HOUSTON – The Phillies have another month to figure out whether they can count on Brad Lidge to be their closer in the postseason. The kneejerk reaction after he blew his 10th save opportunity of the season Saturday night – that manager Charlie Manuel must immediately pull the plug – is wrong for a handful of reasons.
The most obvious is that they still have a comfortable lead in the division. That gives Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee the luxury of giving Lidge a little more rope.
And why would they want to do that? Well, one is that Brett Myers, who would presumably take over the role, has pitched once since June 4 hip surgery. And that was his first relief appearance since 2007. So it makes some sense to let him get his big league legs back under him before allowing him to try save situations.
There’s also the fact that when Lidge began having problems with the Astros they took him out of the closer’s role several times, hoping it would help him find himself. It didn’t. And the last thing the Phillies want to do is undermine his confidence further, especially since they owe him another $24.5 million over the next two years.
Having said all that. . .Lidge is clearly on probation. Manuel isn’t going to flush an opportunity to win back-to-back world championships out of simple loyalty to one player. He just won’t. Especially not when he appears to have an attractive option in Myers standing by.
Let’s try to put Lidge’s lack of effectiveness into perspective.
Blown saves isn’t an official stat, but most research suggests that the record is 14 in a season sets by Rollie Fingers in 1976 and later matched by Bruce Sutter (1978), Bob Stanley (1983) and Ron Davis (1984).
The Phillies have just 28 games left to play, so it’s unlikely Lidge will challenge that. It’s also a little misleading.
Please notice that the last time a closer misfired that many times was 25 years ago. Back then, the job description was a lot different. The pitcher who came into to try to nail down the win would often appear in the eighth inning. Sometimes even the seventh.
Davis, for example, pitched in 64 games in 1984. Almost half – 28 games – were appearances of more than one inning.
Lidge, in nearly two full seasons with the Phillies, has never pitched more than one inning at a time.
In the last 10 years, according to numbers culled from espn.com and mlb.com, there have only been three relievers with more than 10 blown saves in a season. Ambiorix Burgos had 12 for the Royals in 2006; Francisco Cordero and Huston Street each had 11 in the same year.
And that gives a more accurate perspective on exactly how troubling Lidge’s season has been.
No matter what happens with Lidge, the Phillies would make the trade that brought him from the Astros again in a heartbeat. Without him, they probably don’t win the World Series last year. Heck, they might not even make the playoffs. So anything that happens after that is almost irrelevant.
At the same time, Houston is pretty happy to have gotten speedy centerfielder Michael Bourn back in the deal. And their 4-3 win over the Phillies on Sunday is a good illustration why.
Bourn had two singles against Cole Hamels. Each time he broke for second. Hamels threw behind him but he beat the relay throw from first baseman Ryan Howard. After each stolen base, he scored a run.
“I’d say he won the game for them,” Hamels said. “I was definitely aware that he was going. I had him picked off twice and didn’t get an out.”
Added Charlie Manuel: “That’s what speed will do for you.”
Speaking of speed, the Phillies added two more players from Triple-A Lehigh Valley before Sunday’s game, outfielder John Mayberry Jr. and righthander Kyle Kendrick.
What they haven’t added is a blazer who can give them the dimension that Bourn gives the Astros, despite speculation that somebody like Quintin Berry (48 stolen bases at Double-A Reading) might make sense.
It hasn’t been an issue yet. But it could have been Sunday.
Down by a run in the top of the ninth, pinch-hitter Matt Stairs walked with two outs. Eric Bruntlett came in to run for Stairs with Jimmy Rollins at the plate.
If Rollins had doubled and Bruntlett a) had to be held at third or b) was thrown out at the plate, the question might have been asked why they didn’t have a legitimate burner available to pinch-run.
Except that Rollins popped up, so it didn’t matter.
The Phillies came into the Astros series with an 8 ½ game lead in the National League East. It would have been down to 5 ½ over the Marlins except that Washington scored three in the bottom of the ninth to beat Florida.
So the Phillies are still 6 ½ up on the Fish, 8 in the loss column.
Charlie Manuel wouldn’t say if he has a number in mind, if there’s a certain point where the lead would dwindle to the point that he might have to manage with less patience than he can with a big cushion.
But he made it clear he isn’t happy that they’ve lost four out of five. “It would be nice to finish strong and get the homefield advantage (throughout the National League playoffs) and all that. And we’re still in a position to do that,” he said.
Congratulations to the Reading Phillies. Their 6-0 win over Connecticut put the Eastern League playoffs for the first time since 2001, ending the longest drought in the league.
They’ll open the best-of-five first round at Akron on Wednesday and Thursday and will be at First Energy Stadium Friday and, if needed, Saturday. A decisive Game 5 would be at Akron on Sunday.
If Reading advances to the championship round, also best-of-five, they’d open on the road on September 15. Games 3-4-5 would be at Reading starting two days later.