On The Edge Blog

Monday, June 22, 2009

Maddening Madson strikes out as closer

After dropping six straight games, and eight of their last nine home games, the Phillies are only better than the lowly Washington Nationals when playing at home.

This homestand did not have to be one of the worst in franchise history, but without a healthy Brad Lidge coming out of the bullpen in the ninth inning, the Phillies watched three games slip out of the hands Lidge’s temporary replacement, Ryan Madson.

In a stretch of five games, Madson pitched three times, and each time, the Phillies were worse off than when they started the inning.

I don’t know why I am so surprised that Madson isn’t thriving in the closer role. I guess the fan in me only looked at his recent performance as the Phillies’ dominating setup man.

I even ignored the fact that I wrote this before World Series Game 5, part II last year: “On the mound, I would start with J.C. Romero against the Rays’ 6-7-8 hitters. Then bring in Ryan Madson in the 8th. I want no part of Madson starting a game, regardless of what inning the scoreboard says it is.” Madson promptly gave up the tying run, and if not for Chase Utley’s amazing throw home, he would have given up the go-ahead run as well.

While Madson has been great in the eighth inning since taking over for the injured Tom Gordon midseason last year, he is a player who has failed each time the Phillies gave him any chance to be “The Man.”

Throughout his time in the minor leagues, Madson was a highly touted prospect as a starting pitcher, but found himself in a middle relief role in 2004. That year, he was given a chance to make an emergency start, but gave up three homers to the Chicago White Sox and was mercifully yanked from the game after recording just two outs, while surrendering six runs.

Then, after a year and a half in obscurity as a middle reliever, Madson made 17 starts in 2006. I remember being excited that he was finally getting a chance in the rotation, and while he pitched effectively at times, giving up two runs or less in six of those starts, he also gave up five runs or more in seven of those starts, and was sent back to the bullpen.

Since the middle of last season, Madson had been one of the best setup relievers in the league, but he always knew that Lidge was there to come in when the game was on the line.

Now, in the closer role, the pitcher who gave up runs in just three of his first 33 appearances, has given up runs in each of his last three outings, all losses by the Phillies.

Everyone knows that the ninth inning is like an entirely different ballgame compared to any of the other eight innings, and Madson doesn’t have the mental toughness to cut it in the ninth.

Not every reliever has the ability to go from pitching the seventh or eighth inning to being the last guy on the mound. Some pitchers love the spotlight. Those pitchers - starters and closers - love knowing that the game is in their hands. Starters want the ball every fifth day and go out to the mound confident that they are going to win the game.

Closers love having 45,000 people on their feet when the bullpen door opens, and they know that there is no one else warming up to take their place. Win or lose, the game ends with the closer (except when it goes to extra innings after a blown save), and closers love knowing that the outcome is in their hands.

Madson has always had the talent to be a top starter or a top closer, but he isn’t able to go out there each day with the fire and determination necessary to succeed when the game is on the line. Luckily, Lidge is coming back to the Phillies after a stint on the disabled list, and hopefully his knee is healthy.

I just hope that the last two weeks of Madson closing out games didn’t mess with his fragile psyche, and, for the rest of the season, he can go back to dominating the eighth inning as part of the “Bridge to Lidge.”


Like the “On the Edge” blog? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show. This week, we’ll talk about the Sixers’ draft moves, and why the Phillies can’t seem to win a game with us cheering for them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Two years of quarterback certainty

I’m sure everyone was as shocked as I was to hear that the Eagles essentially gave away more than $5 million to a player already under contract, without gaining any extra years of commitment.

After an offseason of begging and pleading with the Eagles to find him legitimate weapons on offense, Donovan McNabb now has a little more security and peace of mind about his final two years under contract with the Eagles.

A few months ago, the Phillies essentially made the same goodwill gesture to Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard, locking in those two superstars for the remainder of their arbitration years. The Phillies just wanted to be done with the annual monetary battle that they would have with Hamels and Howard.

In the Eagles’ case, they bring McNabb into the upper echelon of quarterbacks in terms of annual salary, and they no longer have to answer the question of who will be under center until 2011 at the earliest. When 2011 comes around, if McNabb is still among the top quarterbacks in the league, the front office could always slap the franchise tag on him or work on a contract extension to keep him in Eagle-green for the rest of his career.

When news of this extension came out, I was quite surprised to hear the reactions from a lot of the “talk radio” fans.

From what I observed, there wasn’t a lot of anger toward it like we would have seen two years ago, or even in November. Maybe this is a sign that McNabb might finally be appreciated for carrying this team for the last decade. Or maybe it is a sign that the die-hard fans are not looking forward to the Kevin Kolb era, as he has thrown two touchdown passes in his career, and neither player – Ed Reed and Brandon McDonald – was wearing green at the time.

Honestly, I would probably only take a healthy Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees over McNabb for one season. Granted, I would take young guys like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, or Jay Cutler in a straight-up trade for McNabb to help secure the future of the quarterback position on the Eagles, but in 2009, McNabb is one of only a handful of quarterbacks who could give any team a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl.

I know that I am in the minority on this, but I wouldn’t trade McNabb for Peyton Manning taking into account how many times Manning has choked in the playoffs, despite having more talent on offense than McNabb ever has had.

My second thought when I heard about this reworked deal was that the Eagles know that McNabb has a lot left in the tank, because they are very quick and deliberate in letting go of players who are past their prime. And, most importantly, the Eagles are almost always right in this regard. Fans may not like who the Eagles bring in, but there are rarely regrets after sending someone packing.

Thinking back over the Andy Reid era, the only starter that was let go by the Eagles who went on to play at a high level was defensive end Derrick Burgess, who has registered 38.5 sacks in the four seasons since signing with the Oakland Raiders. The other star players – Troy Vincent, Duce Staley, Bobby Taylor, Hugh Douglas (twice), Jeremiah Trotter (twice) – did almost nothing in the NFL after being told they were too old to be on the Eagles.

To me, this means that the Birds have faith in McNabb to put up big numbers on a team that has two new offensive tackles, a new speedy wide receiver and two new compliments to Brian Westbrook in the backfield.In an offseason where several aging veterans – Brian Dawkins, Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan – were sent packing, the Eagles made sure that the last of their leaders from the start of the Andy Reid era has their full support. With the potential salary cap consequences of cutting McNabb at any point in the next two seasons, the Eagles are essentially putting their money where their mouth is when they say how important McNabb is to the Eagles’ success.


Like the “On the Edge” blog? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bastardo takes to the hill

It wouldn’t be Phillies baseball if pitching concerns weren’t the topic on everyone’s lips.

The Phillies bullpen, which struggled at the beginning of the season, appears on the verge of returning to its dominant form from 2008.

After a very shaky “Heathcliff Slocumb-esque” start to the season, Brad Lidge is finally looking healthy and trusting his fastball, allowing only two baserunners in his last five save chances.

In addition to Lidge’s revival, J.C. Romero returns to the bullpen this week, providing the Phillies with a desperately needed situational lefty that actually can get hitters out. Combine Lidge and Romero with Ryan Madson, Scott Eyre, Clay Condrey and Chan Ho Park (in his correct role as a middle reliever), and the Phillies once again are primed to turn games into six-inning affairs.

With innings seven through nine well accounted for, the Phillies find themselves in a strange situation regarding the hurlers of the first six innings. Just as Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton find themselves breaking out of their early season slumps, Brett Myers’ hip injury puts the Phillies in a very unenviable position.

With Park having flamed out as a starter, the Phillies already used their first rotation insurance policy by moving J.A. Happ out of the bullpen, which means Myers’ replacement had to come from someone outside of the 25-man roster.

Luckily for the Phillies, the farm system has not been depleted of talent in the typical “trade three top prospects for a below average and overpaid starting pitcher” way that peppered the Ed Wade era.Getting first crack at the job is 23-year-old Antonio Bastardo, who better be awesome, because with a name like that, he might wind up on the receiving end of the most profanity-filled taunts in Philadelphia history.

Bastardo, a young fireballer from the Dominican Republic, tore up the minors, posting ERAs of 2.14, 2.95, and 1.90 in the last three seasons, while receiving midseason promotions each year, including a move from Reading to Lehigh Valley in May.

While Bastardo’s ERAs have been impressive, and his strikeouts have always been above one batter per inning, the reason he is getting the call is that his walks are way down this season. Bastardo has finally gained command of all of his pitches, walking just 10 batters in 47 innings of work. The previous two seasons, he was averaging more than four walks per nine innings, but this season, he has cut that number in half.

If Bastardo isn’t getting the job done after the first few starts, the Phillies could bring up either Kyle Kendrick, who still can’t control his new changeup, or Carlos Carrasco, who is winless in nine starts with the Iron Pigs.

While neither of those options seem ideal at the moment, the final internal option for the Phillies is 2006 first round pick Kyle Drabek, who was just promoted to Reading. Drabek is raw and missed a season due to Tommy John surgery, but could be a surprise candidate to make the jump to the majors. The hard-throwing Drabek has a 2.91 ERA in nine games with Clearwater, and struck out 67 batters in 52 innings.

While it would be great to see Bastardo thrive in the rotation, the odds of that happening as a rookie are small, which means that by mid-June, the Phillies could be on the phone searching for a retread to round out the rotation.

The Phillies don’t have enough talent in the upper levels of the minor leagues to get someone like Jake Peavy from the Padres, but with some creativity, they could get Roy Oswalt from Astros. The only problem with either Peavy or Oswalt is that Shane Victorino and either Drabek or Bastardo would be the main pieces of any trade package, and I don’t believe that the Phillies are ready to part with the Flyin’ Hawaiian just yet. They might consider moving Victorino next year when Michael Taylor or Dominic Brown are closer to the majors, but not yet.

Honestly, I think that Bastardo will have his rookie bumps, but will ultimately do well in the rotation, and combined with Happ, the Phillies will have two solid young starters developing behind Cole Hamels for the future.

Of course, knowing the Phillies, next week, I could be right back here complaining about how they didn’t give Bastardo a legitimate opportunity, while groaning over the fact that Jason Marquis, Brad Penny, or Jarrod Washburn is wearing red pinstripes.

Like the “On the Edge” blog? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show, where this week, we’ll talk about Brad Lidge’s sudden return to form, and how the starting rotation is coping without Myers.
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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
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