The Phillies moved into Citizens Bank Park in 2004, and from 2007-2009 the team finished the second of 30 teams in total home runs (thanks in large part to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell). In 2017, a half decade removed from contending for World Series titles the team is again high atop the MLB home run leaderboard — just the wrong one.
The Phils have allowed the most home runs in the majors with 48 (including Jayson Werth's two blasts off of Jeremy Hellickson during Sunday's tilt against the Nationals). The bullpen has surrendered 21 of these, the most of any relief unit in baseball. The starters have allowed the 10th worst total with 27.
“We're giving up too many home runs," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak told reporters recently. "I think that's true of our pitching staff in general, not just the bullpen. And that's something we expect will regress more towards normalcy at some point."
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Playing in a hitters-friendly park, Philadelphia seems to live and die by the longball, and are offensively in the middle of the pack so far this season, as they were in 2016. An uptick in hitting has seen the team much more competitive — but a dreary and lackluster bullpen has cost the team several games.
A 1-8 stretch followed a six-game win streak, but surprisingly the pen has been more reliable than many would think posting a 3.07 ERA, sixth best in the majors, over the last 21 games. However, the timing of the surrendered dingers seems to be the undoing of the club.
Phils' GM Klentak knows that sometimes the statbook can be deceiving, and that the Phillies are still finding ways to exceed expectations despite their rebuilding growing pains.
“One of the things that's tough about pitching in the bullpen and that makes good relievers impressive is that the performance of a bullpen is emotional," Klentak said. "If a starting pitcher gives up four runs in six innings and you lose 4-3, you don't think much of it. When the starting pitcher gives up three runs and then you give up the fourth run in the ninth and lose on a walk-off, that stings more. It's the same score, same outcome, but it's emotional. And that's what's happened recently. We've had some emotional leads that we've lost late in the game. But I still have a lot of confidence in this group. I think we're still seeking roles.”
The Phillies will continue to find their roles on a youthful club with a lot of potential. They'll be at home for two games this week as they host the Mariners on Tuesday and Wednesday before heading on the road to face the Nationals, Rangers and Pirates on a nine-game trek.