Anyone who has watched the Phillies this season was under no illusions when the Dodgers came to town. Long the class of the National League, it wasn’t expected to go well and it played out that way. The rain affected what could have been a stolen victory in the first game of the series as Aaron Nola was dealing before a thunderstorm shortened his outing to only four innings. Joe Girardi learned his lesson in the second game, starting bullpen members before the rain came that way Kyle Gibson could give him bulk innings after the weather decided to cooperate. The third game was more to the Phillies’ liking as they got some superb pitching from the bullpen to lock down a victory.
Yet once again, the Dodgers did what they do best: feast on the soft underbelly of teams in the bullpen. As a group, they are hitting ,246/.342/.425 against relief pitching, well above the major league average of .237/.321/.396*. They are particularly good against teams when it is late, hitting to a 116 wRC+ in innings 7-9, tops in the game.
In addition to hitting late in the game, the Dodgers are also good at preventing runs late in games. In those same innings, seven through nine, they as a group have allowed a .284 wOBA, good for fifth in the game. The Phillies, by comparison, allow a .330 wOBA in those same innings, the one that have induced nightmares from fans these last few seasons, the ones where it seems the Phillies have given up backbreaking hit after backbreaking hit. The Dodgers are at the point in their cycle of contention where they have used every means necessary to get players that can help deepen their roster and win them games, particularly in the bullpen, while the Phillies simply haven’t been good enough at identifying those relievers that can get the outs needed late in games.
It’s one of the many things that separates these two teams right now, and one of the things that the Phillies can work on getting better at this offseason. The Dodgers popularized the idea of using the entire 40-man roster to try to build as much depth as possible to make it through a long season. Prior to Andrew Freidman taking over and utilizing this philosophy, it was rare that we saw a team that felt like they were able to pull players up from the minors seemingly at will without disturbing much of the 40-man roster. It’s why they have remained on top for so long because they have so many ways to put together a lineup and pitching staff that can beat you. Sure, they have a player development machine capable of grabbing those players and improving them before they can contribute at the major league level, but they have also been able to identify players from seemingly out of nowhere to help them win.
The Dodgers (and to a lesser extent the Giants, whose general manager came from the Dodgers) have been willing to take chances on players that are available on the waiver wire, through trades, or in free agency in the hopes that whatever skill they have, that skill can contribute. If they cannot, they are discarded and another player is found, starting the cycle again The Phillies have not felt as compelled to dabble in these places of freely available talent, preferring to stick with what they have in the organization and hoping that a breakthrough happens at the major league level. This series put that on display.
On Tuesday night, after the Dodgers and Phillies emerged from the rain delay without their starting pitchers, they were forced to go to the bullpens. The Dodgers used guys like:
- Alex Vesia: 1 2⁄3 IP, 1 H, 4 K (acquired via trade for Dylan Floro)
- Corey Knebel: 2⁄3 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 K (acquired via trade for PTBNL)
- Justin Bruihl: 1 IP, 1 BB, 1 K (signed as UDFA)
They aren’t the greatest of shakes, but they also weren’t big names when they were acquired. Instead, the team saw something they liked, made it good and promoted it to success in the majors. On Wednesday, we saw them send out Phil Bickford, a guy claimed off of waivers in May who now has a 2.70 ERA with Los Angeles. Bickford was available for anyone to grab, yet he made it all the way down the waiver claim order to Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the Phillies in those two games were trotting out Damon Jones, Mauricio Llovera and Enyel de los Santos. While de los Santos has been a smidge better of late, all three of these players are at the bottom of the 40-man, capable of being dropped the first moment someone else better comes available on the waiver wire or through free agency. Yet still, we haven’t seen the Phillies churn through the bottom of the 40-man roster like other teams do. Ken Rosenthal wrote a piece about how the Giants have been willing to cycle through players in order to find the right formula, the right combination of players that have built them into a surprising contender this season. Why have the Phillies not been as willing these past few years to do the same?
It’s the thing the Phillies need to work on this coming offseason. They have candidates at the bottom of the roster who they could waive without much fear they would set the world on fire should they go to another team, yet they choose not to. Why? Though it feels like we are picking on those players in particular, none of that trio of Jones, de los Santos or Llovera have shown either at the major league level or the minor league level that they should be protected should something more attractive come along. Of course, in order to feel this kind of confidence, a team must have confidence that their player development system can “fix” the thing that got the player waived in the first place. While the Phillies might believe their system can do this, the people watching what they are spitting out of the PD system remain skeptical.
It’s not too much to ask the team to go through these different avenues of player acquisition. Trading for someone is tougher since it takes two to tango in a deal, but when it comes to minor league free agency and waiver claims, all it takes is a simple phone call or email. But in order to play with the best teams in the game, the team needs to acquire more depth. In order to even win in their own division, they need to get more depth. The Dodgers and Giants have shown a willingness to use all avenues of player acquisition. It’s time the Phillies start doing the same.
*all stats through Wednesday’s games