B.J. Rosenberg faced three batters and gave up three home runs. He didn’t record an out. It was the first time that’s happened in a century. And he wasn’t the worst pitcher to come out of the Phillies’ bullpen on Monday evening.
In fairness to Jake Diekman, he’s probably been the best Phillies reliever this season. He was something else entirely against the Braves, though. Diekman pitched the ninth inning because closer Jonathan Papelbon appeared in three consecutive games and was unavailable. You have to pitch pretty poorly to make anyone pine for Papelbon, but that’s how it unfolded.
Diekman walked the leadoff batter. He loaded the bases. And with one out, he served up a grand slam to Dan Uggla. The same Dan Uggla who entered the game hitting a not-very frightening .195. That gave the Braves the win. It also undid a dramatic eighth inning when the Phillies came from behind to score five runs and take the (ephemeral) lead. Three of those eighth-inning runs came on a Dom Brown home run. It was an impressive shot. And then it was wasted.
It was a brutal loss -- four hours of torture that played with, and ultimately stomped on, the emotions of the fans that watched the full proceedings. It also served to underscore what has become an unfortunate and undeniable truth: The Phillies have bullpen problems. Again.
The Phillies won 73 games last year. They won 81 the year before that. In both seasons, Charlie Manuel often talked about needing another bullpen arm. It was an earnest plea that went unanswered. He was like a man who called customer service in the hopes of having a repairman sent out to fix faulty circuitry, except no one ever picked up the phone. Ruben Amaro Jr. should have picked up the phone.
But maybe he did, in one way or another. Perhaps the Phillies' general manager spent the last few seasons calling around to acquire quality bullpen arms, but to no avail. If that’s the case, it’s a bummer. The Phillies have a payroll pushing $178 million. That’s the third-highest in baseball. You ought to be able to purchase a consistent bullpen arm for that kind of coin. Maybe even two.
Instead, the Phillies have a roster of relievers no one can really count on. That leaves Ryne Sandberg -- like Charlie Manuel before him -- in an awfully tough spot. The starting rotation has thrown just 73 1/3 innings. In the National League, only the Cubs, Nationals and Dodgers have gotten fewer innings from their starters. That has left Sandberg little choice but to go to his overworked and underproductive bullpen, often to disastrous results.
The Phillies have led in 12 of 13 games this year. Their record is 6-7. That has quite a lot to do with the team’s relievers.
The bullpen has blown four saves. That’s tied for most in the majors. Phillies relievers have converted just 43 percent of their save opportunities. That’s fifth-worst in baseball. They’ve given up seven home runs (second-most in MLB), 65 total bases (seventh-most) and opponents are slugging a robust .414 against them (seventh-highest).
At this point, whenever anyone gets up to use the bullpen phone, one of the bench players might want to tackle him in the interest of team preservation. Or maybe they should just not pay the bullpen phone bill and hope it gets disconnected. Either way.
It is an untenable situation. To compete, the Phillies need to get more out of the starting rotation so they don’t have to go to their relievers so often. But they also need better arms than what they currently have out in the 'pen. Otherwise, if they continue with this crew, two things will happen: They will pitch themselves out of any real chance to contend for a playoff spot, and they will be forced to hold a blindfold giveaway. It’s simply too cruel to make anyone watch that regularly, let alone the paying public.
Back in January, before the Phillies headed to Clearwater, Amaro acknowledged that the team could use more (which really means better) pitching.
“We’re looking to add pitching depth in the bullpen and rotation," Amaro said. "Still trolling."
Trolling. Yes. That’s about right.