Fast-forward roughly two months from now, Phillies fans. And by roughly, Phillies fans hope that the ride to Major League Baseball’s checkered flag—a World Series title—is not a rough one.
It is an anything-but-balmy October evening at Citizens Bank Park. Roy Halladay exits, reluctantly, after his typically strong eight innings of work with the Phillies leading 3-2. Yes, just to be a little dramatic here, it’s Game 7 of the World Series, and the heart of the Yankees order is due up in the ninth. Pick your poison: Granderson, A-Rod, Teixeira, Cano.
Who do you, playing the part of Charlie Manuel, turn to?
A couple qualifiers are in order here. I’m not debating who the starting pitcher should be: Doc, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels all appear to be exceptional options. We may or may not get the Roy Oswalt of late 2010 again, and Charlie may yet have to decide between the former Houston ace and rookie phenom Vance Worley as his No. 4 starter.
We’re talking about the bullpen here, and you can’t pluck a Lee or a Hamels for this hypothetical question. No trick question; we also don’t care about righty-lefty considerations.
Allow me to re-word slightly. Who is your closer of choice in the big situations, whether Game 1 of the NLDS or Game 7 of the Fall Classic?
Let us review the candidates alphabetically. For this exercise, I’m conceding the fourth spot in the rotation to the veteran Oswalt. That makes Vance Worley part of this discussion.
Antonio Bastardo has certainly been one of the great revelations of the Phillies’ season. Many fans would have accepted him being a good replacement for J.C. Romero—get an occasional tough lefty out and maybe be good in long relief, if not the seventh. Obviously, the sneaky-quick lefty with the awesome slider has far exceeded that modest hope.
For the season, Bastardo is 6-0 with a 1.42 ERA and a microscopic 0.75 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), He has saved eight out of his nine chances, has 14 holds, and in 50.2 innings he has surrendered only 19 hits and 19 walks while fanning 62 batters. He has appeared in 54 games and has only given up an earned run in seven games, and he has only yielded as many as two runs once time.
David Herndon, probably will not get many votes on the accompanying poll, but he should be praised for his current streak of 13 straight appearances and 16-plus innings without yielding an earned run.
Which closer would you give the ball to - for al lthe marbles?
On the year, Herndon is 1-2 with a 3.43 ERA, four holds and a WHIP of 1.21. He has no save opportunities or blown saves, for that matter.
Brad Lidge is the experienced hand of the bunch, if the least-used this year due to injuries. He has looked okay since returning to the bigs this year: 0-1, 2.00 with one save. He has three holds and a rather pedestrian (okay, poor) 1.58 WHIP. It is hard to judge him on just 12 appearances after bouncing back from injuries.
In Lidge’s favor is his 223 career regular season saves (seventh among active closers) and his postseason record—a 2.28 ERA and 18 saves. And, was that epic 2008, and even the last couple months of 2010, that long ago?
Ryan Madson has proven, if not beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt, that he can be a successful closer. He has saved 24 of 26 chances—an outstanding percentage. In 47.1 innings, he has yielded 42 hits and 14 walks while striking out 49. He is 3-2 with a 3.04 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. Take away the “Ryan Zimmerman” game of August 19—and those six earned runs in 0.2 innings—and his ERA would be just under 2.00.
Michael Stutes was one of the sensations of spring training and he has done a very good job this season. Here comes a but for the 24-year-old: but he has not pitched as well the last couple months as he did in his initial stretch from April 25 to June 24.
For 2011, Stutes is 5-1 with a 3.78 ERA. In 50 innings, he has given up 47 hits and 22 walks (with a strong 49 strikeouts) for a WHIP of 1.24. He has eight holds and no blown saves.
And last but not least, there is Vance Worley, who may end up in the bullpen for the postseason. The ever-popular Vanimal has started 16 of his 18 parent-club appearances, and has two successful holds to his credit for his (May) bullpen work.
Overall, he is 9-1 with a 2.65 ERA. In 98.1 innings, he has yielded 78 hits and 32 walks while fanning 83. Worley has been praised for his composure and fearlessness on the hill.
The Phillies’ bullpen has been an unexpected strength in 2011, but the team does not have that one proven stud to turn to.
It appears to be Madson’s job to lose, and Ryan has done a lot to inspire confidence from his teammates, his manager, the front office and fans.
Still, forgetting about contracts, egos and lefty-righty batters and if I were Charlie Manuel on that blustery, late October evening with everything on the line, my choice would be Antonio Bastardo. His stats have been dominant this year, and he seems to possess poise well beyond his years and experience.
Matt Goldberg, a featured columnist for the Philadelphia Phillies and all-around baseball fanatic, is also a noted humor author and speaker. For more information, please visit www.tipofthegoldberg.com