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Bullpen blues: Braves 5, Phillies 2

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Another lackluster offensive performance and a late-inning meltdown by the 'pen cost the Phillies the second game of their three-game series with Atlanta.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the season, one of the areas of presumed strength for the Phillies was the bullpen.

After all, last year, Phillies relievers compiled 5.2 fWAR, third-most in the league behind only the Yankees and Nationals. They actually had more wins above replacement than the Kansas City Royals, who rode their outstanding bullpen to within one win of a world championship.

They had Jonathan Papelbon, who had 39 saves and a 2.04 ERA. They had Ken Giles, with a ridiculous 1.18 ERA in 45.2 innings. They had Jake Diekman, who had a 3.80 ERA, but was murder against lefties with a slash line of .239/.273/.304 against them. And they had Justin De Fratus, who put up an ERA of 2.39 in 52.2 innings.

And even though there has been some uneasiness with the 'pen in the early going of 2015, thanks mainly to worries over Giles' health and diminished fastball velocity and Diekman's slow start, Phillies relievers generally have not been part of the team's problem in 2015. They came into their game against Atlanta on Saturday with a 2.85 ERA, tied for 8th in the Majors.

But there have been a few warning signs on the horizon, specifically an MLB-worst 5.20 walks per nine innings by the 'pen, with a 1.57 WHIP that is also the worst in baseball, and a .247 batting average against that is sixth-worst.

On Saturday, the bullpen blew an effective start by Phils starter David Buchanan, allowing two inherited runners to score, then giving up two more in the 7th and 8th innings of the Phillies' 5-2 loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

Buchanan hadn't given up a run through the first six frames, but was met by an Andrelton Simmons home run to lead off the 7th. He recorded a couple outs, then walked his final two batters to put runners on first and second with two out. Curiously, in came Diekman to face three right-handed hitters at the bottom of Atlanta's lineup, despite having the right-handed hitting Luis Garcia available to pitch.

A Chris Johnson single and an Eric Young double later, the Phils' one-run lead had turned into a one-run deficit. But that wasn't enough. Sandberg then sent Diekman back out to start the 8th, where he gave up another run on two singles to make it 4-2. Sandberg then felt it was time to bring in Garcia (an inning too late), who gave up back-to-back singles to make it 5-2.

While Buchanan was saddled with the loss, dropping his record to 0-4, it was the bullpen who messed this one up.

Why wasn't Garcia brought in to face the three right-handed hitters in the 7th instead of Diekman? Apparently, the Phillies are still trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, even though Diekman's career slash line against right-handed hitters is .271/.375/.400 in 407 career plate appearances going into Saturday's game.

And one has to wonder if there is something physically wrong with Diek, whose ERA now stands at 10.29, with a WHIP of 2.43. Unfortunately, Diekman is the only left-hander in the bullpen right now, with Rule 5 pick Andy Oliver cut during spring training, Mario Hollands injured and Elvis Arauju in Reading. And if you think help is on the way, think again.

Of course, the offense isn't without its share of the blame. The Phillies have now scored two runs or fewer in 11 of their 18 games, weighed down mostly by their veterans.

Ben Revere went 1-for-3 on Saturday night, he's hitting .180. Chase Utley's 0-for-4 has him down to .125. Jeff Francoeur, the team's clean-up hitter, is batting .229. Ryan Howard, who accounted for all of the Phillies offense with a two run homer, is hitting .189. And a 1-for-4 night by Carlos Ruiz has him up to .196.

Just call them the "Under .200 Club."

But there was one highlight to share, an otherworldly defensive play by Freddy Galvis, a play that probably will not be duplicated by another shortstop this season.

The Phillies also announced after the game that Severino Gonzalez would be called up from Lehigh Valley to make his Major League debut on Tuesday against the Cardinals. Gonzalez is not on the team's 40-man roster, so another move will have to be made next week.

Here's the graph that tells you the Phillies lost, dropping their record to 6-12.


Source: FanGraphs