Bullpen woes are not an indictment of Gabe Kapler

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It was only a matter of time before fans turned on Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler… again. Not that this is really a change of mind, there was just nothing to criticize. The Phillies have been in first place for most of the season and the only problems have stemmed from injuries. But on Tuesday night, a blown save by Juan Nicasio gave fans something to be loud about.

To start, it was a frustrating loss. Fending off the strong lineup of the Cubs for eight innings, only to lose it in the ninth was a heartbreaker.  Especially when the pitcher on the hill in the ninth inning is an ineffective Nicasio. Kapler’s hand was forced into handing him the ball in the ninth. It wasn’t down to a choice, it had to be done. The Phillies were out of options with nowhere else to turn to.

Of course, that line of thinking could easily be used against Kapler. How could he corner himself into a spot where Nicasio is the only option? The answer is pretty simple. Wins matter more in August and September than they do in May. Look no further than to 2018 campaign for Seranthony Dominguez. At one point, Dominguez was not only the best reliever in the pen in 2018, but the only one Kapler could rely on. That led to an abundance of innings early in the season and ineffectiveness at the end of it.

That can’t happen this season. The 2018 Phillies were fighting to survive early that season. Right now, the Phillies have been able to stay atop of the NL East with ease. There is no need to risk early fatigue. Also, it’s not that Kapler is just wasting these guys in meaningless games. Part of the reason the pen has been used so much is because the Phillies have been winning.

What this really comes down to is bullpen depth. This isn’t about starting pitching, the offense or Kapler. This is strictly about having to use pitchers in high leverage situations that shouldn’t be out there. Not that Kapler wants to or could completely avoid using them, but with the current depth there are going to be times where there isn’t a choice.

Even at the beginning of the month this was very clear. The Phillies cannot win games with pitchers like Juan Nicasio and Jose Alvarez, but they risk the fatigue of the rest of the bullpen if they don’t use them.

The toughest part comes when trying to find the solution. The answer isn’t currently on the Phillies roster and David Robertson is still more than a month away from returning to the field. Could the answer be a free agent signing, or more specifically, Craig Kimbrel?

There is no doubt that Kimbrel would bolster the Phillies bullpen. He is one of the best relievers in baseball, even though he has not been signed 48 games into the Phillies season. Reports of the Phillies interest in the reliever have been out there, and there are many reasons as to why it makes sense. It just comes down to whether or not the Phillies are willing to spend money.

If Kimbrel is staying true to his demands from this off-season, then the Phillies will need to dish out a multi-year deal. In reality, that kind of deal was spent already on David Robertson, not Kimbrel. Are the Phillies willing to put that kind of investment into another reliever? They haven’t shown the willingness to yet and there is a good chance that they are outbid by other teams who are eager to sign Kimbrel.

That leaves one other option: a trade. The Phillies will certainly be active at the trade deadline. With the need for another starter and bullpen relief, there needs to be plenty of work done. However, there could be a scenario where the Phillies can get a reliever at a fairly low price. For example, Cody Allen hasn’t been great for the Angels this season. The price for Allen would be low and the hope would be that a change of scenery helps Allen to return to his previous form.

Like Kapler, the Phillies front office have options before them, but they aren’t necessarily good ones. In certain situations Kapler has to turn to guys like Nicasio and Alvarez. In this certain situation the Phillies front office may need to turn to an expensive free agent, even if they don’t want to.

You can follow Jon Jansen on Twitter (@jjansen34) and e-mail him at

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