SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Why the Phillies Won't Make the Playoffs

I try to see the glass as half full, honestly, I do. But one of the main reasons why the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 is plainly absent with the 2010 version -- a shutdown bullpen. Last night's game once again proved that you cannot get to the playoffs -- let alone win the World Series -- with a closer who cannot locate his pitches and who blows a hard-earned 5-4 lead (achieved in the top of the ninth) with a groved fastball to a heart-of-the-order player in Ryan Zimmerman. The Phillies had a golden opportunity to pull within 2 1/2 games of the division-leading Braves, only to have Brad Lidge either get lit up or have his lights put out (you can make the analogy of your choice) again.

I recall in 1993 the Phillies' closer, Mitch Williams, struggled. The Philadelphia press pressed then-manager Jim Fregosi on why he kept on trotting out a closer nicknamed "Wild Thing." To which Fregosi replied, "Mitch pitches the ninth." And we all recall what happened -- the team miraculously got to Game 6 of the World Series before Williams yielded only one of two Series-ending home runs of all time, a shot by Joe Carter. In 2008, when the Phillies beat the Rays to win the Series, banners sprouted all over Citizens Bank Park proclaiming, "Mitch: We Forgive You."

I had failed to realize that many Phillies' fans harbored resentment against Williams, whom I had forgiven right at the time he yielded the home run, for many reasons. First, he didn't try to give up the home run. Second, relievers do give up home runs, even at the worst times. Third, Mitch was the best, perhaps, among many not-so-good options in the 1993 bullpen. Put differently, it wasn't solely Mitch's fault that the Phillies didn't win that World Series. You have to remember that the Blue Jays' teams of the early 1990's were outstanding ball clubs (with Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Roberto Alomar, among many others).

I made these observations to my (normally) mild-mannered wife, who reflexively responded, "Oh, I never forgave him."

Say what? Yes, Mitch was flamboyant, and, to me, the 1993 team (save role players and Curt Schillling) wasn't the easiest to like, let alone adore, but huh? Shows how much I knew. The fans were miffed (Mitch, by the way, has turned into a very good analyst for MLB Network).

So, fast forward to the 2009 and now 2010 versions of a Brad Lidge (who was a hero in 2008) and who is under contract for an additional $11.5 million for 2011. He's flailing out there, and while I understand that perhaps the Phillies didn't have the mojo to add, say, Matt Capps (great move by the Twins, by the way), they cannot continue to throw Lidge out there in these situations. Now, I don't necessarily have an alternative, but try Ryan Madson (again), J.C. Romero (I know, he walks too many guys) or even Scott Mathieson, the AAA closer, but try something.

Because you cannot get to the playoffs by blowing saves against the lowly (if feisty) Nationals as the season comes to a climax.

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