With the Super Bowl over, millions of people who were hunkering down for the winter, are now returning to their natural calling: baseball. It is almost a week away from the perennial calling of pitchers and catchers to head down to Florida and out to Arizona.
That means the Phillies are returning to Clearwater once again, only this time to defend their World Series title.
But the Phillies are coming into Spring Training with some burning questions: Who is going to get the fifth starting spot? What about the bullpen? Is it going to stay the same dominant form?
Well I'll cover one of these pressing issues, primarily the bullpen. This is the 2009 Spring Training profile of the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen.
The Phillies bullpen last season and postseason, was lights out. The combination of Durbin-Madson-Romero-Lidge rivals that of Rivera-Wetteland of the mid-1990's New York Yankee fame. Not to mention guys like Condrey, and the midseason acquisition Scott Eyre stepped up big time and keep the majority of the games close.
So, what is the outlook for the 2009 bullpen? It is looking the same as last year: a strength. One of the biggest potential strengths of the Phillies 2009 bullpen is: that is majority intact from last season.
The Phillies' bullpen has not changed much from last year. Potential strength No. 2: the back-end of the bullpen. Durbin-Madson-Romero-Lidge combined for 44 saves, 244 innings pitched, 274 K's, 101 BB's, and a combined E.R.A. of 2.66.
The other relievers: Condrey and Eyre pulled their own weight as well, coming into games in pressure situations and either keeping it close or keeping the lead intact.If Chan Ho Park losses out to Kyle Kendrick for the fifth starting rotation spot, he can be used as a tool in the bullpen.
Adam Eaton, I believe will not be returning to the bullpen at all this season, and will be release before the end of Spring Training. If Park does get the fifth starting spot in the rotation, Kendrick and J.A. Happ could be utilized as long relief pitchers.
Some of the biggest concerns: what will happen to J.C. Romero when he comes back from suspension? It is only a matter of: when will "Lights Out" Lidge blow a save? And if he blows a save, how many might he blow? What's going to happen to the right-handers in the bullpen when Romero ends his suspension?
One of the biggest concerns is J.C. Romero. He was key in that 7-8-9 combination of last season. When he returns from suspension on June 1, he will have not of pitched since either Game Five of the World Series or whenever the last game for Puerto Rico is in the World Baseball Classic.
For the Phillies bullpen that is a big chunk of games. Most likely of those 50 games that Romero will miss, he would have been in 30 of those.
For the Phillies bullpen, that is a huge chunk of innings as well for their lefty set-up man not to appear in. Which in turn, puts a strain on the right-handers and Eyre. They may go after lefty fireballer Joe Biemel to fill his spot.
Another concern is; When will Lidge blow a save. I hate saying this but, Brad "Lights Out" Lidge will eventually blow a save. Will it be in the beginning of the season? Will it be the middle of the season? Or will it be in the home stretch of the season when Lidge blows a save? Or in a key game?
I can't say when Lidge will blow a save. Only time will tell.
The Phillies can count on Durbin, Madson, Lidge to get them out of pressure situations this coming season. They did it last season well, they should do the same this year. The Phillies can count on Romero to return to his set-up role, once he returns.
Expect Eyre and Condrey to step up even more than last year.
So which pitchers have something to prove? I would have to say Ryan "Mad Dog" Madson, Brad Lidge, Chan Ho Park, and/ or Kyle Kendrick and J.A. Happ.
Madson has to prove he is worth the $4 million a year that his new contract says he gets.
Lidge has to prove that staying perfect last season was not a fluke, even though the majority of fans know that Lidge last season was not a fluke.
Park has to prove he was worth the Phillies to pick him up. By either starting or assimilating into the bullpen. He has to prove that he can compete with the big dogs of the National League East Division.
Kendrick has to prove that he can return to his 2007 form. If not, he has to prove that he can assimilate into the bullpen and provide long relief.
Happ is in the same boat as Kendrick is, except he can be used as a another lefty in the bullpen.
How vital is the Phillies bullpen to their chances of returning to the playoffs and the World Series in 2009? The bullpen is as vital as the starting pitching: the lifeline of the team. If the bullpen can avoid injuries they will play a key role in the Phillies title defense this season.
Because as the old baseball adage goes: Good Pitching beats good hitting; pitching and defense wins championships.
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