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Blown Away: Why Does Brad Lidge Continue to Struggle?

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Blown Away: Why Does Brad Lidge Continue to Struggle?
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The Phillies are currently 5-2 on their 10-game road trip, and are hoping to continue their success away from Citizens Bank Park in New York on Tuesday night.  Let’s be honest though, this team should be 7-0 going into Citi Field.  And Phils fans, we all know why…

Brad Lidge’s consecutive blown saves against the Los Angeles Dodgers last Friday and Saturday brings his total of the year to six, tops in the Major League.   His ERA is an abysmal 7.27.  He has allowed runs in 13 of his 28 appearances this season, including a streak of 6 consecutive appearances between May 5 and May 15 where opponents have crossed the plate on his watch. 

And throughout this debacle, fans like myself are scratching our heads, and wondering what the %#&@ happened to our once flawless closer.

Lidge recently did miss some time earlier this season with soreness in his knee.   His struggles on the mound could be due to that knee, but Lidge and the Phils’ coaching staff both deny that this is the reason for Lidge’s issues.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee claim that Lidge’s performance is probably more mental than physical.  And even though I think that Brad Lidge’s recent knee injury probably tweaked the mechanics of his pitching, Manuel and Dubee’s assessment is most likely more accurate.

Let’s not forget that this isn’t the first time Lidge’s performance suddenly dropped in his career.  As Houston’s closer in 2005, he was one of baseball’s premier and respected closers in the game. 

Then he met Albert Pujols in the NLCS. 

Pujols’ late game, go-ahead bomb against Lidge in the 2005 NLCS seemed to rattle the once steady Lidge.  Rattled him so much that Scott Podsednik, a man who would struggle to carry a ball out of a little league field, jacked a walk-off against him in the 2005 World Series, helping to lead the White Sox to a sweep of the Astros.

After that postseason, Lidge blew 14 saves in 51 opportunities in his last two seasons with the Astros, after only blowing eight saves in his previous 71 save opportunities.

Regardless of the reason of Lidge’s recent flaws, the Phillies need to address it now.  Six blown saves in 19 attempts should raise more than just an eyebrow around the Phillies coaching staff.  Most closers who would put up those stats wouldn’t be allowed within 100 feet of a baseball.

Yet, Lidge continues to get the ball in close game situations, and continues to disappoint his team and the fans.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Brad Lidge.  I would argue that not only was he the best closer in the league last year (sorry K-Rod, you did blow seven saves for the Angels), but I would go as far to say that the Phillies would not be reigning World Champions if it wasn’t for Lidge’s contributions.

Remember, Lidge saved seven of the 11 wins the Phillies had in the 2008 postseason.  So even though I will never, ever, forget how amazing Brad Lidge was in 2008, we are in a new season, and if Lidge cannot contribute this season, he should not be given the ball.  It’s that plain and simple.

How can the Phillies help Brad Lidge get back to his perfect self?  Let’s go back to last season again.  A wild and ineffective Brett Myers was sent to the minors in July after going more than a month without winning a decision.

After a few weeks of working on his mechanics and confidence, he returned to the Phillies, and posted a 7-2 record with a 1.80 ERA from the end of July through September 1.  I think some time in Allentown or Reading could benefit Lidge greatly. 

Get the Phillies coaching staff to spend more time with Lidge, have him work on his mechanics, help him get his fastball back under control and down in the zone, and most importantly, help Brad Lidge regain his confidence.   The Phillies bullpen will survive his absence for the time being. 

Ryan Madson is still pitching very well out of the pen, especially in close and late game situations.  And come on, let’s be honest, the way Lidge is pitching now, how can the Phillies win consistently with him available in the bullpen?

Considering that four of his six blown saves have been against teams who are currently in first place in their respective divisions, Lidge’s performance cannot continue if the Phillies want to repeat last year’s success.   But, if Brad can get his groove back, the sky’s the limit for the 2009 Phillies.  Let’s hope he finds it… and quick.

 

UPDATE: 3:20PM 6/9/2009 — The Phillies announced that Brad Lidge has been placed on the 15-day DL due to a sprained right knee.  Catcher Paul Bako has been called up from Double-A Reading.  

A two-week vacation should do Lidge well, for his knee and his head...

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