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Piecing Together a Playoff Bullpen

For a team with a very comfortable lead, its best rotation in years and a lineup featuring five all-stars, the Phillies are heading toward October with a good deal of uncertainty. The concern is pretty much entirely bound up in a bullpen that statistically hasn’t been awful, but has a volume of health and effectiveness question marks that would be a lot for a middling team in March, let alone a legitimate championship hopeful as the calendar turns to autumn.

With a dozen games left, trying to figure out the Phillies’ playoff bullpen right now is an exercise in "If/Then" statements: each verdict on a pitcher’s health impacts the next three guys in the pecking order.

Unless I'm missing something, there are 15 possible non-starting pitchers:

Righthanders: Clay Condrey, Chad Durbin, Kyle Kendrick, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Pedro Martinez, Brett Myers, Chan Ho Park, Tyler Walker

Lefthanders: Sergio Escalona, Scott Eyre, J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer, J.C. Romero, Jack Taschner

Of these 15, incredibly, the only more or less completely healthy guys are Durbin, Kendrick, Lidge, Madson, Walker, Escalona and Moyer. Happ (side strain) and Martinez (sore neck), currently the #4 and #5 starters, are both scheduled to pitch against the Brewers this weekend; if both are healthy, who starts and who relieves in October will be determined by other factors. Myers (lat strain), Park (hamstring), and Romero (forearm) all might or might not be back in action before the end of the regular season; if so, their performance in games which likely will have little other significance might be tantamount to auditions for the playoffs. Eyre, whose problem is a "loose body" in his left (pitching) elbow, is as healthy as he’ll get until offseason surgery; the question is whether he’ll be able to snap off sliders with enough bite to be effective against dangerous lefty hitters like Todd Helton, Brad Hawpe, Andre Ethier and Rick Ankiel.

Here’s what we know:

  • Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge will be on the playoff roster
  • Whichever of Martinez and Happ isn’t the #4 starter will be in the bullpen. If both Romero and Eyre are deemed unavailable, it’s likely that Happ will pitch in relief while Martinez starts… unless Martinez can’t go, and/or Charlie Manuel concludes that the struggles of the Rockies and Cardinals against lefties outweigh other considerations.
  • Walker probably has pitched himself onto the roster.
  • Moyer has a skill set and style that probably rules him out for a short relief role. But it’s entirely possible that Manuel, who reveres the 46 year-old junkballer, won’t will carry him on the playoff roster anyway. 
  • A combination of poor performance and poor health renders it extremely unlikely that either Durbin or Taschner will see the field in the postseason. 
Conclusion:  If everyone were completely healthy and sentimentality weren't a factor, this would be fairly easy: the playoff bullpen would be Lidge, Myers and Madson as the short relievers (putting aside for the moment which of those three should be doing what), Romero and Eyre as the situational lefties, Park as the multi-inning swingman, and Happ or Martinez as the long man. Of course, this is far from the case. It seems likely that one of Romero and Eyre won't be ready for the first round at least; in the absence of an obvious alternative, my guess is that Moyer will make the roster.  If one of Park or Myers can’t go, that might open the door for Condrey, who seems recovered from his oblique problem, or Kendrick, who has been effective since his last recall. If both the veteran lefties are out, there's a chance Escalona might get a shot, but Manuel seems leery of the rookie in big spots (and his poor performance in garbage time against the Marlins on Tuesday couldn't have helped). That almost certainly locks Happ into the situational-lefty role, and could lead to opportunity for Condrey or Kendrick.