Phillies' confidence rising early: ‘Our bullpen is real'


It won't be like this every series for the Phillies, but the first three games of 2021 offered an immediate glimpse of their pitching upside compared to most of the last decade.

Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin, Hector Neris, Jose Alvarado, Archie Bradley and Connor Brogdon combined for a 0.96 ERA, a 0.61 WHIP and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings in the season-opening sweep of Atlanta.

"I think we kinda proved to ourselves that any given night we can go out there and win a game. And that our bullpen is real," said Alec Bohm, who had the game-winning RBI single up the middle in the eighth inning Sunday.

"Three good team wins."

They sure were. The Phillies did everything in these three games against the Braves but hit. They won games with two, three and four runs. Last year's Phillies went 5-24 when scoring four runs or fewer.

"To limit this team like we did is not easy to do," manager Joe Girardi said. "That's an explosive lineup, it's extremely dangerous."

Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr., Marcell Ozuna and Ozzie Albies went a combined 3 for 44 with one extra-base hit and no RBI.

For whatever reason, the Phillies have been the only NL East club capable of consistently beating the Braves the last three seasons. Atlanta is 14-18 against the Phillies and 56-31 against the rest of the NL East since 2019. The Braves have won the division three straight years.

"That's a good lineup but I don't think any of us are really surprised by the starts we got from those three guys," said catcher Andrew Knapp, who hit the Phillies' first home run of the season to provide Eflin a narrow early lead.

"It's kind of how we planned it. Sometimes it doesn't go according to plan, but we wanted to attack these guys with a ton of strikes, make them put the ball in play. 

"We've been seeing Zach do that for about a year and a half now, just go out and be that guy. It's a great start for us. We're all really excited but we also aren't surprised by the outcome."

The 2020 Phillies did not have this kind of talent in the bullpen. There's a big difference between building a 'pen around unestablished relievers and guys with 91 mph sinkers hoping to get well-placed grounders and building one with this sort of velocity, movement and experience.

Jose Alvarado and Hector Neris finished the job on Sunday. Alvarado needed just 10 pitches after a dicey, bases-loaded opening day. He threw seven sinkers and they were all 98, 99 or 100 mph.

"For us, even the feel of those guys coming in is different. The mentality out there is different," Knapp said. "For those guys to come out and shut the door all three days is awesome."

Sunday's game was played in front of an announced crowd of 10,773 fans as occupancy at Citizens Bank Park increased by 5%.

The next test is the Mets, who are in town Monday-Wednesday after having their first series postponed because of COVID issues within the Nationals. Lefty Matt Moore makes his Phillies debut in the series opener against the ace of aces, Jacob deGrom.

Subscribe to the Phillies Talk podcastApple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | Watch on YouTube

Contact Us