Eight National League teams will play postseason games on Wednesday night, but the Phillies will not be one of them. Instead of watching their bullpen face the Dodgers this week, the Phillies are waiting to see if the architect of that bullpen — general manager Matt Klentak — will return for 2021.
It took managing partner John Middleton 10 days last year to determine Gabe Kapler’s future. He might not be flying all over the country this year to talk to players about Klentak, but Middleton could be just as meticulous as he makes his decision.
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Some young players show promise
The Phillies finished the season four games below. 500 for their worst winning percentage since 2017. They lost seven of their final eight games, missed the playoffs by a game, and had baseball’s highest bullpen ERA in 90 years. It’s been nine years since the Phillies reached the postseason, a drought that trails only Seattle for the longest in the majors.
It was a woefully disappointing season for the Phillies. But as the dust settles, let’s try to find some positives for 2021.
Zach Eflin can be a No. 3 starter
The Phillies will have Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler at the top of their rotation for 2021, and Zach Eflin showed enough this season that he can slot in behind them. Eflin kept the season alive with two impressive starts down the stretch and finished the season with a sub-4.00 ERA after recording eight outs out of the bullpen in Sunday’s season finale. His strikeout rate (10.7 per nine innings) increased this season, and his walk rate (2.3 per nine innings) dipped.
Eflin relied far less on his four-seam fastball in 2020 and returned to being a sinkerball pitcher. Now, he has some staying power. Jake Arrieta, who made $75 million over the last three seasons, will not return. The Phillies have four starters — Nola, Wheeler, Eflin, and Spencer Howard — in their rotation for next season. They’ll have to find one more.
The Phillies hit on Alec Bohm
It’s been 20 years since a Phillies first-round draft pick looked as promising at the plate as Alec Bohm did this season. Finally, the Phillies looked to have hit on a player who can be a key lineup contributor. Bohm hit .338 with a .400 on-base percentage and .481 slugging percentage in 180 plate appearances. He had the second-most hits in the majors in September and led all National League rookies this season in RBIs.
From 2015 to 2019, Phillies third basemen hit .248 with a .307 on-base percentage and a .427 slugging percentage. Bohm finally gives the Phillies production at third base. Bohm has a shot next month to be named the National League’s rookie of the year, but more importantly, the Phillies learned this season that they hit on the third pick in the 2018 draft and a key piece moving forward.
Connor Brogdon, JoJo Romero have bullpen futures
It’s hard to find too many keepers in a bullpen as unreliable as the one the Phillies had, but JoJo Romero and Connor Brogdon showed enough this season that they should have places in 2021.
Romero, a starter in the minor leagues before reaching the majors as a reliever, did not allow a run in eight of his 12 appearances. His fastball tops out at 98 mph, giving the Phillies a power left-handed arm that should only get better as he gains more experience pitching out of the bullpen.
Brogdon allowed three home runs in his first three appearances before being sent down to the minors in August. But he returned in mid-September and allowed just one hit in six scoreless appearances. Opponents hit just .037 against Brogdon in September, as he struck out 14 in 8 2/3 innings. The right-hander’s fastball also tops out at 98 mph. The two rookies give the Phillies some much needed velocity in their bullpen for 2021.
After a third consecutive September collapse, Middleton is bound to have questions. Klentak, under contract through 2022, will need to provide adequate answers — and solutions — to save his job, as Bob Brookover writes.
Silver lining for Phillies fans: Gabe Kapler didn’t make the playoffs, either. But with the Giants surprisingly in wild-card contention until the season’s last day, Scott Lauber caught up with Kapler over the weekend about lessons he learned from the last two years in Philadelphia.
Realmuto isn’t the Phillies' only notable free agent. Re-signing Didi Gregorius will be an offseason issue, too.
Today: The American League playoffs begin.
Tomorrow: The National League playoffs begin.
Oct. 5: The American League division series begins.
Oct. 6: The National League division series begins.
Stat of the day
The Phillies bullpen, as you may recall, had the National League’s fifth-best ERA in the second half of last season with a 3.98 mark. This season, the Phillies bullpen had the National League’s second-worst ERA in the second half by positing a 7.04 ERA in the final 30 games.
The Phillies played just 60 games this season, yet they used just five fewer pitchers than they did for a 162-game season in 2019. They used 29 pitchers, 24 of whom worked as relievers for the worst bullpen in 90 years.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: Will there be a Winter Meetings this year? I always look forward to the moves made that week. — Charlie S. via email
Answer: Thanks, Charlie. The winter meetings are scheduled for Dec. 6-10 in Dallas, but I have my doubts about them taking place as scheduled. I would expect Major League Baseball to hold the meetings virtually as it would probably be difficult to hold such a massive event inside a hotel while socially distancing. It’s too important of an event to cancel, so MLB will find a way to be creative this year.