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Phillies closer-less bullpen can help kill the "save"

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No one has emerged as a leading candidate to be the team's closer yet. Why that might be a good thing.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For years, many of us have been looking for ways to abolish the "save." And, lo and behold, the 2016 Phillies may have finally stumbled on a full-proof plan.

Assemble an absolutely horrible bullpen.

With Grapefruit League action just about over, no one in the Phils bullpen has established themselves as the team's closer, according to manager Pete Mackanin and general manager Matt Klentak. When asked which reliever would be called on to save a game in the ninth inning, their answers were a tad cryptic.

Klentak said, "You'll find out. I'll find out."

"It's up in the air," manager Pete Makanin said.

All that was missing was Cliff Lee's Magic 8-ball.

At the start of the spring, the assumption was that the $4 million man, David Hernandez, would be the guy. But injuries slowed him to start the spring and he's pitched just three innings thus far.

Andrew Bailey seemed to be the leading contender after that, but a couple rough outings, a 5.14 ERA this spring and concerns about velocity and control seem to have scuttled his chances. Hector Neris, probably the hardest thrower in the 'pen, might be a leading candidate now, but he's given up six earned runs in 8 2/3 innings this spring for a 6.23 ERA.

James Russell appears to be a lock to make the bullpen, but he's a lefty specialist. Jeanmar Gomez doesn't have the stuff to close either. Maybe Dalier Hinojosa will be the guy.

The bottom line is, no one knows. But this could be a very good thing.

You see, the "save" stat stinks. Closers like it because it earns them more money, but it often leads managers to making bad decisions late in games.

For example, say it's a tight ballgame and you're playing the Toronto Blue Jays. You have a one-run lead and, going into the eighth inning, you have their 3-4-5 hitters, likely Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki. It makes far more sense to bring in your best reliever, most often times the pitcher designated "the closer" in this situation, because these three hitters are more dangerous than the 6-7-8 hitters that would follow.

Yet, how many times do teams bring in a lesser reliever in that situation, just so that the better reliever, the "closer" can get his "save?"

And how many times do we see managers refuse to bring in his "closer" in a tie game on the road, simply because the "save situation" hasn't come up yet? How many times have we seen teams lose games like this without their best relief pitcher ever entering the game?

It's all because the "save" has become way too important in baseball. But here's the beauty about the Phillies' situation. There is no pure closer.

As the Philly Voice's Ryan Lawrence noted, this is the first time since the 1998-2000 seasons when the Phillies haven't had a true closer. Back then it was Wayne Gomes and Jeff Brantley fumbling through the end of baseball games.

And while that leads to great concern about the bullpen, it also gives Mackanin a chance to do something no other manager in baseball can get away with. It allows him the freedom to pitch his hottest bullpen piece any time he wants.

So if the heart of the lineup is coming up in the 7th inning, he can use his best guy then, whoever it happens to be that day. Or he can use him in the 8th. Or, if the 9th inning is truly the most important, he can use his "closer" for the day then.

Obviously, everyone in the Phils' clubhouse would prefer to have their roles clearly laid out. And it's unlikely this is going to lead to some bullpen revolution.

"Unless I'm 100 percent sure about somebody that I want to call a closer, I'm not going to call anybody a closer," Mackanin said. "When you think about it, a closer is somebody you can count on for the ninth inning. ... We probably have one. I'm hoping we have one. But I'm not going to name one right now. Just to call a guy a closer doesn't mean anything."

Amen, Pete. For one year at least, the Phillies don't have to be slaves to the "save."