The other night, Zach Eflin stepped on a major league mound for the first time in two months.
If Eflin does that late in games, the Phils bullpen is going to be a PROBLEM. https://t.co/R99sjSGpun— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) September 15, 2022
It was merely an inning’s worth of work, but it was pretty important to what the Phillies might want to do in the coming weeks of playoff chasing. His stuff didn’t have much rust on it and in fact had some of the expected pep we thought it would have with the move to the bullpen.
A bit more spin on his breaking pitches, a tick more velocity on his sinker and suddenly, the Phillies have themselves another reliever.
It comes at an important time too. Whether you want them to or not, the team has to begin thinking what a playoff roster is going to look like. Roster rules revert back to the 26-man limit in the postseason, 13 of which can be pitchers and 13 of which can be position players. Thanks to the introduction of the designated hitter in the National League, the double switches of yore are no longer going to happen in National League playoff games, so having a deep bench isn’t nearly as important as having as many arms on hand as possible. The way the playoffs are set up, it will be difficult for a wild card round team to make it all the way to the World Series unless they have reliable depth to make it through a more compressed schedule.
That makes having that depth so key in the first place. Teams that have succeeded in the playoffs in the past - the Dodgers, Rays, Braves - these teams have won because of deep rosters that helped them weather storms that arise in a series. The Phillies have never had as many capable arms on their pitching staff as they have now. On the latest episode of their podcast, Phillies Therapy, Paul Boye and Matt Gelb did a draft of which arms they would feel confident in come playoff time and surprisingly, they both found that there is actually a postseason roster’s worth of pitchers who can be added to a team. When was the last time that has happened?
In a three game series, though, having a lot of relievers becomes very important for strategic reasons. It’s going to be a sprint to two games for either team, so letting a starter going five, six innings at time may not be an option. It would be nice for that to happen, but at the first sign of trouble in any game, there is going to be bullpen action no matter who is on the mound. There simply isn’t time to wait for the pitcher to find out. Since the three games are all in a row with no off day, it’s going to be hugely important to staff that team with a nice mix of starters, bullpen arms that can back to back days, bullpen arms that can give length in case of emergency, and bullpen arms that are top level and generate outs in multiple ways, not just relying on strikeouts or the defense alone.
This is where the importance of Eflin comes in. Take a look again at that pitch he made to get the third out in his initial appearance from the bullpen. His ability to spot the ball basically where he wanted to put it is something that no one in the bullpen really has. They have guys who can throw hard (Alvarado, Domiguez), guys with good stuff and pretty good control (Robertson), but no one who can throw in the mid-nineties with pinpoint stuff like what Eflin has. Now that he knows what his role will be moving forward. he can focus on making sure that he continues keeping that control in check along with the expected bump in velocity. That kind of combination makes him a deadly weapon in the later innings should he be given higher leverage outings in time. That will probably be one of the big tests he has to pass down the stretch as well. Not only will he have to prove he can bounce back on subsequent days as a reliever, he’ll have to show he can maintain his stuff in those back to back days to be a viable option out of the bullpen.
Looking back over the last few weeks at the roster and how the bullpen has actually been of late and you start to see the importance of a rejuvenated Eflin too.
When was the last time you felt confident in a Connor Brogdon outing?
Sam Coonrod’s last two outings have seen him give up three runs in two innings. How’s the confidence level in him?
Andrew Bellatti has been pretty good all season, but it always feels like the bottom is going to drop out on his year. Do you want to see that happen in a playoff appearance?
It’s not to say that these three pitchers aren’t capable of getting outs in the postseason, but it’s also a stretch to say that we’re completely ready to believe that with two men on and two out and Austin Riley or Pete Alonso or Paul Goldschmidt up at the plate, these would be the options we’d like Rob Thomson to use.
I’m also not saying that Zach Eflin has earned that kind of trust with one solid outing against a Miami team that has already made their October plans at some vacation spot to be determined. But if he is able to prove over these last two weeks that he can lock down appearances against top hitters, maybe the trust will have to appear.