In 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies were an up-and-down team that hit occasional highs and lows before ultimately coming out of the World Series as Major League Baseball champions.
The team's offense had games where everything seemed to be a home run, games where runs were as plentiful as pollution in the Delaware, accumulating games where the squad scored 20 runs.
This was followed by games of 20 or batters left on base, an inconsistent showing of striking out in key situations. The offense floundered, and then found itself just in time.
The starting pitching was another concern. Cole Hamels was his usual dominant self, but Brett Myers struggled mightily, only succeeding after his demotion to the minors. Their surprise from the previous year, Kyle Kendrick, floundered after his sinker all but sunk out of existence. Jamie Moyer would give you six solid innings, but that was about it.
Adam Eaton, signed for more than $24 million the year before, did just as poorly as he ever did for the Phils. Probably the worst signing of Pat Gillick’s entire existence, Eaton continued to prove how terrible a pitcher he was, game by run soaked game. The Phils eventually sent the star-crossed, hot dog consuming, overweight hurler down to the minors for the remainder of the season.
The team would not gain stability in the starting rotation until they acquired Joe Blanton and called up J.A. Happ, both giving several solid performances.
What was never a question for Phillies was the team’s bullpen. The bullpen was surely and steadily the best the team had to offer and was, unarguably, the best part of the team that carried them into the postseason and eventually was responsible for the team winning the World Series. The team was 79-0 when it had the lead after eight innings.
That is why it is so essential that the team get another solid performance from their bullpen if the team hopes to compete for yet another World Series in 2009. The 'pen was responsible for the success of last year and has the key members intact to make another run at the crown.
The only way you might not know that Brad Lidge was a strength for this team last year was if you were encamped in the icy tundra of Antarctica doing science experiments on glacial heating.
The best closer in the majors last year, Lidge was a perfect 48-0 in save opportunities while generating a 1.95 ERA in 69.1 innings pitched. The dominance of the Phillies’ closer was true to the very end, when Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to end the World Series and anoint the Phillies as 2008 World Champions.
The aptly titled “Bridge to Lidge” gained confidence as the year went on, working on his change up to throw hitters off balance. What made his change up even more effective was the heat he gained on his fastball, which was clocked at 98 mph during the World Series.
The Phillies use Madson against right handed hitting and for situations that require long relief, or more than one inning. The Phillies need him to pitch the way he did late last season to have a chance to repeat.
Probably the team’s best one-out specialist, Romero could always be counted on if the squad needed a clutch out or a key stop. The fiery left-hander matched up against the best left handed hitters in the game and came away with a 2.75 ERA after 59.0 innings pitched.
During last season, however, Romero was caught using a substance that has been used to mask the use of certain drugs that players used to illegally build muscle. He was suspended 50 games in the offseason, as he refused to admit he was wrong.
This comes as a blow to the team, as now they only have the wily veteran Scott Eyre to match up in the bullpen against lefthanders. Romero should be in prime conditioning, however, after playing in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico. He should start playing again for the team in late May.
The pleasant surprise for the Phillies earlier in the season quickly turned as sour as milk left out in the sub-Saharan heat later on, as the Phillies' long reliever was apparently overworked. Look for Durbin to try and show that early in the year was not a fluke and to break away from such comparisons of the diary kind.
Chan Ho Park
The South Korean native had a decent year in relief with the L.A. Dodgers, but wanted to go to a place where he could have a shot to make the starting rotation. He’ll have that chance in Philadelphia, as competition abounds for the right to pitch in the fifth spot in the Phillies rotation.
If he doesn’t get that spot, look for Park to prove he can still pitch well and try to take it back later in the season. Also look for an excess of Park related promotions inside Citizens Bank “Park.”
Eyre was a nice addition to the bullpen after getting waived by the surprisingly docile Bear Cubs. The left-hander, a backup last year in J.C. Romero’s role, will now be thrust into the limelight to get key left handed hitters out while J.C. is suspended.
Truly in the back end of the bullpen, Condrey pitches when the cream of the crop needs rest. He did surprisingly well last year, achieving a nice 3.26 ERA over 69.0 innings pitched.
If the Phillies expect Condrey to contribute in any other role than he did last year, they might as well construct a pitcher entirely made out of clay, because opposing hitters would mold seamlessly to his fastball and fire out home runs like an explosion from a heated kiln.
The Phillies kept the overall core of the bullpen relatively intact and have positioned themselves nicely for another run as the Champions of baseball. Although faced with the loss of J.C. Romero for the beginning of the season, the bullpen has remained in relatively good shape.
They will need as great a performance as last year from this talented group of veterans if they are to repeat.