In case you gave up on the Phillies after their 0-4 start and didn't pay attention to this weekend's game, not only did they win both against the 2015 NL champs, they did so with a dominant bullpen. In what may be the big shock of the early season, the Phillies bullpen had this combined line Saturday and Sunday:
6.3 innings pitched, 1 hit, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts . . . and nothing else
If you like rate stats, that's a 0.00 ERA, 0.32 WHIP, and 7:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
The Phillies also seem to have found a new (for now) closer. Jeanmar Gomez shut down the Mets in both games. In 2 innings, he allowed one hit and nothing more, while striking out one.
Looking at this weekend, the bullpen looks great. So naturally, after Sunday's game, I hopped on the phone with Buster Olney and Jon Heyman, they of endless opinions about everything baseball. Here's what they had to say:
Olney: "I'm really not sure what the Phillies are doing here. Spending $1.4M on a closer when their team is going nowhere this year? Winning games within their division 'thanks' to a needlessly effective bullpen? Don't they know how baseball works? Winning 75 games this year is going to hurt the team long term so much more than winning 65 games would. It's stunning that the team executives have collected this dominant crop of relief pitchers when the team needs so much more. What are they doing?"
Heyman was no more generous: "A baseball exec I just talked to and I agree - the best way to ensure a long stretch of mediocrity is to build a sneakily effective bullpen."
For both of them, it came down to this - even though they aren't being paid a lot, the Phillies relievers are shutting down the opposition, something that will ensure the team will win more games than they should in 2016. Olney and Heyman criticized this as short-term thinking with no good long-term consequences. Sure, the wins are fun, but they wondered if the Phillies were once again in the hands of incompetent management.
I finished both phone calls dejected. I was excited to see a couple of wins this weekend (including the second win in person), but they rained on my parade.
Obviously, these phone calls didn't happen, but imagining them is instructive because it raises this very real concern -- when they comment on the Phillies, are these national reporters just running their mouths to make contrary points about a team that is going to be an easy punching bag this year?