By Chris Larson
The 2018 season has treated the Philadelphia Phillies quite well and, some would say in a sense, the year has been a nice surprise for a team that, was expected to finish in the 3 or 4 spot in the NL East, rather than be in the heart of a postseason race at the end of August. After all, this is a team that finished last season with a 66-96 record and in last place. Quite the difference and the turn around thanks to a new manager, the emergence of a true 1-2 punch in Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola, and a renewed sense of energy and focus in the clubhouse.
While most things have gone well for the Phillies, there have been bumps in the road and those bumps continue to plague the team, especially with how they have been playing as of late. Every team deals with a bump or two at some point during the regular season, but the Phillies have problems that could certainly hinder their success down the stretch or even prevent them from being able to advance deep into the postseason, granted they make it there.
Although the starting rotation for the Phillies has been good all season long, the bullpen has definitely had its fair share of ups and downs and that has come into light even more, as of late. If the season were to end today, the Phillies bullpen would end the year with a 4.09 ERA, putting them 17th in the league. If you want to go even deeper, the Phillies bullpen over the past two weeks, has posted a cumulative ERA of 6.40 over 45 innings of work, putting them just ahead of the Baltimore Orioles, who have the worst bullpen ERA in all of baseball, over that span.
Furthermore, during the past two weeks, the Phillies bullpen has the highest Opponent BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) (.368), the 4th highest home runs-per-9 rate (1.80), and the lowest left on-base percentage in all of baseball (55.2%). Beyond those disastrous stats, the Phillies continue to rely on using a different reliever as their closer, rather than solely relying on one guy. Most teams end up using multiple closers through the course of the regular season, but that could pose a serious problem come October, when almost every contender will have that one, lockdown closer that they know they can go to in an effort to shut the door on the opposing team.
Earlier this season, Philadelphia thought they found their closer in 23-year old, righty, Seranthony Dominguez, but Dominguez has really struggled over the past two weeks, which has contributed to the overall poor results from the Phillies bullpen. During that span, Dominguez has a 6.92 ERA over 13 innings of work with 10 earned runs, 8 walks, and 17 strikeouts. If you want to go even further, Dominguez has an 11.87 ERA, over the past week, through 5.2 IP.
However, luckily for the Phillies, both Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek, who were signed as free agents this past offseason to act as mentors for the team's young relievers, have done very well and sort of prevented the bullpen from being even more gassed over the past two weeks and various other parts of this season. Although, as every baseball fan knows, the bullpen is more important than ever now, especially when the postseason comes around, and if the Phillies are not able to find someone who can close out games or figure out the right bullpen pattern to be successful, then that is certainly going to be one significant wart for them heading into October, assuming they make the postseason amid a still crowded NL playoff picture.
Beyond the bullpen, another wart that could potentially hold the Phillies back over the remaining games of the regular season and in October is their defense, which continues to be terrible. If the season were to conclude today, the Phillies would end the year with the fewest Defensive Runs Saved of all 30 teams (-101), have the second lowest Ultimate Zone Rating (-38.2), and the third lowest overall Defensive rating value (-38.2). For the most part, only the Baltimore Orioles have had a worst defensive makeup all season long with the Blue Jays joining both teams in the overall Defensive rating category.
Overall, the Phillies worst defensive position has come at third base, where the team currently ranks near the bottom, out of all 30 teams. In the Defensive Runs Saved category, the Phillies have a (-15) value at that position, good enough for the second lowest in baseball, and an overall Defensive value of (-4.4), putting them in a virtual tie with the Baltimore Orioles. Surprisingly, the Yankees have the overall lowest value (-11.2) in that category at third base. However, because of values such as these, that likely explains why the Phillies kicked the tires on Mike Moustakas and Adrian Beltre around the trade deadline and continue to monitor the market for potential upgrades prior to Friday's Waiver Trade Deadline.
In addition, the Phillies outfield has also been terrible from a defensive standpoint. As of today, Phillies outfielders have combined for a Defensive Runs Saved value of (-42) and the worst Ultimate Zone Rating (-26.9) in all of baseball. Compare that to the fact that the Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, and New York Yankees are the top three teams in the UZR category and you can see why that could certainly pose a problem down the stretch and once October rolls around. Furthermore, outfield defense is significant every single game because when you have a sound proof outfield, you can prevent a lot more runs and it benefits the pitching staff over the long haul.
Although this season has certainly had it's fair share of excitement and plenty of moments for Phillies fans to cherish after a few years of being in rebuild mode, the overall performance of the Phillies bullpen and the defense for Philadelphia, are two warts that need to be monitored here down the stretch and observed come October, if the team ultimately clinches a postseason berth. Regardless of if one or both of these warts continues to plague the team, Philadelphia already has two needs, on their wish list, that must be addressed this coming offseason, to make the team even better next year.