Consistency has been the main topic on Phillies manager Charlie Manuel's mind lately as he sits and watches his team struggling atop the NL East. After dancing around reporters' questions for months, Charlie was finally willing to answer for his closer this week.
After a perfect season en route to a World Series title last year, Brad Lidge has been inconsistent, to say the least, this season, blowing a league worst eleven saves. And after another blown save last Wednesday, it appears that Brad Lidge's days are unceremoniously over as Phillies' closer.
Without Lidge, Manuel and company are left with one obvious question: Who is the closer in the playoffs?
General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. spoke on the situation this week saying, "Our best club is to have Lidge pitch the ninth. Right now, he hasn't been doing it effectively, and we'll have to make an adjustment off that. ... No decision has been made officially. Charlie is going to bring people in to pitch in the seventh, eighth and ninth inning that he feels will be most effective. That doesn't necessarily mean that Lidge isn't one of those guys. He still could be one of those guys. It could be (Ryan) Madson. It could be Lidge. It could be a host of guys. Obviously it will be different if we get some of the other guys back."
Let's examine what Amaro said and throw a few different options out there:
You can go with a closer by committee setup, using whoever matches up best with the opponent's lineup. This could work and seems to be what Manuel has elected to go with so far. It allows you to test a variety of people like Chan Ho Park, Tyler Walker, and J.C. Romero in the position to see how they deal with the intensified situations. The drawback is that no one knows when they'll be used, so they can't prepare as well as if they know their situation.
You could also name your most consistent relief pitcher Ryan Madson closer. Madson, however, has struggled in the ninth this season. He is also a huge asset to the bullpen as a setup man. He has been among baseball's best there, and moving him from that spot could turn for the worse.
Some talk has been made about putting Pedro Martinez in the closers roll. This however seems to be a recipe for disaster, as Pedro hasn't spent much time in a bullpen roll and has lost much of his velocity. He is also getting up there in age so pitching on back-to-back nights could prove problematic.
What seems to be one of the best options would be using J.A. Happ in the closers roll. Happ will likely end up in the bullpen anyway, after a rocky route to a win on Tuesday. You won't take five starting pitchers into the playoffs, and provided Pedro Martinez is healthy, he'll probably be the forth pitcher in your rotation.
If Happ is in the pen, using him as closer would free up the rest of the relievers to do what they do best.
Happ has recent bullpen experience too, he started just this season out there. If he could muster up the stomach to deal with the ninth he could save the day, as this Phillies team stumbles into the first round of the playoffs.
Closer certainty is crucial to winning another World Series, and Happ is the best person to provide just that.
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