Fall is in the air, the days are getting shorter, and the Halloween decor is coming out. But the city’s focus is on other things right now- the baseball team. There’s a buzz on the streets of Philadelphia, as the Phillies are set to begin their third straight October tomorrow against the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park.
When the Phillies get set to take on the Rox tomorrow, we want you all filled in on where the team stands. So, we rounded up some of the best Phillies bloggers in the area for a round table discussion. Our panel contains some of the most respected writers in the business. They are:Amanda Orr Blogger, Swing and a Long Drive
Amanda Orr considers herself an avid Phillies fan. She covers the Phillies not only for her own blog, Swing and a Long Drive, but also for the extremely popular PhilliesNation.com. Her work can be read here.GM-Carson Blogger, We Should Be GMs
The guy known by Phillies fans a “GM-Carson” runs one of the most popular blogs on the web. We Should Be GMs looks at the Phillies in a slightly different way. Carson, who admits to being obsessed with the Phillies, is one of the smartest Phillies analysts out there. You can read his work here.Tug Haines Blogger, The Fightins.com
Tug Haines is fairly new to the covering the Philly sports scene. After years as a die-hard Phillies fan, Chris Jones discovered Tug’s tremendous wit and terrific writing style. Tug began as a part-timer at the now dormant Long Drive in April. Since then he has become a regular contributor to the widely popular TheFightins.com. His work can be read here.Kevin McGuire Blogger, Macho Row
Kevin McGuire has been covering the Phillies for over a year. After spending time covering the team as a columnist for BleacherReport.com, he opened his own shop, Macho Row in 2009. In addition to covering the Phillies, he is a Penn State football columnist for Examiner.com. His work can be read here.
So let’s get right to it. Here is your 2009 round table:
Without J.C. Romero, and likely without Chan Ho Park, where does the Phillies depleted bullpen stand? Is it good enough to make it through the playoffs?
AMANDA ORR: I’m very concerned about the bullpen. The reason that the Phillies won the World Series last year was because of their bullpen. Not only did most of the guys have career years last season, but they were all healthy. It is very different this year. They have been depleated with injuries all year. The pen lacks a situational lefty right now, other than Scott Eyre. J.A Happ could pitch an inning from the pen and still make his scheduled start. The closer situation is still a question mark. Teams have won with a “closer by comittee” but we all know about Brad Lidge’s struggles, and even Ryan Madson’s at times. The bullpen is the biggest issue right now.
GM-CARSON: Honestly, I don’t think so. If the game is close and late I have zero confidence in Brad Lidge or Ryan Madson’s ability to lock down the save/win. Without Romero and Park others have to step up into the set-up role (Walker, Durbin, Condrey, Eyre) and I’m not sure they’re ready for the pressure of those situations. Also, the overall mental and physical health of the bullpen is at a season-low, so expecting good things from this group is foolish in my opinion. I’m hoping to be proven wrong, but I’m not holding my breath…
TUG HAINES: I’m not too concerned about the lack of J.C. Romero. In the 2 1/3 innings he has pitched for the team this season, he has thrown about 271 pitches, all of them balls. I am concerned about the lack of Chan Ho Park, big time. I dreaded his starts in the beginning of the season, but as a reliever, he was the only one on the staff that didn’t give me agita when he pitched. His ability to go multiple innings was a major help, too. These guys haven’t really been able to settle into specific roles this season, with all the shuffling around due to injuries and the whole closer fiasco. So asking me where this bullpen stands isn’t fair, because I’m not sure these guys know where they stand. Not like they did last year, anyway. Everyone knew who was pitching the 8th and 9th. Throw in a quality start and you got maybe 1 inning, maybe less, to worry about. But that dream is over. The reality is, these men are all going to have to dig deep into personal reserves to make it through the playoffs again. And of course they can do it. I know they are good enough, and tough enough.
KEVIN McGUIRE: The bullpen is a big question mark for me. I am not sold on Ryan Madson as a closer and who knows how Brad Lidge will throw when called upon. The Phillies are in a less than desirable situation in which guys like Kyle Kendrick, Antonio Bastardo and Sergio Escalona are going to be on the playoff roster. Really? I am not confident enough in having so many unproven pitchers in the bullpen on the playoff roster. Can they surprise me? Sure, I hope they do. But looking at them on paper there is no way I could say that this bullpen is good enough for the Phillies to win it all.
Obviously, you have two options at fourth starter- Pedro Martinez and J.A. Happ. Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel has yet to name his fourth starter, despite naming his first two starters and his entire roster. Who would you go with in that spot?
AMANDA ORR: J.A Happ. Pedro has a nagging neck injury, and I wonder if it’s more than his neck. During an interview on CSN, Martinez said something about his rib, which was a little suspicious. And frankly, Happ deserves it. He is a top candidate for the Rookie of the Year Award. He’s had an excellent year. I’d rather get 7+ innings from Happ than a couple out of the bullpen. Also, getting Pedro through six innings is kind of iffy.
GM-CARSON: I like Happ starting more, but based on bullpen needs and Happ’s ability to pitch in relief I choose Pedro for the rotation. Pedro has had bad 1st innings- 9 ip, 14 h, 6 r, 3 hr, .350/1.095 average/OPS against, so relieving doesn’t make much sense, as it seems it takes him an inning to get loose and become effective. Happ on the otherhand has proven to pitch well no matter the role, so needing someone to possibly eat innings or be a 2nd lefty in the pen lands him there.
TUG HAINES: I’m inclined to say start Pedro fourth because I’ve really taken a shine to the “Old Goat” since he joined the Fightins. He also has more playoff experience, which goes a long way. But he’s got little-nagging-old-man-type injuries, and his knack for giving out freebies in the 1st inning shouldn’t fly in the postseason, for me anyway. And JA “Stop calling me Jay-A” Happ is a young stud who has proven he can shut down opponents. Which is crucial to this inconsistent-of-late offense.
KEVIN McGUIRE: It is a very good debate as to what the Phillies should do with a fourth starter (assuming Joe Blanton is the third). In the first round of the playoffs against the Rockies I think the best option would actually be to throw JA Happ over Pedro Martinez, based solely on his success against Colorado this season as well as the struggles of the Rockies vs. lefties. I would actually thorw Happ in a game three, just against the Rockies. Should the Phillies be fortunate enough to play in the NLCS and maybe the World Series, then Pedro Martinez would get my vote for fourth starter.
Charlie made a popular move to bring in Brad Lidge to pitch the final out of the division clincher. Was this just a fitting gesture of respect or a sign of things to come in the playoffs?
AMANDA ORR: Definitely a sign of respect. As far as seeing it happen in the postseason, I doubt it. The Phillies had a big enough lead to do it. If it were a one-run lead in game 7 of the World Series, I think he’ll go with the best matchup.
GM-CARSON: Both. At first I was confused when he came out and yanked Eyre with two outs in the ninth with a large lead. Then when I saw Lidge I understood. I wouldn’t have made that move, but I respect Charlie for doing it and thought it was very classy. Based on Manuel’s comments recently and the fact that Madson is better served as an eighth inning guy, I foresee Lidge coming in for a save opportunity in the playoffs.
TUG HAINES: Both. Definitely a fitting gesture of respect, that’s obvious. But Lidge is probably going to get the ball in situations involving leads of three-plus runs. Good decision? Maybe. Remember, Uncle Cholly has a way of making people think he’s out of his mind until his players make him look like a genius.
KEVIN McGUIRE: Both. Manuel will tell you he was just trying to make the best moves to win that game, but they were up seven runs with one out to go so we know that is not true. I think it was more of a confidence booster, letting Lidge know that despite the struggles he has gone through this season, Manuel still has faith in him and the fans really do have his back. Having said that, I would be just fine not seeing Lidge in the ninth inning wheneer possible. He has been too oopsie-daisey this season for my liking.
Cliff Lee started out 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA in his first five starts with the Phillies. However, in seven starts since that time he has gone 2-4 with a 6.19 ERA. He’s thrown a career high 231.2 innings this season. Has he simply hit a wall or will he return to his dominant stuff through the playoffs?
AMANDA ORR: It’s hard to say. He has never pitched this many innings before, and has never pitched in the postseason. I expect him to return to form. I think it’s just a slump.
GM-CARSON: His location is poor and breaking pitches haven’t been crisp. I don’t think he’ll dominate, but I also don’t think he’ll stink. Think 6-7 innings, 3-4 runs.
TUG HAINES: The guy’s Kool-Aid. Any wall he hits is going get smashed. Let Cole pitch Game 1, move Lee to Game 3, give him that extra rest and watch him burn these Rockies out. Besides, Hamels might get the sniffles in that cold mountain air and have to stop pitching after the 2nd to go eat some soup. Clifton will just use that snot to add some extra what-have-you to his breaking pitches and make Colorado look even more ridiculous than they already do (Purple? Really?).
KEVIN McGUIRE: I don’t think he will pitch as well as he did in his 5-0 start with the team, but I also don’t think Cliff Lee is going to get rocked the way he has against the Braves. As long as Lee can pitch seven solid innings I would think that should be good enough to give the Phillies a chance to win, and that’s all I really ask of my starters.
But hey, if he wants to throw complete game gems this month, that’s fine by me as well.
What do you do at closer in the playoffs? Do you tell Ryan Madson he’s your guy, do you go with closer by committee, or do you think abstractly and make someone like J.A. Happ or Pedro Martinez your closer?
AMANDA ORR: Closer by committee, with Ryan Madson the main go-to guy.
GM-CARSON: If Happ is in the bullpen, I hand him the ball in the 9th. I know he’s never done it before, but seriously, he couldn’t do worse than Lidge has this season. Lidge had one of the worst seasons for closers in the history of the game, so it’s doubtful he’s able to flip that magic switch come postseason.
TUG HAINES: I don’t understand what’s so hard about letting the situation dictate who pitches the 9th. A couple of guys have been rattling their SABR’s since June about Madson being the best reliever on the team. But Madson makes me nervous when he closes, and it’s my world, in case you haven’t figured that out yet. I say lean on Madson, but if you have to let three pitchers pitch to three batters, do it. This is April, we aren’t looking to save our strength for the rest of the marathon. It’s October, and get it done. I don’t care who’s feelings get hurt, as long as they aren’t mine.
KEVIN McGUIRE: I usually say you should do whatever move is the best option to win, unfortunately I think it is past the time where you experiment with Happ or Martinez in the critical role of closer. As I said before, I am not sold on Madson as a closer so I am in favor of a closer by committee at this point in time. That means starting the inning with Madson or Lidge and having the other guy warming up, ready to come in. If you can get your starters to go seven innings that should help because then you might be able to save lefty specialist Scott Eyre for certain batters.
If game one goes to a save situation entering the ninth inning though, I trot out Brad Lidge and take my chances. See what happens and go from there.
What’s your biggest concern headed into the NLDS?
AMANDA ORR: The bullpen.
GM-CARSON: Pitching and Chase Utley. Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Joe Blanton along with the dilapidated bullpen have been ineffective lately. Chutley just looks spent.
TUG HAINES: Offense. These guys don’t look loose to me. Right now, they’re like the legendary little girl with the little curl in the middle of her forehead. When they’re good, they’re very very good. But when they’re bad, well… google it.
KEVIN McGUIRE: As much of a microscope we can all put on the bullpen, the truth is the starting pitching has been just as medicore heading down the stretch. If the starters continue this recent trend of giving up early runs it will not matter who comes out of the bullpen because the Phillies will be playing catch-up all game long. I don’t think a baseball team or player can just flip a switch once the post season start. It takes a nice play or a lucky play to really do that. If Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee goes out and strikes out two batters in a 1-2-3 inning then maybe that can do it. The starting pitching can not get behind early because if they do the fans will get out of the game, the offense will start swinging at pitches that shouldn’t. Starting pitching should be the biggest concern.
Where do you see this team finishing? Do they repeat as world champs or make an unexpected early exit?
AMANDA ORR: In the last round table discussion I said “hoping for a repeat” so I’ll go with that!
GM-CARSON: Eliminated in first round against the Rox in four games.
TUG HAINES: WFC, baby.
KEVIN McGUIRE: At the beginning of the season I predicted the Yankees would beat the Phillies in the World Series. At this point I don’t see any reason to go against that right now. But reaching the World Series will not be easy for either team.I can see the Phillies losing in any round, to the Rockies, Dodgers, or Cardinals before the World Series.