More specifically, is this the end for Lidge as the Phillies closer in 2009? The right-hander, who was perfect in save attempts last season, but has blown a career-high 10 saves this season, may still play a prominent role in Philadelphia's bullpen this year. And with a guaranteed $24.5 million coming his way through 2012, he certainly has a future in the city beyond 2009.
But the Phillies are trying to repeat as World Series champions right now, and while it may have taken until Sept. 8, it appears the club has had just about enough of his poor performance.
Lidge has a 7.11 ERA and a 1.82 WHIP this season, thoroughly unacceptable numbers from a closer on a contending club. Manager Charlie Manuel has steadfastly defended Lidge as his guy for most of the season, but before Tuesday night's game in Washington even he conceded a change might be in the offing.
"We've got to win the game," Manuel said. "There comes a time when, I don't know ... He's our closer. We'll give him the ball, and we'll give him the ball as much as possible."How did Lidge respond to the lukewarm support? By pitching like a wobbly closer whose job is on the line.
He threw a wild pitch. He hit a batter (Willie Harris). He ended up recording one out and leaving with the bases loaded in the ninth, leaving setup man Ryan Madson to clean up his mess. Madson did by striking out Ryan Zimmerman and inducing an Adam Dunn ground out to second to secure Philadelphia's 5-3 win over the Nationals.
But the Lidge question lingered heavier than ever after the Phillies' win.
So Charlie, will he be your closer Wednesday night against the very same Nats?
"He could definitely be," Manuel said. "I'm definitely not going to get away from him. We're going to work with him and get him back to where he can get consistent and go out there and save games. I'm not saying that he'll close tomorrow, the next day or whatever, but I look at him as a closer. I don't look at him as a seventh-inning guy; I don't look at him as an eighth-inning guy."Manuel can be difficult to decipher, but that's hardly a shimmering vote of confidence. And while the Phils skipper continues to kinda sorta stand by his man, Lidge's role as the ninth-inning stopper has never seemed more tenuous.
"When I say he's my closer, I don't tell lies, and I don't like to go back on nothing," Manuel said. "But the team and the game is bigger than my heart and is bigger than anything else, if you want to know the truth. Winning a game, that's why I manage and that's what comes first, and it was real tough for me to do."In other words, the point where the Phillies might have to make a tough decision is rapidly approaching. The club has been spared so far because they have been on cruise control in the NL East since early July. Would things be different if the Mets weren't in shambles or the Marlins or Braves had been able to hang closer?
The guess here is yes.
In a month, the Phillies will not have a similar luxury. They'll be in the midst of the NLDS, where the margin for error is razor-thin, where the Lidge they are seeing right now can not be asked to get significant outs. They certainly won't have time to figure out if Lidge is hurt or tipping his pitches or simply lousy.
Madson, who was impressive in relief of Lidge Tuesday, and Brett Myers, who saved 21 games for the Phils in 2007, should be on alert. If Brad Lidge doesn't turn things around, and fast, their services may be needed for those all-important final three outs.