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Phillies bullpen deserves as much praise as their rotation

The Phils' starters are deservedly getting most of the attention, but the Phillies wouldn't be where they are without the surprisingly dependable bullpen.

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Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies won another close game to finish up their series against the Marlins on Wednesday, beating Miami 4-2. It was the 20th time in their last 22 games they have scored four runs or fewer and yet their record during that time is a robust 15-7.

They are 14-3 in one-run games and 4-0 in extra inning contests, helping them race out to a 24-17 record that, as of the completion of their game against the Marlins, had them in a tie for first place in the National League East.

Forget about the run differential and the Pythagorean Win Percentage and focus on this fact - the Phillies, more than any other team in baseball, are winning close, low-scoring games at a ridiculous rate, and that is only possible with outstanding pitching.

On Wednesday, Jeremy Hellickson was terrific. That followed a five inning performance from Vincent Velasquez on Tuesday that was also dominant (if short), and Jerad Eickhoff and Aaron Nola turned in good performances this week as well.

All four starters have been dealing all year and have gotten the lion's share of the credit. It's well deserved, too, with a 3.74 ERA (9th best in baseball), a WHIP of 1.14 that is third-best and a 3.87 K/BB ratio that is also third-best in MLB.

But as much as the rotation, the back-end of the bullpen should be getting just as many kudos.

With so many close games, the late-inning arms of Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, David Hernandez and Elvis Araujo are getting the job done.

Actually, they've done more than that. They've been darn near unhittable.

You may recall that the first Felske Files podcast episode of the new season was entitled "Phillies Bullpen Makes Children Cry," and the title was deserved. The team had no closer, the Phils had blown a late lead in the first two games of the season, and the bullpen ERA was approaching 14,500.30. Or something like that.

Now, things are different.

After pitching the eighth inning on Wednesday, Neris' 25.0 innings is tied with Tampa Bay's Erasmo Ramirez for most among MLB relievers this year. Gomez' 23.2 IP is fourth-most. And there are two other relievers, long man Brett Olberholtzer and Hernandez, who are in the top 25 of most innings pitched by a relief pitcher.

The Phillies are riding these guys hard and they are coming through.

Gomez is 16-for-17 in save opportunities this year, three better than the next closest reliever. He has a 2.66 ERA.

Neris has struck out 33 batters and walked 7 in 25.0 innings for an 11.88 K/9 rate with a 1.44 ERA. His splitter is among the most impossible to hit in baseball.

Heading into Wednesday's action, Hernandez had the highest K/9 among Phils relievers at 13.50 K/9, 10th-best among MLB relief pitchers.

Araujo has been solid in his role as a lefty specialist, holding left-handed batters to a .222/.300/.333 line, with no earned runs and just four hits allowed in 20 plate appearances.

And heck, even Andrew Bailey has been solid since he was called up from Triple-A, with a 3.86 ERA in 9 1/3 innings, with a 8.68 K/9 and a rather high 4.82 BB/9.

Really, the pen's overall ERA of 4.00 coming into Wednesday (19th-best in MLB) is skewed by some garish numbers put up by the suspended Daniel Stumpf (40.50 ERA in 2/3 IP), James Russell (18.69 ERA in 4 1/3 IP) and Oberholtzer (6.75 ERA in 20.0 IP).

The 'pen was unquestionably the weakest part of the team heading into the season, but it has turned out to be a magnificent strength. Suddenly, one-run leads are invincible in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. Two-run leads feel like a lock.

This is the pattern the Kansas City Royals have used over the last few years; get a lead late and hold on for dear life with defense and late-inning arms. The Phillies are doing the same thing, albeit with far less heralded names.

Of course, there is worry of overwork, but that's a problem for later. Right now, the Phillies are riding this late-inning trio to a slew of close victories, far more than anyone dared dream before the team left Clearwater.

The Phillies bullpen has become one of its biggest strengths.

Sure, why not?