Much like the surprising Tampa Bay Rays, the Phillies’ success this year can largely be attributed to a bullpen that has far surpassed expectations. Going into the season, there were many questions marks surrounding the bullpen: Can Tom Gordon actually stay healthy for an entire season? Does the bullpen have enough depth to withstand short outings from a suspect starting rotation? Can Brad Lidge return to his ’04-’05 form?
To put it simply: No, kind of, and God yes.
Tom Gordon was hurt in Spring Training and was ineffective for the brief amount of time he spent with the team. He’ll be gone from the team next year. Moving on.
The Phillies received key contributions from several different pitchers in their bullpen this year. They got solid work from marginal pitchers like Clay Condrey, Scott Eyre, and Rudy Saenez. The back end of their bullpen was one of the best in the National League, ensuring that if the Phillies had the lead in the 7th inning, the game was essentially over. Odds are, however, that if the Phils hope to be more successful this postseason than last, they will need strong runs from their four most important bullpen pitchers.
Ryan Madson is an interesting pitcher. Over the season he compiled a record of 4-2 with an ERA of 3.00 (fourth on the team, ahead of ace Cole Hamels). He appeared in 72 games, often in some tight situations. What makes Madson intriguing is his unpredictability. You never know what you’re going to get out of him, even batter to batter. As a Phillies fan, it’s maddening to watch him pitch because he could look like Cy Young for the first two hitters, but before you know it, he's given up three straight doubles and he's out of the game. He can be night and day at times, and that type of pitching will not bode well in the pressure filled situations each playoff at-bat brings.
Chad Durbin has been an absolute revelation this season, finding a niche as a late inning righty to replace Tom Gordon. He can work the entire 8th inning if given a chance, or can be brought to face one or two righties specifically. He’s been a great surprise this year due to his versatility, especially considering that the Phillies expected him to be a middle-relief, Clay Condrey-style innings eater. His 5-4 record and 2.91 ERA are great numbers, although they have taken a hit as the season has gone on. It was debated as to whether he was overworked this year, but Charlie Manuel ride him as long as he is effective. He will give up a lot of hits (81 in 86.2 innings) but does not hurt himself with walks and is often able to work himself out of jams. With some rest, he should be back to the 8th inning, where he was most effective during the season.
JC Romero proved he was worth the 3-year extension the Phillies rewarded him with in the offseason by putting together another solid and consistent season. As it stands, he is 4-4 with an ERA of 2.76. When he is dialed in, he is absolutely unhittable, allowing only 41 hits in 80 appearances this year. He does have a penchant to allow a lot of walks, however, giving up 38 free passes and 5 HBP. He is incredibly tough on lefties and is nearly automatic in the 7th inning. He does better when he starts an inning than if brought into a jam, but he is a reliable piece in this very effective bullpen.
Brad Lidge has been literally perfect this season. He is 40/40 in save situations, leads the team in ERA (1.87), and given up 2 home runs all year (with half the games taking place in Citizens Bank Park, no less). He is the automatic, lights out closer any World Series contender needs and has consistently proven that he is not the same pitcher who struggled through the last handful of seasons in Houston. He is certainly the best closer in the National League, and a case could be made that he is the best in the majors. He is the anchor of the bullpen and a leader of the team that will finish the year 6th in the majors in ERA.