Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Pen Is Crucial

It' easy to say after watching his save streak end at 47 that Brad Lidge isn't the same pitcher in 2009 that he was in 2008, but the evidence was plain to see in all of his appearances this season leading up to tonight's debacle. Lidge hasn't been relying on his biting slider into the dirt nearly as much this year and the reason is the absence of Carlos Ruiz, the only catcher Lidge felt could dependably handle that pitch. Instead, Lidge has relied heavily on a fastball without much movement and major league hitters are turning it around at a rate the Phillies' closer never saw during the championship run.

It's also easy to say in early retrospect that the bullpen, superb throughout 2008, couldn't be expected to duplicate their overall performance two years running but, again, there were plenty of signs. JC Romero is still serving his suspension and Chad Durbin was hit around pretty well in the second half of last year. Jack Taschner hasn't impressed. Ryan Madson was perfect until last night. Scott Eyre and Clay Condrey have pitched solidly while J.A. Happ has hardly pitched at all. But Lidge has been the biggest disappointment by far, looking bad even when he has gotten the save. Things will pick up for him when Ruiz comes off the DL, provided, of course, his confidence isn't completely shaken like it was several years ago after King Albert's home run.

All of this hand wringing over the bullpen might be moot if the starting rotation were doing its job, but they have looked terrible without much exception and anyway, the way modern baseball is played, starting rotations cannot be expected to pitch more than 5 plus innings any time out. Bullpens are the difference makers (just ask the Mets) and the Phils' bullpen was key last year. Without a semblance of return to form, it is going to be a long season no matter when and if the shaky starters come around.

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