It's a sight that's become all too familiar for Phillies fans this season: Brad Lidge walking off the mound after a blown save.
Lidge recorded his seventh blown save of 2009 on Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley, but fortunately didn't record his fifth loss.
Ben Francisco made up for the righty closer's struggles by homering in the top of the 12th to put the Phillies ahead 4-3, a lead that Chad Durbin successfully saved in the bottom half of the inning.
Lidge's season thus far has been an extremely far cry from his output last season, which of course, everyone knows was perfect.
Coming into this year, Phillies fans almost instinctively knew the perfection wouldn't last forever, and it's safe to say no one expected him to be perfect again. But they certainly expected better numbers than they've seen.
I'm not going to sit here and quote statistics. If you've been watching all season you're aware that they're less than spectacular, and in some cases they're the worst in the league among relief pitchers.
What I will discuss is what I think might be wrong and what could potentially be done.
Let me start by saying that this is by no means a time for the Phillies to panic.
Despite a horrid stretch lately, they still hold a 3.5-game lead in the NL East Division over the Florida Marlins, and a 4.5-game advantage over the Atlanta Braves. The New York Mets, a preseason pick to contend for the division title, are a distant 11 games back in third place.
I do, however, think there is some reason for concern going into the final stretch of the season. As last season showed, an effective closer is a cornerstone to building a successful playoff run.
For whatever the reason Lidge just doesn't seem to have it this year. He was shaky at best before spending 15 days on the disabled list with a knee injury, and hasn't been much better since. You almost wonder if his knee ever truly healed.
Perhaps his struggles are related to a nagging injury. Perhaps it's something else: confidence.
Last season, Lidge's confidence couldn't have been higher. He had a swagger on the mound. He knew he could get you out. It was all a matter of how he was going to do it.
This season, Lidge has looked more like the pitcher who couldn't find the strike zone to save his life in 2006 and 2007, the two seasons that followed a 2005 National League Championship with the Houston Astros.
He's simply looked lost out there on the mound. Maybe it's the dreaded "World Series Hangover." Whatever it is, it's got to be taken care of if the Phillies want any chance at a repeat.
I admire Charlie Manuel for sticking with Lidge and continuing to have faith in him, because Charlie's an honest guy, and so is Lidge. You know that Lidge is giving everything he's got every time he takes the hill.
However, his best just isn't good enough this year, and I honestly don't know what he can do to change that. If he is indeed hurt, he probably can't do much. If not, he needs to find a way to dig deep and get that extra adrenaline rush that made him so devastating in the past.
Or maybe he just needs some motivation. Just take a second to imagine what might happen if Brett Myers came back healthy and on schedule and Manuel elected to give him a shot at the closer's role.
What do you think Lidge would do? Would he continue to struggle? Or would that push him to do that much better?
In either case, the odds are in favor of the Phillies that one of them would prove successful in the role, as they've both done it in the past.
Or maybe they could go in a completely different direction and go with a closer by committee approach. It's not the best option in my opinion, but if it's what ends up working for the team then I'm all for it.
Of course, this could just be my eccentric nature getting the best of me.
Maybe Manuel's faith in Lidge will finally be rewarded, and he'll go perfect for the remainder of the season and playoffs (if indeed they hold on to make them).
Maybe there's no cause for concern at all, but I'm still questioning whether or not Brad Lidge should remain in the closer's role.
What I do know for sure is that the Phillies need a competent closer; they need a confident closer; and they need for those two to be the same closer. Who fits the bill doesn't matter to me, as long as they can get the job done.
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