absolute rollercoaster of a game between the Phillies and Nationals.
Alvarado had his first opportunity in the seventh inning of today’s twin bill against the division-leading Mets, but Francisco Lindor lined an RBI single up the middle to tie the game at one apiece. The Mets would go on to win in the bottom of the eighth — Ranger Suarez yielded an RBI single to Dominic Smith.
It was a particularly disheartening loss for the Phillies, who got a historic performance from starter Aaron Nola. Their ace struck out ten consecutive Mets, tying a 51-year-old Tom Seaver record, notes the Athletic’s Matt Gelb (via Twitter). The blame doesn’t all fall on the bullpen, however, as the defense made a pair of errors, and Nola himself contributed two of their three overall hits in the game.
The closer shakeup isn’t the only change the Phils have brought about in the relief corps. Earlier today, the team announced that righty David Hale was being designated for assignment in order to make room on the roster for former AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz, who’ll be returning to the Majors for the first time since 2017. The Phils also put Sam Coonrod on the injured list due to forearm tendinitis.
Philly relievers have been worth -0.2 fWAR this season while posting the third-worst save percentage in the Majors at 46.8 percent (15 for 32), notes Jim Salisbury of NBCSPhilly (via Twitter). That said, were it not for Philadelphia’s particular case of deja vu, the concern might not be quite on red alert. The Phillies bullpen, however, has sung this song before, posting -0.8 fWAR and a 7.06 ERA in 2020. Their 12 blown saves were the third-highest number in the Majors.
It’s not all doom-and-gloom, however: with a 50 percent groundball rate, Girardi’s bullpen is burning worms at a better rate than any other team in the Majors, and their 69.9 percent left on-base percentage ranks in the middle of the pack. And yet, despite their league-leading groundball percentage, when the ball does get elevated, it’s leaving the yard at a league-worst 17.2 percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate.
It should be noted that, like most bullpens, the Phillies have dealt with their fair share of injuries. Seranthony Dominguez has been out for the year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. JoJo Romero looked like a potential breakout contributor before he, too, succumbed to Tommy John.
Furthermore, free agent acquisition and veteran high-leverage bullpen arm Archie Bradley missed 37 games, and he has yet to find his game: 4.20 ERA/5.69 FIP with an uncharacteristically-low 17.4 percent strikeout rate and uncharacteristically-high 15.9 percent walk rate. Brandon Kintzler, another would-be closing option and could-be stabilizing veteran presence, has been on the injured list for 17 days (and counting) with a neck strain.
Zooming out, the Phillies have lost four in a row, dropped seven of their past 10 and fallen behind the Nationals in the division (six games behind the Mets). Though the Phillies have entered every year of the Bryce Harper era with hopes of contention – and played like contenders for parts of those 2+ seasons – they are in danger of failing to post a winning record for the tenth consecutive season. The organization hasn’t finished above .500 since its highly-successfully five-year run as division champs from 2007 to 2011.
As for this season, Girardi’s bullpen is likely to remain fluid. Case and point, Neris found himself back in a closing situation in the second game of today’s doubleheader after Bradley served up a game-tying run in the bottom of the seventh. Neris successfully picked up the save.