It's The Bullpen, Stupid!

As the Phillies wrap up a weekend series with the Braves starting tonight, nothing is as it seems for the 5-6 Phillies. The starting pitching which was supposed to be the team's downfall has shown remarkable promise. The bullpen, on the other hand, the supposed stalwart of the team, has faltered miserably and is largely responsible for the team's sub-.500 record through the first week and a half.

Jon Leiber, the supposed "Ace," has taken care of business after a sub-par first outing in the opener against the Nationals and the Phils have won all three of his starts. Gavin Floyd, the youngster whom Phillies brass would have us believe isn't ready, dazzled in his first outing of the year, but struggled in outing number two. Still, he could be the anchor of the staff in the fifth starting spot. Randy Wolf was probably the biggest question mark of the staff, in terms of his ability to go to the mound every fifth day. While Wolf has done that, he has been mediocre at best in his two outings this year. He went so far as to commit the cardinal sin of starting pitching in his last outing, in that he didn't give the Phils a chance to win the game by the way he pitched. Cory Lidle, Ed Wade's big off-season signing, has posted a respectable 2.61 ERA and has given the Phillies a chance to win both games he pitched. It has gotten so good on the starting side of the pitching staff, that even the prodigal Brett Myers is pitching lights out baseball right now. The young and wildly inconsistent 24 year old right-hander is pitching some of the best baseball of his career, posting an incredible 0.73 ERA through his first two outings.

The offense hasn't really been a problem for the Phils either. Only one starter, David Bell, is hitting below .250. Bell has been plagued by back problems during his tenure in Philadelphia and as recently as this past spring training, Bell has complained of tightness in his back. Bell still finds himself mired well under the Mendoza line at .163 through 11 games.

But on the bright side, the other nine are tearing the cover off the ball. Bobby Abreu, after a slow start to the season, is hitting right around an even .300 clip the way he does every year. Kenny Lofton, who came over from the Yankees in the off-season, is hitting at a robust .407 to start the year. Many baseball people had thought that Lofton was done after battling chronic hamstring problems with the Yankees last year and after being substantially limited in his playing time due to injury this spring training. Pat Burrell has started the season with a renewed desire under new skipper Charlie Manuel. After two sub-par seasons on the heels of a large contract extension, a myriad of questions surrounded Burrell and whether he would ever return to the form Phillies fans saw during his first two years with the team. He is well on his way to finally justifying that large contract extension as he is fresh off claiming National League Player of the Week honors and is second on the Phils in hitting at a .378 clip.

But the main cause of the Phillies sub-.500 record has everything to do with the performance of their bullpen. A bullpen is a team's last line of defense for a lead late in games and most prognosticators thought the Phils had a pretty good one when they broke camp in Clearwater. On an Opening Day broadcast, as the Braves broadcasters tried to summarize the National League East for their viewers, the announcers gushed praise on the Phillies' bullpen as the back bone of their team that would win a lot of games for them.

Eleven games into the season, this simply is not the case.

Every member of the bullpen except Aaron Fultz and Billy Wagner, have earned run averages of above five. Pedro Liriano, who made the team in the spot Amaury Telemaco was vying for, has struggled to say the least, and has posted a 7.71 ERA, down from a team high mark of 13.50 coming into the weekend. Based on the spring training appearances of these two pitchers, I believed that Telemaco should have gotten the spot and Liriano sent to Scranton to ply his trade. Ed Wade chose to go a different route and we see the result.

Next…. Tim Worrell. The thirty-seven year old right-hander has an 11.25 ERA next to his name and has cost the Phillies at least two games in the win column so far this season. Worrell was envisioned as the set-up man in Charlie Manuel's bullpen this year, but has proved himself undeserving and ineffective in that role. Manuel can not have confidence in Worrell's ability to retire opposing hitters and that spells trouble for any relief pitcher. Worrell's problems started last year and they haven't eased, but the ball club didn't go out and get an insurance policy for Worrell in the off season.

Next…..Rheal Cormier. Cormier is also thirty-seven years old and the owner of 9.00 ERA this year. The veteran left-hander had a career year going 8-0 with an infinitesimal ERA under Larry Bowa in 2003, but has allowed runs in three of his five outings this year. Cormier should have retired in the off-season since he has obviously lost his touch, but once again the Phillies front office failed to prepare for this kind of bullpen blow-up and there is no insurance policy behind Cormier should he continue the pitch the way he has in the first nine games.

Next…..Terry Adams. Adams is the Phils thirty-two year old right-hander and has a 5.79 ERA through the first 11 games. Adams has one up on Cormier, though, because Adams has managed to give up three runs in four appearances. Basically, if Adams is in the game, you can be guarenteed that the opposition will score a run. That's not a great distinction for a reliever to have, but Wade decided to sign the free agent for a second term with the Phillies after Adams posted a 4.99 ERA between Boston and Toronto last year.

Next…..Ryan Madson. Last year's darling is the owner of a 5.40 ERA in 2005. Madson might be the only possibility for hope in the Phillies bullpen this year. The twenty-four year old has posted only bad outing this year against the power hitting Cardinals. If Madson can continue to be effective eight out of every ten times he takes the mound, he could emerge as Wagner's set-up man in the very near future. This isn't the role you necessarily want to put a twenty-four year old in, but if the veterans continue to under perform he may be the team's only chance.

Ed Wade's signings and lack of signings have put the Phillies in the tenuous position of having an aged and apparently ineffective bullpen with little help if the group doesn't perform. Wade must take action to stop the current slide and he must take action soon if he hopes to give his team a shot to compete in the highly competitive NL East. If he fails to do anything, he condemns his team and his manager to a losing season while sentencing the fans to a season of unfulfilled possibilities blown by an ineffective bullpen and equally impotent General Manger.


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