"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."And if all things were equal, that would probably be the case. As well as Pedro's done in a Phillies uniform, Happ's given the team a year of exemplary pitching, not to mention what he contributed in the 2008 playoffs. For better or worse (for an example of worse, see Brad Lidge) Charlie sticks by his guys, and his recent Happ-related comments...
"He's not afraid to throw his secondary pitches. He's really improved a whole lot. He's still got a little ways to go yet, but he has really improved as the season goes along."...indicate that J.A. is, indeed, one of his guys.
But injuries have felled the Phils. J.C. Romero has barely been heard from all year, Scott Eyre is pitching through a loose body in his elbow, Chan Ho Park is still out and God only knows if Brett Myers will contribute in the postseason. Couple all that with the struggles of Brad Lidge and the jostling around of Ryan Madson, and the bullpen is by far the biggest question the Phillies must deal with going into October.
So it looks like their savior will have to be J.A. Happ. If Pedro looks good and healthy on Saturday, one of the team's main goals for the final week will probably be getting Happ a few innings out of the pen. It shouldn't be too much of an adjustment for a guy who has been moved there and back already, but this time around, he might have to do something he hasn't before.
"Yeah, probably."That's Charlie Manuel, after being asked if he could see Happ as a ninth-inning guy.
I don't think J.A. is the best man for the job, but right now, he might be the only man for the job. Lidge is either injured, tipping his pitches, a mental mess or all three. And whether Madson can close or not is becoming inconsequential -- he's needed in the eighth.
I don't think anyone really knows what the Phillies will do with their bullpen when the playoffs roll around. Injuries and blown save after blown save are fueling speculation; in all honesty, I'd be surprised if Happ gets a serious look as the closer. But the one thing we can all agree on is that the pen has become paper-thin at the worst possible time, and it needs an injection of new life to last until the World Series and beyond.
And the only ace Manuel and company have up their sleeve is J.A. Happ.