Monday, October 13, 2008

The Nasty Boys, Part 2

Lost in Sunday’s 7-2 NLCS ugliness, after the five-run first, beanball battles, and Manny being manic, was the quiet brilliance of the Phillies’ strongest asset in the playoffs: the bullpen. Once again, the team’s relief pitchers took the mound and took control.

In Game 3, Clay Condrey, J.A. Happ, Scott Eyre, Chad Durbin, and J.C. Romero allowed just four hits and one earned run in 6.2 innings of fort-holding-down work.

In three NLCS games, the bullpen has been spectacular, yielding just seven hits and one earned run in 12.2 innings of relief, for an amazing 0.73 ERA. For the 2008 playoffs, they’ve allowed five earned runs in 22.2 innings for a 2.02 ERA.

“From top to bottom, this is the best bullpen I’ve ever been on,” said Brad Lidge.

It hasn’t just been Lidge, who has two saves in this series and four overall in this year’s playoffs to raise his career total to 10. With another save, he’ll trail only Dennis Eckersley (15) and Mariano Rivera (34) for career postseason saves.

So far, the Phillies have used seven relief pitchers against the Dodgers: the five from Game 3, plus Lidge and Ryan Madson. While Lidge’s 45-for-45 perfection stands out, it’s easy to forget that the Phillies’ bullpen led the National League in ERA this season with a 3.19 ERA and had just 15 blown saves, lowest in the league.

The bullpen’s success echoes great ‘pens from the past, including the 1996 Yankees (John Wetteland, Rivera, Jeff Nelson) and the 1990 Cincinnati Reds (the Nasty Boys of Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, and Norm Charlton). Both of those teams took home World Series titles.

If the Phillies’ relievers continue their success against the Dodgers for the rest of the series, their numbers could be similar to the ‘90 Reds’ bullpen, which allowed 3 hits and 1 earned run in 18.1 innings against Barry Bonds’ Pittsburgh Pirates.

In the 1990 World Series, the Reds’ bullpen was even better: they gave up just three hits in 13 innings and no earned runs in a four-game sweep. In that Series, the Reds upset a heavily favored defending World Series champion (the A’s of Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire).

Coincidentally, if the Phillies beat the Dodgers to reach the World Series, they could face a heavily favored defending World Series champion (Boston). If so, the bullpen seems ready to answer the call.

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