Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto are playing like MVPs. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are pitching as well as any 1-2 punch in any rotation.
The Phillies are wasting it all.
They failed to take advantage of another brilliant start Saturday night from Wheeler, who allowed two runs and struck out eight over seven innings. Wheeler had truly fantastic stuff on this night in Atlanta — a fastball ranging from 96 to 99 mph, a swing-and-miss curveball, a biting slider and an overwhelming majority of pitches at the knees.
Didn't matter. Even seven strong innings from Wheeler couldn't prevent another late-game collapse.
The Phillies have scored first in 16 of their 23 games. They are 6-10 in those games.
These are their last five games:
• Blown 2-0 lead, loss • Blown 2-0 lead, loss • Blown 7-0 lead, loss • Score first, lose by 9 • Blown 4-0 lead, loss
The Phillies have not yet won a game this season when scoring fewer than five runs. They're 0-10. And it doesn't even seem all that fluky. It's the case because even when the Phils get a quality start, it still means the bullpen is required for six or so outs. The 2020 Phillies have only been able to win games by outslugging their opponent.
The Phillies are now 5-5 in games started by Nola and Wheeler, who have a combined 2.92 ERA. They've wasted gems, they've wasted big offensive games from their stars, they've wasted success all month with runners in scoring position. The Phillies have hit .291 with RISP this month. And gone 8-12.
The roster is deficient, there's no doubt. Very good lineup, excellent 1-2 in the rotation, but everything after that is shaky. The bullpen needs a complete overhaul this offseason. The rotation needs at least one more arm.
The 2019 Phillies were incredibly top-heavy. The 2020 Phillies did a better job of filling out the bench and had exciting prospects waiting in the wings like Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm, but what the front office did with this bullpen was such a joke. It's not hindsight analysis, either. It was written all offseason that the bullpen could derail the talent on the rest of the roster. It wasn't just that it lacked experience but it lacked stuff. What has happened has been even worse than the Philly pessimist would have imagined.
The only reliever the Phillies signed to a major-league deal this past offseason was Tommy Hunter on a one-year contract. The rest of the non-guaranteed moves were for guys like Francisco Liriano, Anthony Swarzak, Bud Norris, Drew Storen. Veterans with something to prove. None of them made the team. Who does that fall on?
Wheeler and Didi Gregorius have been good signings but that doesn't excuse what was (not) done with this bullpen. It's on the entire front office for not identifying the right relief talent and not wanting to spend $10 million or so on it.
The Twins signed Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard for a combined $7.75 million. They've both pitched extremely well. Same for Blake Treinen, who got $10 for one year from the Dodgers. Daniel Hudson got $11 million for two years from the Nationals. The Phillies didn't need to go out and spend $40 million on Will Smith like the Braves. There were mid-tier relievers available.
This is what they get. Neglect the bullpen and you'll be crossing your fingers every night, wasting another year in the primes of your superstars.