PHILADELPHIA -- There are several reasons why the Phillies had the worst record in baseball at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but the bullpen was near the top. Through July 31, the relievers had a 4.43 ERA, ranked 22nd in baseball and had converted just 16 of 31 save opportunities.
There are plenty of reasons why the Phillies have been so much better lately. Once again, the bullpen is front and center. Going into Sunday's series finale against the Athletics, the ERA was more than a half run lower (3.84). And since Aug. 27, it was 2.18, second best in all of baseball.
What in the name of Brad Lidge is going on? And, more important, what does it mean to the Phillies going into 2018?
The simple answer is that as some of the older pitchers departed -- 2016 closer Jeanmar Gomez was released, while Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek were traded -- a handful of younger arms have stepped forward.
"I think it's the fact that Adam Morgan has improved immensely, and Hoby Milner has really established himself as a pretty good situational-type lefty," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Luis Garcia, huge step forward. He's been outstanding. Edubray Ramos has pitched well. Victor Arano looks good. I like what I see. They're all contributing and all pitching very well."
Milner is one of the more intriguing stories. He was claimed by the Indians in the Rule 5 Draft last December, then was returned to the Phillies at the end of Spring Training. Recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley, he made his Major League debut on June 24 and Sunday extended his streak of consecutive scoreless appearances to 21.
"It's been pretty weird," the 26-year-old left-hander said with a laugh. "Getting Rule Fived was a blessing for me. It was a win-win situation. If I stayed with the Indians, I was going to be in the big leagues. If not, they kind of put me on the radar and let me know that a bullpen like that wanted me.
"Coming back, no hard feelings for not being protected or anything. I'm just glad they gave me an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues."
The Phillies had some hard choices to make last offseason. They protected 11 prospects by adding them to the 40-man roster. They didn't have room for everybody and took a gamble Milner wouldn't be selected. In the end, it all worked out.
Milner has taken advantage of the chances he's been given. So have some of the other relievers. And that's obviously good news for the Phillies looking ahead. After all he's been through, though, Milner isn't taking anything or granted.
"It's all still a tryout for most of us in the bullpen," he said. "There aren't a lot of guys here who have proven they deserve a spot for next year. So we're all out there competing, and basically we've got two weeks left."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com and covered the Phillies on Sunday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.