The Phillies should be going for a sweep of the four-game series against the Dodgers tonight, with The Glorious Bastardo going to the hill. The Phils' starting pitching has been incredible in Los Angeles, with Cole Hamels (complete game shutout), Jamie Moyer (seven innings, four hits/zero walks, two runs), and Joe Blanton (six innings, five hits/one walk, one run) each turning in fine performances. The Phils' bats, facing tough Dodger pitching, in the pitcher-friendly 90090 zip code, missed many scoring opportunities (11 LOB Friday, 7 LOB Saturday). But the offense did enough to win, particularly with the starting, and setup relief, pitching performing more than ably. Unfortunately, after closer Brad Lidge blew save opportunities on both Friday and Saturday, the Phillies will need a win on Sunday, in order to split the series.
Brad Lidge needs to be removed as the team's closer. The Phillies cannot continue to give away winnable games. Ryan Madson needs to be finishing off victories, and Brad Lidge needs to be putting his game back together in middle relief, or on the Disabled List. That's what I believed two weeks ago. Four blown saves later, I'm not so sure.
In the results-driven game of baseball, the closer role is, arguably, the highest profile position. The closer gets undue credit, or undue blame, for the final results of the game. The closer has little control over the performances of his teammates, and even less control over luck. While earlier in the season Lidge's outings seemed plagued by poor pitches, his more recent blown saves seem to be affected by poor luck. Lidge's lack of good fortune this season is displayed by his .365 BABIP (.317 BABIP in 2008, .325 for career), and was best exemplified by his two blown saves at the new Yankee Stadium. On May 23rd, Lidge was victimized by a home run off the bat of Alex Rodriguez, that would have been a fly out in most ballparks. On May 24th, Lidge saw two poor-hit ground balls sneak through the infield for base hits.
Friday night in Los Angeles, Lidge was one out away from picking up his sixth consecutive save. But an error by 3B Pedro Feliz, who is typically a superb fielder, led to two unearned runs, and a loss. Lidge induced what should have been the game-ending out, and really can't be blamed that for Feliz' failure to make the play. On Saturday, Lidge was two outs away from the save, when Rafael Furcal golfed a low slider into the stands. It wasn't a bad pitch, but the results were rather bad. (Of course, if outfielder Jayson Werth had made an incredible homer-saving catch, which he nearly did, Lidge may have converted the save opportunity.) Lidge had plenty of good fortune in 2008, when he didn't have a single blown save, but things seem to be evening out in 2009. Phillies' Manager Charlie Manuel appears inclined to keep Lidge in the closer's role, and I am inclined to agree with his decision, at least for the time being. Hopefully, Lidge's fortune will be good when it counts the most, in the postseason. Though, if it doesn't improve soon, it might be difficult for the Phils to qualify for the playoffs.
The struggles of Brad Lidge have extended many games this season, and increased the workload of the other Phillies' relievers. The current starting rotation for the Phils includes two inexperienced youngsters (J.A. Happ and Antonio Bastardo) and two veterans who have had difficulties going deep into ballgames (Joe Blanton and Jamie Moyer). These factors have all placed additional pressure on the left arm of ace Cole Hamels. In the Phils' win on Thursday night, the only game they have won in this series, Hamels went the distance. In one of the best-pitched games in MLB this season, Hamels threw a complete-game four-hit shutout. Hamels kept his pitches down in the strike zone (70.1 strike percentage), his pitch count down (97 pitches), and the batted balls on the ground (13 of 27 outs via ground balls). The ace faced twenty-nine batters, only two above the minimum. Hamels struck out five, walked none, and only one Dodger made it into scoring position. On Friday, Hamels set an example for young left-hander Antonio Bastardo to follow on Sunday night. If the rookie can mix up his effective pitches, as Hamels did, the Phils could salvage a series split. With the game televised on ESPN, the world awaits the second MLB start of The Glorious Bastardo.