CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Bullpen additions have Phils back in NL East mix

Bullpen additions have Phils back in NL East mix

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- So many things went wrong for the Phillies in 2012 that it's almost impossible to pick out just one. Let's try anyway.

Even with all the injuries, even with all the defensive problems, the Phils probably were one quality reliever from making the playoffs.

More

Here are the ugly numbers:

• The Phillies lost 20 games in which they had a lead or were tied entering the eighth inning.

• They blew 13 leads in the eighth inning.

• They lost seven games in which they were one out away from getting the ball to closer Jonathan Papelbon.

If they hold on to seven of those 13 blown leads, they would have tied the Cardinals for the final National League Wild Card berth.

If they'd won 10 of those 20 games, they would have breezed back to the postseason for a sixth straight season.

Blowing leads late is not like blowing leads in the third or fourth inning. Those late losses rip at a team's heart. They create doubt, too.

"It takes a toll on you," manager Charlie Manuel said. "It beats you down from a mental standpoint."

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. had himself a fine offseason in acquiring center fielder Ben Revere, third baseman Michael Young and left-handed starter John Lannan.

The Phillies are thrilled that the Nationals and Braves are getting so much love this spring, because they're just fine with flying under the radar.

"Our guys just don't care," Amaro said. "Their demeanor is about winning. That's all they've ever been about."

The Phillies are also feeling pretty darn good about things. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are healthy. Roy Halladay is feeling good. With Revere in center and Jimmy Rollins and Utley in the middle of the infield, the Phils believe they're plenty good enough to go back to the playoffs.

But the best move Amaro made, the move that probably solidifies the Phillies more than any other, is the signing of relievers Mike Adams and Chad Durbin.

Adams was one of the guys who helped define the role of an eighth-inning specialist, doing it superbly for both the Padres and Rangers. As for Durbin, he's a familiar face in Philadelphia, having appeared in 71 games for the 2008 Phils team that won the World Series.

Manuel also believes that some of his talented young guys, the guys who were forced into different roles after Jose Contreras got hurt and Chad Qualls struggled, will take huge steps forward in 2013.

No matter what else happens, the Phillies are confident that those eighth-inning leads won't be slipping away.

"Getting Mike Adams was huge," Papelbon said. "And Chad Durbin is huge. I've always said it's a unit down there. We feed off each other. I don't think anyone realizes how important the bullpen is. I think it's the part of the team that gets overlooked. Until you need it. When you need it, it's, 'Well, our bullpen should have been better.'"

Adams, who has averaged 69 appearances the past three seasons, found himself in demand when he became a free agent. He signed with Philadelphia for $12 million over two years.

"Besides coming to a good veteran ballclub, being here with Michael [Young, a teammate in Texas] makes it a little bit easier transition for myself and maybe for both of us," Adams said. "It's a great pitching staff, and there will be a lot of chances [to hold leads]."

Asked if he was aware of last season's eighth-inning problems, Adams said: "Yeah. I've been well educated on their struggles from last year. Everybody's kind of told me about 'em. I'm excited to come in here and hopefully fill that need. Hopefully, help us get over that hump."

A new bullpen -- and a healthy Howard and Utley -- has resulted in a wave of optimism around the Phillies. After five straight division championships, last season was a tough reminder of all the things that can go wrong.

"I think there's some urgency here," Amaro said. "They want to go out and play and win. That's always been their demeanor. The big thing for them is to be able to get out on the field and perform. If they can do that, we have a fighter's chance to overcome some of those clubs that are probably better."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less