Inbox: Could 'pen help lift Phils to playoffs?

Beat reporter Todd Zolecki answers questions from fans

March 18th, 2021

What is the biggest positive and biggest concern you have at this stage for the Phillies to make the playoffs?
-- @JTBoz19, via Twitter

The most encouraging sign is the quality of arms and competition in the bullpen. Consider the relievers the Phillies acquired before last spring (Delois Guerra, Tommy Hunter, Francisco Liriano, Trevor Kelley, Reggie McClain, Bud Norris, Blake Parker, Robert Stock, Drew Storen and Anthony Swarzak) and the arms they acquired before this spring (José Alvarado, Archie Bradley, Sam Coonrod, Neftalí Feliz, Brandon Kintzler, Bryan Mitchell, David Paulino, Héctor Rondón, Tony Watson and Michael Ynoa). The bullpen should be better, especially when you consider the potential of returning arms like Héctor Neris, Connor Brogdon and JoJo Romero.

The top concern might be the recent back issues of right-handers and , although the Phillies do not sound concerned about Eflin. But the Phillies do not have a ton of starting pitching depth. They cannot afford to lose too many bodies.

How good can this bullpen be this year?
-- @thephillyguy

They have the firepower to be much better, but even if they are only marginally better it should make a huge difference. Last season’s bullpen had a 7.06 ERA, allowing 146 earned runs in 186 innings. Say it matched the Tigers’ 25th ranked bullpen (4.94 ERA). It would have allowed 44 fewer earned runs over 60 games. Would the Phillies have won two or three more games last season if they were only as bad as the Tigers? Probably. But why settle for mediocrity? If 40-man roster relievers Bradley, Neris, Alvarado, Brogdon, Romero and Coonrod live up to their track records and/or potential, they should have a better ERA than 4.94. Mix in the potential contributions of non-roster invitees like Kintzler and Watson and those 2020 nightmares could become a distant memory.

Who’s leading the centerfield competition right now?
-- @EaglesReed

Is there a path for Mickey Moniak to make the team or has Odúbel Herrera done enough to knock him out of that? And what do you do with Roman Quinn?
-- @bjgilbertjr97

Joe Girardi said Wednesday he does not have a frontrunner for the job. He then said, “quality at-bats are going to be really important” in the next two weeks. Herrera has had the best at-bats to this point, making him the frontrunner. Moniak has played well, but he has only started one game this spring and it seems more likely that he will open in Triple-A. Quinn is out of options, so he either makes the team or the Phillies likely lose him on waivers. Scott Kingery has options. It would be surprising, but not stunning, if he started in Triple-A because it might be his best opportunity to get back on track. Adam Haseley is progressing from a strained left adductor. He came into camp in great shape. He would have made this competition more interesting.

Who are the likely No. 4 and 5 starters for the Phils?
-- @bkschwartz

If Eflin is healthy -- Girardi was encouraged after Eflin threw Wednesday -- left-hander Matt Moore and right-hander Chase Anderson look like locks. Both have pitched very well. Couple their spring performances with the fact that they both signed Major League contracts and there is no reason to think they will not make the first turn through the rotation in a couple weeks. If somebody is not ready, Vince Velasquez or Howard could step in.

Who will be the closer?
-- @ccsawruthgibson

Girardi said the Phillies have not spent much time discussing the role because they have more important issues. There are three candidates: Bradley, Neris and Alvarado. Bradley’s one-year, $6 million deal in the offseason and last season’s success might make him the favorite, but Neris pitched better in 2020 than his record shows. Alvarado throws a 98-100 mph fastball with a 92-93 mph slider. That might play in the ninth inning, huh?

Who has been the most exciting player for you to watch in camp so far this spring?
-- @BrosephBiscut

Alvarado, because who doesn’t love a pitcher that consistently touches 100 mph?

Which non-roster invitee do you think will make the team, and who is losing their 40-man spot?
-- @crekerr

There are probably five non-roster players with legitimate chances to make the team: Herrera, Kintzler, Watson, Matt Joyce and Ronald Torreyes. Because the Phillies decided to move forward with Herrera and bring him to camp, giving him a second opportunity following his 2019 arrest and suspension for violating the league’s domestic abuse policy, and because the team has said he is being judged from this point forward on his baseball performance, he might have the best chance of the bunch. Kintzler is not far behind. Quinn might be the most likely position player to lose a spot on the 40-man roster, but only because he is out of options. But the 40-man is deeper than last spring. There are no no-brainers here.