José Alvarado had it all along, right?
With two on and two out in the eighth inning of a four-run game last night, the Phillies asked Alvarado to get a four-out save. He walked a batter and wild-pitched home a run, then gave up a two-run homer to Adam Duvall in the ninth. But rather than blowing another late lead, Alvarado recorded the last three outs in a 33-pitch, white-knuckle save, his first since being named the closer last week.
“The way I look at it is we would’ve lost that game last week,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We won the game tonight. That’s the bright spot of it.”.
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Three trade candidates who would help the Phillies bullpen
Let’s be clear: The Phillies are more than one player away from being a World Series contender.
But could they be a reliever shy of a postseason berth?
Look, crazier things have happened, such as a $200 million roster being three games under .500, or a big-market club missing the playoffs nine years running, or a team that has picked 7th, 10th, 1st, 8th, 3rd, 14th, and 15th in the last seven drafts having a mostly non-homegrown core and a farm system that even Bryce Harper recently described as “depleted.”
But 77 games into the season, the Phillies have blown 21 saves, five more than any other team. They are 6-10 in games when they cough up at least one save opportunity. Yet they trail the New York Mets by only five games (six in the loss column) in an eminently winnable National League East that was supposed to be much tougher.
There’s no quick fix for the Phillies’ woeful defense or even for an offense that comes and goes like a nosy neighbor. But what if, with the trade deadline exactly one month from today, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is able to add a late-inning arm who would keep Alvarado, Héctor Neris, Archie Bradley, Ranger Suárez, Sam Coonrod, and Connor Brogdon out of the ninth inning?
In recasting baseball’s worst bullpen from a year ago, Dombrowski essentially replaced Tommy Hunter, Adam Morgan, Blake Parker, and Brandon Workman with Bradley, Alvarado, Coonrod, and Brandon Kintzler. It was a start. But entering play Tuesday night, the Phillies had the fifth-worst bullpen ERA in the NL (4.55). And then Alvarado gave up a two-run homer to Duvall.
The good news for Dombrowski is there are always relievers available at the trade deadline. The bad news is the Phillies lack tradable assets in that aforementioned farm system.
Dombrowski recently spent a week watching low-Class A Clearwater. He’s scheduled to tour the organization’s other affiliates over the next few weeks. With the Phillies hovering around .500, it might make more sense to pursue players under club control beyond this year.
Even then, it’s difficult to imagine Dombrowski trading from a small group of top prospects that includes infielder Bryson Stott, outfielder Johan Rojas, and certainly 19-year-old right-hander Mick Abel. But during his time with the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox, he tended to identify positions of surplus talent and trade from that stockpile to acquire help for the major-league club.
Here are three relievers who figure to be on the move. If the Phillies were to land one, it might just get them closer to reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Richard Rodríguez, Pirates: Good luck finding a player more likely to get traded next month than the 31-year-old journeyman who is having a breakout season for the team with the third-worst record in baseball. Pittsburgh might even be able to get a real prospect for him, too. The right-hander is averaging only 93.1 mph with a fastball that he throws 87% of the time. But he has a 1.78 ERA and 10 saves in 12 chances. He is also making $1.7 million and is under control through the 2023 season.
Raisel Iglesias, Angels: Imagine having Shohei Ohtani, Anthony Rendon, and (eventually) Mike Trout and being 10 games out of first place. What good, then, is a 31-year-old closer who will be a free agent at season’s end? Of 20 relievers with at least 75 saves since 2016, Iglesias — a right-hander with three pitches, including a mid-90s fastball — ranks 11th with an 86.3% success rate. (Neris is 20th at 76.9%). The acquisition cost doesn’t figure to be high. The Angels got him last December from Cincinnati for depth reliever Noé Ramirez.
Taylor Rogers, Twins: Minnesota has been among the most disappointing teams and therefore will be one to watch before July 30. Veteran starters J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker could be on the way out, but neither would fetch as much as Rogers, a 30-year-old lefty with 46 saves over the last three seasons. He’s a sinker-slider pitcher with precision command (42-to-5 strikeouts-to-walks ratio), a $6 million salary, and one more year of club control.
Vince Velasquez didn’t walk a batter in a start for the first time since September 2019. He pitched a seven-inning gem in last night’s 4-3 victory.
The Phillies sent Spencer Howard back to triple A yesterday. And this time, it seems he might stay there for a while.
Yes, Didi Gregorius might be ready to rejoin the Phillies later in the week. And no, he never heard of pseudogout either, as Matt Breen writes.
Alec Bohm hasn’t homered since May 6. But in an interview this week, he went deep on his struggles at the plate.
Tonight: Aaron Nola faces the Marlins, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Zach Eflin vs. Miami in series finale, 6:05 p.m.
Friday: Zack Wheeler starts opener vs. Padres, 6:05 p.m.
Saturday: Matt Moore faces San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Phillies host Padres in Fourth of July matinee, 1:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
With a first-inning single last night, Andrew McCutchen picked up his 41st RBI, 20 of which have come this month.
McCutchen is 22-for-71 (.310) with four doubles, six home runs, 13 walks, and only 12 strikeouts since the calendar flipped from May to June. With the June finale set for tonight, McCutchen is in line to become the first Phillies player to bat .300 with a 1.000 OPS and at least 20 RBIs in one month since Rhys Hoskins in June 2018, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
It would be the fourth time McCutchen has done this in his career, and he has done so only in June (2012, 2014, 2017).
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Does it seem that Girardi has a policy to not use a relief pitcher two nights in a row (except for Neris)? He is really messing with reliever availability. Tug [McGraw] must be laughing. Any other teams/managers seem to be doing this? — Chas K., via email
Answer: Thanks, Chas, for the question. Yes, Girardi has guidelines that he follows for running his bullpen. He prefers not to use a reliever more than two days in a row, at least in the first half of a season. The idea is to keep the relievers as healthy as possible over a six-month schedule. Say what you will about bullpen management today vs. when McGraw played, but relievers do appreciate Girardi’s handle-with-care approach.
That said, the Phillies don’t have the depth required to cover for when their best relievers are unavailable. And many times this season, their best relievers have been unavailable at the same time. It’s a balancing act, one that Girardi has lost more often than he would like.