The Philadelphia Phillies are dealing with some problems right now. Their lineup cannot hit, their ace is dealing with shoulder tendonitis and the team is a combined 1-8 this spring. All of those things have put Philadelphia in a state of shock and worry for the upcoming season.
There has been a bright spot, though—actually a few bright spots—for the 2014 Phillies. The Philadelphia bullpen looks like it will be the team's biggest asset after years of inconsistency.
The last time Philadelphia had a consistent bullpen? 2008.
Obviously, the 2008 Phillies were a different ballclub and had other strong points, but being able to have reliability in relief makes manager Ryne Sandberg's job easier. Early in spring training, the Phillies are finding an embarrassment of riches in their bullpen.
Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo and Mike Adams are the household names that the Philadelphia faithful know, and they are prepared to anchor the back end of the pen. But these five players could round out a bullpen that could have a chance to be one of the best in the National League if its production remains consistent.
Jake Diekman made his MLB debut in May 2012, immediately making an impact. Diekman struck out three batters in 1.1 innings pitched. He was arguably on of the Phils' best pitchers in the bullpen, going 1-4 with a 2.58 ERA in 45 appearances last season.
The mid- to upper-90 mph-throwing left-hander struck out 41 hitters through 38.1 innings pitched with the Phillies in 2013. Diekman, 27, held left-handed hitters to a .148 batting average with a .221 on-base percentage as well.
He jokingly attributed his success to chewing bubblegum on the mound, telling CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury that the gum makes him "think less" on the mound.
So far this spring, Diekman has given up two runs but has struck out three hitters in three innings of work. The Phillies bullpen could use a hard-throwing lefty in late-game situations. Diekman could be the man for the job.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was looking to build depth in the pen at the beginning of the offseason. As a result, he traded catcher Erik Kratz to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for right-handed reliever Brad Lincoln.
Lincoln was one of the reasons the Pittsburgh Pirates were competitive in 2012, going 3-0 with a 2.80 ERA in 47 relief appearances. But he struggled in 2013, posting a 4.77 ERA in 46 games. However, the 28-year-old reliever is confident that he will get back to the basics.
He sat down with Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News to discuss the the transition from life with the Pittsburgh Pirates to Toronto.
"I never felt that comfort after I got traded," Lincoln said. "I don't know if it was because of the new surroundings, feeling you have to impress a whole different group or something like that. I don't know. It just hadn't worked out. But I'm looking forward to turning it around."
To start the spring, Lincoln has yet to give up an earned run in his 3.2 innings of work. The Phillies like his body of work, and it could make him a viable lock to make the Opening Day roster.
In December, the Phillies brought in right-hander Sean O'Sullivan as a non-roster invitee for the spring. O'Sullivan has been short of disappointing thus far. In 5.0 innings of work, the right-hander has only allowed three hits while striking out five hitters.
With Cole Hamels dealing with an injury, O'Sullivan could find himself as one of the long men in the bullpen. He could also split time as the fifth starter if needed.
David Buchanan is the wild card for the Phillies bullpen. The right-hander was a Rule 5 selection by Philadelphia back in December. Buchanan, 24, has made 79 starts in the minor leagues, but only six have come with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
If the Phillies were to keep him with the club, they would have a pitcher who is effective on the mound, getting hitters to ground out. In a hitter's ballpark, that is the type of production Philadelphia needs. Look for Buchanan to find a job as a long reliever.
Jeff Manship has been impressive in the minor leagues, but a 6.42 ERA in 52 career big league appearances should be something to worry about.
Manship is vying to add depth to the Phillies pen, especially in a fifth- or sixth-inning role. He currently has been lights-out this spring in the bullpen.
As you can see, the Phillies bullpen has more depth than it has had in a long time. Though it is early in spring training, the Phillies' bright spot has been the arms coming out of the bullpen. The health of the starting rotation is in question, but these players can fill voids. If there is one key to Philadelphia's 2014 success, the consistency of their pen is it.