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On Tuesday, the bullpen showed what they’re capable of

If this is what they have in October, look out

Kansas City Royals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The thrill of last night’s game against the Giants was clearly in the ninth inning. Trea Turner lacing a ball off of reliever Camilo Doval and winning the game was the part pretty much everyone is talking about the following day.

And for good reason. It won the game.

Deep down though, there is another part that should have people excited as well. After all, the game wouldn’t have been able to be won by Turner had the bullpen not kept the game close enough to register those two runs in the ninth inning. It’s what the Phillies were hoping to build this offseason and it’s hopefully a sign of what is to come should they advance in October.

The box score shows that in the bottom of the ninth provided the highest leverage index of the game. “Duh,” you say to yourself, “that’s when the game was won.” But go back to when Johan Rojas tried in vain to make a spectacular catch on a ball hit by Joc Pederson that glanced off of his glove and skittered into the gap, scoring two and allowing the Giants to take the lead. With the bullpen that Gabe Kapler is able to deploy and the matchups he loves to play, it did feel like it would be a tall task to win the game. And even still, that hit by Pederson happened while Taijuan Walker was still in the game. There were four more innings that needed to be preserved before the Phillies could get back in the game. So for all the talk about how Kapler managed the game like a Game 7 of a World Series, Rob Thomson kicked into gear as well.

Thomson deployed his top four relievers with tactical acuity, using matchups of his own to keep the score as it was and allow the Phillies to win. Even though they each allowed a baserunner, there wasn’t much feeling that the Giants would be able to mount a threat against them. As this season has progressed, these four may not exactly have been used to the inning that he was pitching in, the sixth or seventh inning feeling somewhat foreign as compared to the past. What it does is speak to the communication and planning of Thomson and Caleb Cotham that each pitcher of this four, as well as the rest of the bullpen group, is comfortable enough to come in when needed to extinguish any kind of threat. For example, as noted on the telecast, we’ve seen Craig Kimbrel in the eighth inning of games lately, but there has been barely a ripple made about it. Kimbrel knows what he is being asked to do and seems not only fine with it, but also totally on board with the plan as well.

As the Phillies made their run through the playoffs last year, they leaned heavily on the trio of Seranthony Dominguez, Jose Alvarado and David Robertson to shorten games just enough to lessen the ask of their starters. It helped that all three were clicking at the same time, but to be able to go to any one of the three in any situation helped propel the team within two wins of a championship. This offseason, there was clearly a plan to not only repeat the plan, but also deepen the options available to Thomson should he need them. While the addition of Gregory Soto did cost the team some bench depth that they could have used this season, it is beginning to look like a very shrewd move for the team.

There have been times of anxiety when any one of these three have been pitching, but the glimpse they gave last night of what they can do when they are all clicking was tantalizing. Alvarado did look a bit rusty at points, but the Giants never looked comfortable against him. Soto has basically been the same guy all year long, last night included. Dominguez looks like he is rounding back into form and Kimbrel just keeps plugging along with a consistent level of performance this year.

As the team comes down the stretch in the wild card chase, this quartet of pitchers is going to be asked to carry much of the load. The other members of the bullpen have been good this year as well and will not be forgotten the rest of the way either. Pitchers like Jeff Hoffman and Matt Strahm will likely throw some significant innings for the team in September and look to have Thomson’s trust should they be called upon in a playoff situation. But as last night showed, the four pitchers that Thomson used are going to be his horses he rides into the playoff gauntlet. Let’s hope what they showed was a preview of what they can do in October.