August 26, 2009

There's a darkness at the edge of town.

His 7.33 ERA is the highest amongst qualifying relief pitchers in baseball.

His nine blown saves in 2009 are tied for third most in Phillies history.

He's on pace to shatter the record for "most homers allowed by a closer" (11 in 46 2/3 innings so far).

He is Brad Lidge, and for him, 2009 has been a nightmare.

And yet, people still make excuses for him.

"Underworked," they'd say, when the Phillies wouldn't use him for three or four days. "Overworked," they'd say, when he gives up three runs while recording no outs on his fourth straight day of pitching. "Unlucky," they'd say, when a seeing-eye single turns into a steal of second base and, eventually, the game-tying run.

Granted, most people are furious, and they're through accepting the excuses of Lidge and Charlie Manuel. But there are still voices popping up defending Lidge, throwing out the arguments I've mentioned and more, saying that there's no one to take his spot, that his removal would start a domino effect that would cripple the entire bullpen.

My point is simple - what could possibly be worse?

Almost single-handedly, Brad Lidge is holding back the 2009 Phillies. Not only is he losing them games, he's doing so in back-breaking fashion, ruining exciting comebacks like last night's and presumably deflating his hard-working, never-say-die teammates.

Was Ryan Madson shaky as the closer earlier this year? Yes, but it's almost impossible that he'd be as bad as Lidge is now, considering that he's the worst in baseball. It's so frustrating to see Tyler Walker, a pitcher of considerably less stature, pitch two scoreless innings and Lidge not record a single out. And if it's killing the fans, one can only wonder how the rest of the organization feels.

Any talk about trading or DFAing Lidge is nuts - we saw what he can do last year, and the team needs to do whatever it can to work towards reanimating that Brad Lidge. My advice to the Phillies in that regard is simple - switch Lidge and Madson. This experiment will be two-fold: See if Madson can close, and see if Lidge can effectively pitch the eighth. If he can, maybe the problem is more in his head than his knee, and the Phillies can proceed accordingly to get that part of him straight.

If he can't setup Madson appropriately, then we have to assume it's something physical, or something that can't be fixed before October. He can then be shut down, as he's hurting the team more than helping, and the Phillies can start hoping Brett Myers will be able to pitch on consecutive days. This isn't an attractive solution, but neither is sitting on our hands and acting like things will get better. September starts in six days, and the Phillies won't make it out of the NLDS with issues like these.

Almost everyone associated with the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies is currently above reproach in Philadelphia, and that includes Charlie Manuel and Brad Lidge. No matter how mad we might get at their actions in 2009, it's hard to imagine that they won't be beloved for years, nay, decades, in the City of Brotherly Love. But if Charlie's stubbornness and Lidge's ineffectiveness are the main factors in costing the Phillies a World Series in 2009, the shine from 2008 will start to fade. Calling the 2008 team a fluke as a whole is a ridiculous statement, but by October, it might be fair to say that last year's performances from Uncle Charlie and Lights Out Lidge were of the "lightning in a bottle" variety.

August 20, 2009

And the big man joined the band.

To almost everyone, Cliff Lee was a consolation prize.

A Cy Young-winning consolation prize, yes, but he was no Roy Halladay, the pitcher coveted longingly by Ruben Amaro Jr. and the Philadelphia Phillies. Halladay was one of the top pitchers in the game, and Lee was just the ace of a crappy AL basement dweller.

And now, four starts later, we have confirmation. He's no Roy Halladay.

He's better.

4-0. Two complete games. 0.82 ERA. 34 strikeouts, six walks.

Those numbers are mind-boggling. Cliff Lee himself is mind-boggling. And he's ours for 2010 as well.

I don't think even Amaro and his staff could have predicted this. I knew the trade was a winner, even if Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp become front-of-the-rotation guys, but I didn't know that Lee would look even better in red pinstripes than his former Indians teammate CC Sabathia did in Brewers navy.

But right now, even though the Cardinals have apparently locked up a World Series berth with the acquisition of thousand-year-old John Smoltz, the Phillies are looking good. The NL East lead that seemed to be shrinking a week ago is back to 5.5 games, the home-run mashing beast in Ryan Howard has awoken, and Brett Myers has given Brad Lidge a bit more job security by getting punched in the face in a bar fight. All is right in the world, and it's all thanks to Clifton Phifer Lee.

August 14, 2009

Just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round.

Wow, these last few weeks have been busy, huh?

Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez, all the training camp injuries, Michael Vick...arguably the most interesting (non-playoff) few weeks in my life as a Philly sports fan.

And I wrote nothing about it.

Well, you try following up a full-time, writing-based job with 1,000 words on the hot news of the day/week. It's not always that easy.

But here's what you do to get your hottest Steve Cimino scoop - contact me. Send me an email. It's like a real-life, interactive blog!

I'll still post on here periodically, but if you honestly find yourself saying, "I wonder what Steve Cimino thinks about this!", well....

stephenvcimino@gmail.com

http://twitter.com/stevecimino

Instant access!

P.S. I love Cliff Lee, I'm intrigued with Pedro Martinez and Michael Vick...sure, why not.

August 6, 2009

The pursuit of happ-yness.

A few days ago, I made the case to a friend that J.A. Happ should move to the bullpen, opening a spot in the rotation for Pedro Martinez.

This wasn't a knock on Happ's pitching ability, nor did I see it as a permanent solution. But the Phillies built up a good deal of enthusiasm by signing Pedro, and even I was a little curious to see how much he's got left in the tank. Regardless, it seemed likely that he'd get his shot, one way or the other.

And Jamie Moyer isn't a reliever. Odds are, his soft-toss precision style would get knocked around worse than RJ Swindle's junk did during his midseason callup last year.

So the only solution seemed to be Happ. He's been lights-out all year, bullpen or otherwise, and he's young enough to be adaptable to both situations. Given the money owed to Moyer (in the middle of a two year, $13 million contract) and the curiosity over what Pedro could bring, it seemed to be the logical move.

But that was before Happ's second complete-game shutout of the year. They've come against the Toronto Blue Jays and the Colorado Rockies, hardly pushover offenses. Overall for the year, he's got a 2.74 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. The only five starters with lower ERAs are Chris Carpenter, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Dan Haren and Wandy Rodriguez. Lofty company.

Meanwhile, the inordinate amount of respect being shown to Pedro Martinez is starting to annoy me. This is a guy who has been subpar at best the last two years; it's not like we signed late-90's Pedro. Curiosity is one thing, but striking out 11 AA batters and winning a few Cy Youngs when I was in middle school shouldn't guarantee you a rotation spot on the defending world champions.

Would I rather see Pedro in there than Jamie? Probably, and this is coming from a guy with Jamie Moyer pennants and trading cards covering his desk at work. But with the Cardinals, Dodgers and even the Giants looking like strong contenders in the National League, it's "what have you done for me lately" time. And despite dominating the Marlins, Nationals and Diamondbacks, against everyone else Moyer looks like a guy whose time is just about up. Offering him a two-year deal, instead of arbitration, might be one of Amaro's worst moves so far.

I was in support of a Happ bullpen move because it seemed like the only rational solution to the Phillies' pitching logjam. It worked best on paper, but only because of outside factors like contracts, curiosity, commitments and the seemingly easygoing nature of a 26-year old rookie from Illinois.

Now? It's not possible. The kid made his statement, and he backed the Phillies into a corner that, frankly, I'm glad they're in. I'm not sure what they'll do with the aged Martinez and Moyer, but I know one thing. If the Phillies hold onto to win the NL East, J.A. Happ should start Game 4 of the NLDS. That, in my opinion, has become a foregone conclusion.