Sunday, June 21, 2009

Streets of Tehran

It is hard to say what is worse or more confusing right now: the Phillies bullpen or the streets of Tehran. Like Iran, the situation has spiraled absolutely out of control this week- and tonight’s Ryan Madson horror is front and center in the Philadelphia angst machine.

The Phillies have taken a substantial step backward. Worse, it isn't so much the step they've taken back, but the nature of the step back: the bullpen. Let’s look at it in context with New York. Two weeks ago, the Phillies were at a clear disadvantage at the top two rotation spots (Santana versus Hamels and Pelfrey versus anyone) and at closer (K-Rod versus the current version of Lidge). This was enough to cover a lot of warts in the Mets everyday line-up and their injury plagued roster- and thus the margin floated around two games.

Well, you can now move the whole ‘pen into the Mets’ clear advantage column, and for the first time, I have serious doubts about the Phillies being able to hold the Mets off. I can’t see how – if this is the 2009 Phillies relief corps- they win National League East.

You can fix the number two rotation spot. An in-season trade for starting pitching help is always there if you’re willing to take an expensive contract or deal quality future assets. The Phillies have those resources. Hamels is in Santana’s class- so you don’t lose much there. But major on the fly bullpen reconstruction is impossible in today’s game. This is the first “impossible to fix externally” problem the Phillies have faced. And when you are forced to rely solely on your own organizational resources, then for the first time a club faces failure. Because if those resources aren’t up to snuff, you fail and can’t escape. So this step backward is different then, say, losing Carlos Delgado- because Carlos can be replaced, the back end of the a 'pen cannot.

Everyone needs relief pitching. Consequently, it is solely an organizational determinant- all that matters is what is on your 40-man roster. You fail if you don’t have it. Heck, a week ago, upon JC Romero’s re-arrival, the Phillies were the closest thing to surplus ‘pen assets in the whole of baseball- and that surplus was guys like Park. Notsomuch now, right?

This season is a failure if Madson and Lidge can’t get back and contribute- so you have to anticipate as if they are. Madson probably needs to be dialed back some- find him some mop up innings to get his head back on right. Plus, it is silly to quit on him. He's just having a few bad weeks in all likelihood. Madson doesn't look hurt- just confused.

Still, in the interim, they need to triage. Who is going well? Romero and Park are your two trustworthy options right now- so they have to close by committee. Spot Romero in the eighth or ninth- wherever the maximum exposure to left-handed hitting is. Park gets the other half. Durbin and Condrey do the rest- and look for a soft spot or two to get Madson going.

You can’t panic with the ‘pen yet (or the rotation). As long as the Phillies are in front, the current championship roster has to get every chance to get itself together. They probably deserve a little better- thanks to Madson- than this one up, seven down stretch they are on. The Phillies just needed some semblance of order in the ‘pen to turn that mark, against some good outfits, into something like even. But there are no fixes except from inside for this burgeoning mess- so they need to fight for time to get these guys sorted out. Romero and Park are the best options for that time- so give them the ball.