Here's where you start to understand the MLB season is long, really long.......We're some 35+ ish games in, and I still have to say we have a "small sample size." 35 games is like two NFL seasons, it's pretty much up to the NBA trading deadline. Here, it's like 1/4th of a season. But yet, evidence of a reliever controversy does look like it's brewing.
With the injury to Brad Lidge(A strained rotator cuff), we turned to journeyman Jose Contreras, whose delivered nothing but spectacular results:
8 Games, 8 innings. And about half the hits(4), guys simply weren't connecting to the tune of nine strikeouts and a ERA of 0.00. The most impressive stat? Five Saves-0 blown ones. Eight games is a real small sample size, but judging by his performance with the iron pigs, it looks like he's coming back with the same zip on his pitches. It's projected he'll be the set-up guy to the other "OMFG, where'd he come from" pitcher: Ryan Madson.
There's a story with Madson, with his sometimes 100 MPH clocked fastball, we tried to make him a starter. Failed epically, we also tried once making him a closer. Also quite unsuccessfully, that same 100 MPH fastball didn't have the control or velocity, people could actually hit it despite the fact few human trained eyes could actually see a ball that fast.
Finally, we found a home for Madson as the set-up man(8th inning), it seemed like the perfect non-pressure situation to take advantage of his talents while not bringing out his weaknesses. The Madson-Lidge combo led us to a title in '08(as well as a plethora of other great relievers) and in '10, this same combo led us to the best record in all of baseball.
So when Contreras went down, forcing Madson into the closer role, I'll assume that most here in The Good Phight moaned and groaned, for very good reason. But then, we saw quite a different Ryan Madson than the Madson of the past.
Nine saves, 23 strikeouts and while it's no 0.00, 0.47 is nothing to sneeze at either. Between the both of them, they've saved 14 games while virtually blanketing the opponent. 14 games is a small sample size, but it appears with Brad Lidge on the shelf, they'll get more opportunities and perhaps more to buff on their resume this season.
But of course, in sports and in life, it's a "what have you done for me lately"? and what Madson/Contreras has done thus far in a small sample size, has to have everyone from the fans to management extremely excited.
But what happens when Brad Lidge returns? Will Manuel just force Lidge into the closers role, leaving Madson/Contreras to be virtually forgotten? Or what if, the non-conventionalist that he is, shocks us all by sticking with one of Madson/Contreras in the closer role? Then, of course the question will be "Just how effective will Lidge be?"
This question of course, is coming off the disasterous '09 campaign, where Lidge blew 10 games and had an ERA over 7. Since that campaign, arguably one of the worst for a closer, the Philly faithful have lost their faith in Lidge. Even while Lidge was having very silently a very strong '10 campaign, at best there was skepticism and at worst, we were waiting for another implosion. After all, he did blow five saves(Out of the 42 opportunities....)
My argument would be, look over the scale of Lidge's career to truly see what his value is as a closer.
If we look over the course of Lidge's career, his '10 numbers are more consistent with the majority of his work in Houston than his '09 numbers.
Just as 48-48(INCL. Postseason) was a fluke and would probably not happen again(in general, not just for Lidge) so was the '09 season a fluke, and not within the norms. In other words, the guy hit his highest high and lowest low consectuively. Guess who also had a similar stretch? Cole Hamels, but I'd like to think most have regained their trust in the Californian Ace
So what do I think? I think Lidge would come in and be a very effective reliever for our bullpen. Will he be that same pitcher he was in '08? Well considering '08 was historic in many perspectives it'd be unfair to expect it again. And is he as healthy as say a Contreras or a Madson? Probably not.
But as I wrote this article and thought about it, we won '08 due to a great bullpen. Not only Lidge-Madson. But if you remember, J.C. Romero was very effective that year. And while we hate to bring up Chad Durbin's name(but that IMO was more Manuel's fault than Durbin's, Manuel was slow reacting to the situation on the field. It was clear Durbin didn't have his best stuff in game 5), he was also effective in that '08 season.
Could Contreras-Madson-Lidge be our '08? Very surprisingly, the bullpen looks much stronger now than say it did at the end of last season. Of course, I must put the disclaimer "Small sample size" and of course that's projecting that Lidge doesn't have any nagging problems from his injury and can contribute to the bullpen at a very high level.
One advantage that we have now that we didn't have in '08, is our starting pitching. These guys can carry us deep into games and if Lidge can compliment these two guys(and if they can continue to pitch the way they've pitched), it's safe to say we'll be putting a lot of zeroes on the board and in fact we have.
So I guess the real question is, will our bats wake up so we can complete this potential three-headed monster trio of: Good offense, great starting pitching and a killer bullpen? Last time it happened, we were dancing down Broad Street.