For Phillies' fans, it’s that time of year again. A fourth straight division title is all but clinched following 11 straight wins. Giving the Phillies the momentum of a team that is the odds-on favorite to make its third consecutive appearance in the World Series.
It’s been a season of highs and lows for Charlie Manuel’s bunch. For a great majority of the season, it seemed the Phillies couldn’t buy a run. Every offensive player but Jayson Werth spent time on the DL. And the Braves seemed to be in good position to capture the NL East.
Highlights of the year include the acquisition of the two most talented pitchers ever named Roy, another great September comeback, and a bullpen that rivals that of any in the National League.
The outstanding H2O combination of Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt has combined to be one of the best 1-2-3 pitching staffs in the history of major-league baseball.
Hamels is a proven veteran who put the Phillies on his back in winning both the ’08 NLCS and World Series MVP awards. Oswalt has an unblemished 4-0 record in seven career postseason starts.
And Halladay? Well, the man has never had the privilege of pitching in October baseball but there’s no denying he’s a gamer. He wants to go all nine innings every time he sets foot onto the mound. It speaks volumes about Halladay that fully one-third of his career shutouts were pitched in the pivotal month of September. His lifetime ERA in the month (2.53) is nearly a full run lower than his ERA in other months (3.49).
Lights Out Lidge may never recapture the magic of a miraculous 2008 season in which he converted all 41 save opportunities. Plus seven more in the postseason. Lidge has quietly regained his abilities to be a quality closer for a team destined to make a deep playoff push.
Perhaps the most underrated contributor of a championship-caliber baseball team has been The Bridge to Lidge, Ryan Madson. A true setup man in the days when most great relievers are converted to closers. Madson isn’t flashy but he has consistently turned himself into one of the game’s best relief pitchers.
With a 2.24 ERA for the season, Madson has put together a fourth consecutive quality season pitching primarily in the seventh or eighth inning. His 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings is a career best. As is his 5.08 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Madson struggled to find his form in the beginning of the season and missed two months to an injury. Since July 22, Madson has pitched 36 innings, posting an 0.75 ERA during that span. He hasn’t given up a home run and opponents are slugging just an anemic .190 against him. He's held the opposition scoreless in 17 consecutive appearances and 31 of his last 32. What more could a team want from a setup man?
It seemed hopeless for Madson several years ago when a failed stint as a starter left him with an ERA in the mid-5.00s. He’s improved his velocity, topping out in the upper 90s with his fastball while perfecting an unhittable changeup.
Middle relief in baseball is like kicking in football. You never know what you’re going to get. When you have a great setup man, he’s normally converted to closer, a la Francisco Rodriguez or Mariano Rivera. A setup man that stays in the role is rare and valuable to a baseball team. There aren’t too many guys who put together as many good seasons as Madson has done for the ’07-’10 Phillies.
With the postseason looming close by, pitching will likely make or break the Phillies’ season. And with the way the pitchers have done this year, expect make more than break.