In today's column in the Daily News, I reference the bullpen dogma to which I subscribe. I describe it as fataslism, but a more accurate designation is determinism, or, as the Stanford Encylclopedia of Philosophy words it, a belief "that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature." In Ryne Sandberg's case, the antecedent events are those that brought the current composition of the Phillies bullpen into being. The roster decisions, the injuries, etc. Substitute the laws of nature with the rules of baseball, and last night you had a situation where two teams were going to keep on playing until one bullpen blew the game. And as has often been the case over the last couple of seasons, that bullpen was the Phillies. Since 2012, the Phillies are 17-22 when they enter the ninth inning in a tie game.
Long story short, most nights, a manager can only control the inning in which his team wins or loses. At least, that's what I usually believe.
Last night was a little bit different, because the Phillies had a 2-1 lead heading into the seventh inning, and playoff teams are supposed to be able to protect those kinds of leads, and the Phillies consider themselves a playoff team. But the manager only seems to have faith in four guys: B.J. Rosenberg, Jake Diekman, Antonio Bastardo, and Jonathan Papelbon. Currently, there are eight guys in the bullpen.
The handling of Jake Diekman has been the most curious. It was curious on Opening Day and it was curious last night.
A closer look. . .
Diekman enters in the sixth inning in a no-brainer position. He's facing a top of the lineup that features two dangerous lefties in Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder. The Phillies are up by five runs, but five runs on this particular day is not as big of a lead as it might appear. Diekman proceeds to get a strikeout of Choo, a groundout from Elvis Andrus, and a strikeout of Prince Fielder. Exactly what you hope from him. He throws 11 pitches. Pat him on the rump and thank him for his contribution, right?
Here is where it gets curious. The bottom of the seventh rolls around, and the Phillies are still trailing by five runs. All they need to do is record nine outs while not allowing five runs. Six of those outs are slated to be recorded by Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon. So, the seventh. . .
In Diekman's career right-handed batters are hitting .287/.389/.400 off of him. Last year, they hit .298/.372/.393 with 18 strikeouts and 10 walks in 95 plate appearances. Due to lead off the aforementioned seventh inning were right-handed hitters Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios. At Sandberg's disposal were righties Rosenberg, Justin De Fratus, Brad Lincoln, and Jeff Manship. Diekman had pitched in multiple innings only five times in 2013. But Sandberg sent him back out there, and Diekman walked Beltre, and allowed a single to Rios. That was the end of Diekman's day. The Rangers ended up scoring a couple of runs, but it did not matter, and all was forgotten.
Flash forward to Tuesday. This time, we are in the seventh inning. This time, the lead is slim and the ramifications of decisions made are significant. The Phillies are leading 2-1, and the top of the Rangers lineup is up. Diekman threw 26 pitches on Opening Day, more than he threw in all but three outings last year. The initial decision to call on him isn't all that outlandish. And Diekman actually does a good job against the three hitters whom he is slated for. He surrenders a ground ball single to Shin-Soo Choo, then a sac bunt to Elvis Andrus and a groundout to Prince Fielder.
This brings us back to a familiar situation. Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios due up. A guy who has struggled against righties on the mound. A slew of righty options available in the bullpen. This time, there are two outs and the tying run on third in a 2-1 game. Diekman stays in the game to face Beltre, and Beltre responds with a double to right field that ties the game. Intentional walk to Rios, strikeout of Michael Choice. Still, damage done.
From a Murphyistic viewpoint, the real issue isn't Sandberg's managerial-level decisions, but the external conditions that are leading him to make these decisions. Specificially, whatever condition causes him not to have sufficient enough faith in Justin De Fratus and Brad Lincoln to let them face Adrian Beltre with the game on the line, or to put them in the game instead of Mario Hollands, who has never pitched in a big league game and who spent much of last season pitching at Class A Clearwater. Is this Sandberg overvaluing Rosenberg/Diekman/Hollands? Is it him undervaluing a guy like De Fratus, whom he saw at length last season? Or is it him going with what really are his best options in a given situation? However you answer, it tells a sad tale of the current state of the Phillies bulllpen.
Note the first big question here in our bullpen preview.