‘The Closer’ in name only

Brad LidgeMILWAUKEE – There’s a line from Elaine Benes in a Seinfeld episode where in chiding Jerry for speculating on woman’s assumed enhancement, she drops an all-timer on him:

“You know, just when I think you’re the shallowest man I know, you somehow manage to drain a little bit more out of the pool.”

The great thing about the line is it can be used in nearly any circumstance. So last night when watching Brad Lidge flounder through five hitters for his 11th blown save of the season, a derivation of that sentence immediately came to mind.

Just when you thought he couldn’t get any lower, he somehow managed to drain a little more out of the pool.

Nope, it’s not easy being Brad Lidge these days, especially since the playoffs are quickly approaching and his pitching and the results therein do not look any different from where we were in May. Yeah, Lidge has saved 31 games, which is pretty good considering he has blown those 11 attempts AND spent 19 days on the disabled list.

However, even with that time off Lidge has somehow managed to get into 63 games. That’s a lot considering he got into 72 games last year and barely missed any time at all.

Now here’s the thing about those 63 games… it’s a threshold number. In fact, according to the always interesting Baseball-Reference blog, of all the pitchers who have appeared in at least 60 games, Lidge has the fourth-worst ERA in Major League Baseball history.

I know what you’re thinking… you’re thinking, “How does a guy with 11 blown saves, an 0-8 record, a 7.48 ERA (10.80 in September and 8.10 in the second half), all while allowing opponents to bat .305 (nearly .400 this month) off of him, get on the playoff roster let alone an entrenched spot in the back of the bullpen.”

Easy. Who else ya got?

There is an easy way to handle the Lidge situation where egos don’t take a beating and the team can win games the way they did last year. After all, something needs to be done because there are 11 games remaining in the season, home-field advantage is on the line, and the Phillies have lost 10 games this year when leading after eight innings.

Talk about demoralizing.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Lidge told the scribes after last night’s debacle. “I’m disappointed. They hit the ball. They did a good job. I’m definitely frustrated, a little bit at a loss. I’m sure there’s stuff I can do better.”

Indeed. Nevertheless, Manuel says he isn’t ready to pull the plug… that’s what he says.

“These are our guys. We’ll stick with him,” Manuel said. “Lidge has to do it. Between him and Madson, they’ve got to get it done. We’re waiting to see how long Brett’s going to be. Right now, Brett’s not even in the picture. We’ve just got to get better.”

This isn’t original, in fact I’ve been trotting it out there for a while now. But when push comes to shove, expect Charlie not to go batter-to-batter and matchup-to-matchup in particularly tight games. He’s done it before to decent results, too. Remember that game in Atlanta during August when Lidge got a one-out save? In that game Manuel used Ryan Madson for a third of an inning, Scott Eyre for two-thirds, and Lidge for the final out.

Of course Charlie had healthy arms back then, which is something he’s missing these days. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if two or three guys end up working in the ninth inning from here on out.

Why not? There are plenty of saves to go around.

Otherwise, perhaps the managerial defined closer role has not been assigned yet. Oh sure, Charlie calls Lidge the closer, but look at the World Series over the last few years and think about how quickly things change.

In 2006, the Cardinals’ Adam Wainright saved four games throughout the postseason and did not allow a run in nine games. It was Wainright, a rookie, who was on the mound when the Cards closed out the World Series in Game 5 over the Tigers. Wainright’s save total in the playoffs was one more than he had in 61 games during the regular season, since Jason Isringhausen was serving as the closer until injuries and 10 blown saves ended his year.

In 2005, another rookie Bobby Jenks took over the ninth inning for the White Sox as they sewed up their first World Series title since 1917. Jenks saved six games during the regular season and five in the playoffs during the White Sox run when manager Ozzie Guillen decided to give the ball to the rookie instead of veteran Dustin Hermanson, who led the club with 34 saves that year.

Ugueth Urbina wasn’t even with the Marlins when the 2003 season started, but he was on the mound at the end. Traded from Texas to Florida in July of ’03, Urbina saved just six games during the regular season for the Marlins, but got two during the World Series upset over the Yankees and two others during the playoffs.

Of course, who can forget K-Rod setting up Troy Percival during the Angels’ victory over the Giants in seven games in 2002? Francisco Rodriguez appeared in just five games for the Angeles during the season, and 11 during the playoffs. Four of those games were in the World Series. Imagine that… a guy pitched in four World Series games and just five regular big league games and did nothing but hang zeroes on the board.

In 18 2/3 innings during the playoffs in ’02, K-Rod notched 28 strikeouts. He had 13 in just 5 2/3 during the regular season.

Call K-Rod the Marty Bystrom of the bullpen.

So it can be done, folks. Just because Lidge is called “the closer” now, doesn’t mean much when the playoffs start. Besides, in 2007 the Rockies made it to the World Series with 29 blown saves during the season. The Phillies aren’t anywhere near that total…

Yet.

Big time in the big city

lidgeAs far as divisional series in June goes, the Phillies’ three-game stand in New York City against the Mets is pretty big. The Phillies, of course, have a three-game lead in the NL East while the Mets are doing what they can to hang on in the wake.

With all the injuries and typical drama that plagues the New York teams, the Mets aren’t doing all that badly. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that the Phillies overcame a six-game lead in late September of 2007 to win the division by a game.

Besides, the Mets don’t flop until the end of the season.

Nevertheless, despite the key injuries to reliever J.J. Putz and overrated shortstop Jose Reyes, things aren’t all that bad for the Mets. Sure, Chipper Jones claimed that third baseman David Wright was complaining about the pitching-friendly dimensions at Citi Field, it could be worse for the Mets. The funny thing about that is Charlie Manuel says back in his day, every stadium was the size of Citi Field.

Hey, it can always be worse.

What the Mets have going for them (of course) is Johan Santana. He’s been as good as the Mets had hoped and has already stuck it to the Phillies once already this season.

Still, if the Phillies can get Brad Lidge and Jimmy Rollins squared away, this race could be over quickly. Oh, they might not say Rollins’ and Lidge’s slumps are concerning, but that can’t be totally accurate… right?

Maybe. After all, despite his 6-for-36 (.167) in his last eight games and demotion out of the leadoff spot for Sunday’s victory in Los Angeles, the Phillies’ offense appears to be potent enough to withstand an extended jag by Jimmy Rollins. That doesn’t mean Charlie Manuel doesn’t need Rollins to start hitting, because he does. The numbers bear that out. When Rollins gets on base and scores, the Phillies win. It’s as simple as that.

Not so simple is the slide by the closer Lidge. Apparently he is making up for lost time on the blown saves front after going a perfect 48-for-48 last season. This year the stats don’t look too great after he blew back-to-back saves last weekend and is 13-for-19 in save opportunities with a 7.27 ERA.

However, Lidge spoiled the Phillies last year because blown saves are inevitable. Just look at Mets’ closer Francisco Rodriguez, who set the Major League record with 62 saves last season. To get those 62, Rodriguez needed 69 chances. In fact, the so-called K-Rod has never blown fewer than four chances a season during his career and though he’s a perfect 15-for-15 this year, his save percentage is just 87 percent. That’s slightly better than Lidge’s career mark, though it is worth noting that K-Rod saved eight games last year in which he didn’t go a full inning.

Moreover, the last time Rodriguez went more than one inning to get a save was July 1, 2007.

Goose Gossage he is not.

Regardless, it should be a pretty interesting showdown in the fancy, new Citi Field (new Yankee Stadium it is not).

Matchups:

Tonight: LHP J.A. Happ (4-0, 2.48) vs. LHP Johan Santana (7-3, 2.00)

Tomorrow: LHP Cole Hamels (4-2, 4.40) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (4-2, 4.85)

Thursday: LHP Jamie Moyer (4-5, 6.27) vs. RHP Tim Redding (0-2, 6.97)

Working on the weekend

The popular sentiment during the weekend was that the Dodgers-Phillies matchup was a preview of this year’s NLCS… sure, sounds right to me.

Nevertheless, if the season were to end today (it doesn’t) the playoff matchups would have the Dodgers hosting the Mets and the Phillies in a rematch against the Brewers in the NLDS.

In the American League the matchups would pit the Yankees against the Tigers and the Red Sox vs. Rangers.

Why mention this? Well, 28 years ago tomorrow playoff spots actually were decided on June 10.  Yep, on this date in 1981, the players went on a two-month strike that did not end until July 31. As a result, the owners decided to split the 1981 season into two halves, with the first-place teams from each half in each division (or a wild card team if the same club won both halves) meeting in a best-of-five divisional playoff series.

It was a terribly flawed system because the Cincinnati Reds finished with the best record but didn’t make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals snuck in with a 50-53 record.

The Phillies also got in thanks to being in first place when the players walked out on June 10. Eventually, they lost in an entertaining five game NLDS series to the Montreal Expos even though the St. Louis Cardinals finished the season with the best record in the NL East.

Weird, wild stuff.