SweetSpot: Brad Lidge

Brad Lidge and the homer we'll never forget

December, 4, 2012
Sunday night, Brad Lidge, former Astros and Phillies reliever, announced his retirement from baseball.

I imagine when most players retire, there's a debate among the highlight show producers as to which moment to run with the story. They settle on a few seminal ones -- a championship, a game-winning play, something to show the athlete at his or her best.

Finding a definitive moment for most athletes with lengthy careers is difficult. There is no discussion for Lidge. The mind streaks back to the 2005 National League Championship Series. Game 5. Lidge on for the save to launch the Astros into their first World Series. Two outs. The tying runs on base. Albert Pujols, the game's greatest hitter, at the plate.

Everybody saw Pujols blast the go-ahead home run straight out of Minute Maid Park, on to the train tracks. It was more than a home run. The look on Lidge's face was unmistakable. It was as if his career flew out of the stadium with the baseball.

* * * *

Throughout human history, stories have been central to our societies. They define us, from religion and history to the most basic of tales between families and friends. Each of these stories is a variation on a small collection of basic plots. The epic quest. The search for vengeance. Ascension from rags to riches.

The fall from grace.

The stories we find in sports are no different. In the tale of the greatest champion or the scrappiest competitor or the incredible choke artist, a deep enough reflection reveals the same fables the ancient cultures told. Like any effective narrative vehicle, sport is capable of communicating the most basic human experiences.

* * * *

[+] EnlargeLidge
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesThe home run we'll always remember: Albert Pujols off Brad Lidge in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS.
Pujols' home run off Lidge has a longevity beyond the play's championship impact. The blast sent the Cardinals and Astros to a Game 6, but one brilliant start from Roy Oswalt (7 innings, 3 hits, 1 earned run, 6 strikeouts) ended the Cardinals' season. All of a sudden, the Astros were four games away from a World Series championship.

Lidge didn't pitch in the Astros' Game 6 victory. The specter of Pujols' demoralizing blast loomed throughout the buildup to the Astros' World Series matchup with the White Sox.

Scott Podsednik, the second World Series batter Lidge faced, in his first World Series appearance, hit a walk-off home run just six days later to win Game 2. Lidge managed 1.1 clean innings in Game 3 but the Astros lost in extra innings, and needing to hold on for dear life in Game 4, Lidge gave up the winning run in the top of the eighth to give the White Sox the sweep.

The following 2006 season was a disaster. The Astros stuck with Lidge as closer and he saved 32 games, but nobody should be fooled by the bulky save total. "Lights out" Lidge posted a 5.28 ERA. He allowed a career high 10 home runs and walked a batter nearly every two innings. Lidge blew 14 saves between 2006 and 2007 and was out of town by 2008.

The story fits too well. The magnitude and majesty of Pujols' home run was so destructive that Lidge, one of baseball's elite relievers, was shattered. One of the prevailing themes of life and sports shines through: Time at the top is precarious and fleeting. One misstep, one false moment and it all comes crashing down.

To Lidge's credit, he recovered. The lasting image of his career -- of his accomplishments -- should be of him recording the final out of the 2008 World Series with the Phillies, a playoff campaign in which he allowed just one run in 9.1 innings and struck out 13 batters, following a regular season in which he recorded 41 saves in 41 opportunities. It should be of his All-Star bids in 2005 and 2008. His career -- a 3.54 ERA and 122 ERA+ in over 600 games -- is worth celebration.

But that home run in 2005 won't ever go away, although not as a slight to Lidge. It would be tremendously unfair to call it at all representative of Lidge's talent.

No, that home run sticks in our minds and persists on TV broadcasts because it is one of baseball's most pure storytelling moments. It lives on because anyone who has experienced failure, anyone who has fallen from on high can peer back and see themselves in Lidge. Those seeking the top can find a warning, a reminder of how fleeting success can be once attained.

It lasts because there was a bit of all of us in Brad Lidge on that mound back in October 2005, one of humanity's essential stories distilled into competition. It lives on because it's one of the most human tales sports -- not the humans who play them, but the play on the field itself -- is able to tell.

And after all, we are our stories.

Brad Lidge Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesLidge got his redemption in 2008, when he got the final out as the Phillies won the World Series.
Jack Moore runs the Disciples of Uecker blog about the Brewers and contributes to FanGraphs.

Strasburg will need, and get, help

April, 12, 2012

At first blush, Stephen Strasburg’s overpowering start for the Washington Nationals might seem like good news for a club trying to get itself taken every bit as seriously as the Miami Marlins in the National League East’s “Division of Death” this season. But two outstanding starts into the season, Strasburg’s work brings up a couple of interesting things about this Nats club that bear watching as we head deeper into the 2012 season.

First, there’s the question of his workload. In the broad strokes, worrying about this now would definitely qualify as a case of too much, too soon. Even if Strasburg is limited to starting in a five-man rotation, in which nobody’s turn gets skipped because of scheduled days off, his total starts and innings are going to pile up. Even if Strasburg gets the odd extra day of rest between turns, he’s going to have around 17 starts by the All-Star break. As a 23-year-old. Coming back from elbow surgery. With the second half to look forward to. If he fends off a (perhaps unwanted) All-Star Game invite, he’d be on turn to lead off the rotation in the second half, same as the first.

That might not seem like a big deal. Davey Johnson probably isn’t going to overwork his young stud starter in individual ballgames, after all. But as dominating as Strasburg was Wednesday against the New York Mets, he still racked up 108 pitches against 24 batters in just six innings. Eighteen pitches facing just four guys per inning? That’s life when you’re striking people out, and that’s going to get you run out of games early, even when you’re going well.

But the real problem about the ideal of watching the kid’s workload and giving all due care to the logistical tedium of managing top talent carefully is where it might run up against the Nats’ bid for contention. That might sound silly to talk about in April, but various projection tools have the Nationals winning 80 to 82 games, and perhaps nobody in the NL East reaches 90. That makes the Nats a contender, on paper or in projections, admittedly, but a team that will be in the running.

Now, what does that mean for how they manage their best starter’s workload down the stretch? Is a buzzer going to go off when Strasburg makes his 24th start at the end of August, and general manager Mike Rizzo rings up Davey in the dugout and says, “Bad news, skip, the kid’s got just two starts left this year”? An incredulous Johnson might look at the standings and see that his team’s just four out and wonder what the point of the first five months was if you have to pull up and watch the Braves or Phillies or Marlins race on ahead.

That becomes even more difficult to swallow with the new two-wild-card setup for the postseason -- if you’re the Nats, and you might squeak into a one-game playoff to move into the NL Division Series, wouldn’t you feel pretty confident about your chances if you’ve got Strasburg in the fold?

Happily for the Nats, Johnson has a roster set up with more than a few compensations to deal with a young ace who’s going to have to be handled carefully early in the season, so maybe the issue becomes academic. First, you can skip worrying about who’s getting saves for the Nats, whether it’s Drew Storen or Brad Lidge at whatever point of the season. The real relief the Nats can look forward to comes from the relative no-names who will be pitching in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, starting with Tyler Clippard -- the NL’s most valuable non-Braves reliever last year, according to WAR -- and Henry Rodriguez's triple-digit gas, and Craig Stammen's ground-pounding sinker. That’s the kind of talent that will keep hard-hit balls from happening, usually with strikeouts. They won’t notch saves, but they’ll allow Johnson to hook Strasburg earlier than a previous generation’s skipper might have, and that might help keep the kid in the mix to the very end of the season.

Second, Johnson’s an old hand at getting the best from his lineups, to the point that he’ll eke out runs by cheating on defense. Witness Wednesday’s lineup behind Strasburg: With lefty Johan Santana on the mound, it becomes relatively affordable to put the towering Jayson Werth out in center field. Why? Because Strasburg generates so many outs at home plate that Johnson can risk a few adequate (or worse) defenders on the field. Against the Mets, Strasburg got half of his outs at home with those nine K's, got three ground-ball outs, and got a fly-ball out per inning.

There’s nothing very newfangled about this: Back in the 1980s, Johnson was willing to play sluggers such as Howard Johnson or a young Kevin Mitchell at shortstop when he had an extreme fly-ball/strikeout pitcher such as Sid Fernandez on the mound. And with more strikeouts happening today than ever, it makes even more sense now.

So maybe that’s the formula that gets Strasburg deep into the season: Better run support thanks to tailored lineups, a bullpen that can cover three or four frames per game, and not just pitch counts. If the Nats stay in this thing the way you could think they might, we’ll see what they decide about Strasburg’s workload then.

Ichiro SuzukiRick Yeatts/Getty ImagesIchiro might be getting up there, but he can still get on his horse and ride.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
With Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen battling elbow inflammation and possibly not ready by Opening Day, Davey Johnson said Brad Lidge or Henry Rodriguez would serve as closer -- and not setup man extraordinaire Tyler Clippard.

"It’s hard to replace what he does," Johnson said. "What he did last year is at least as important, if not more important, than your closer. You want to avoid weakening two positions."

Let's pause and give Johnson a quick round of applause for subtly acknowledging this. In absence of a team's regular closer, most managers simply move their main setup guy to the ninth.

Storen and Clippard were both excellent a year ago. Here's a breakdown of their overall percentages of batters faced in various situations described as high, medium and low leverage (via Baseball-Reference.com).

High leverage: 163 PAs (53.4 percent)
Medium leverage: 73 (24.1 percent)
Low leverage: 67 (22.1 percent)
Games entered with runners on base: 6
Games entered with score tied or +1: 36

High leverage: 145 PAs (44.1 percent)
Medium leverage: 113 PAs (34.3 percent)
Low leverage: 71 PAs (21.6 percent)
Games entered with runners on base: 26
Games entered with score tied or +1: 35

So while they were used similarly as far as the score of the game, there was a big difference: Clippard entered more often with runners on base. Storen entered 29 times with a two- or three-run lead, with most of those coming with the bases empty. Johnson would prefer to keep Clippard entering in those tight situations with runners on base and leaving those bases-empty, three-run leads to a lesser pitcher like Lidge or Rodriguez. Granted, those two are good options since Lidge has closing experience and Rodriguez throws 98 mph, making Johnson's decision a little easier.

Still, he made the right one. Other managers would be wise to heed Johnson's thought process.
On Monday’s Baseball Today podcast Mark Simon and I revealed our thoughts on many pertinent topics dealing with this great game:

1. As part of our homework assignment we predicted win totals for each and every team, made them clear on the show and compared results. Very interesting!

2. Should we feel sorry for injured Reds closer Ryan Madson? One of us rants a bit on this one, as well as the Phillies missing Wilson Valdez.

3. What’s Davey Johnson doing with his closer situation in D.C.? Again, an interesting topic with surprising results.

4. Who is most likely to have a four-triple game? It has happened before, and while it wasn’t the awesome Doug Flynn, he came close.

5. Lots of emails today! Among the topics were Johnny Damon, contenders for a long hitting streak, what to do at Citi Field, and keeping an eye on Shlobotnicks when they leave your favorite team!

So download and listen to Monday’s Baseball Today podcast, as ridiculous isn’t merely a word that defines some of our emails ...
Reports out of Philadelphia have the Phillies considering re-signing closer Ryan Madson to a four-year, $44 million deal.

Since converting to relief full-time in 2007, Madson has been one of the game's most underrated relievers, posting a 2.89 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, relying on a 93-95 mph fastball and terrific changeup. In his first full season as Phillies closer he was 32-for-34 in save opportunities and allowed just two home runs in 60.2 innings. While Madson has missed time each of the past two seasons, neither injury was to his arm -- a hand injury in 2011 when hit by a groundball and a self-inflicted toe injury in 2010.

He's just 31, so maybe it seems like a relatively safe bet by the Phillies. Except it isn't.

I took a look at the 10 largest multi-year contracts given to relievers (according to Cot's Baseball Contracts) and compared the numbers for the 10 relievers before the contract and after the contract, using the same number of seasons as the length of the contract (so if a guy signed a three-year deal, I used his three previous seasons). Here's what we get:

    [+] EnlargeRyan Madson
    Howard Smith/US PresswireIs Ryan Madson worth a four-year, $40 million deal?
  • In the 32 combined seasons before signing their deals, the 10 relievers accumulated 71.4 WAR (wins above replacement, from Baseball-Reference.com) and pitched 2,152.1 innings.
  • In the 32 combined seasons after signing their deals, the relievers accumulated 42.7 WAR and pitched 1,676 innings.
  • That's an overall decrease in value of 40 percent and a decrease in innings of 22 percent.
  • Only two of the 10 had an increase in value (Mariano Rivera and Jose Valverde) and only two threw more innings (Kerry Wood and Valverde, both on two-year deals).

Here's a closer look at each of those 10 relievers.

1. Mariano Rivera, Yankees, 2008-10, $15 million

2005-07: 9.6 WAR, 2.08 ERA, 107 saves, 224.2 IP
2008-10: 10.1 WAR, 1.64 ERA, 116 saves, 197 IP

Despite pitching 27 fewer innings, Rivera maintained his value with three more excellent seasons. His 2011 season, the first of another two-year deal that also pays him $15 million per season, was another good one. But Mariano is obviously one of a kind.

2. Brad Lidge, Phillies, 2009-11, $12.5 million

2006-08: 2.3 WAR, 3.58 ERA, 92 saves, 211.1 IP
2009-11: -1.3 WAR, 4.73 ERA, 59 saves, 123.2 IP

The Phillies re-signed Lidge after his remarkable 2008 when he didn't blow a save all season, including a 7-for-7 mark in the postseason as the Phillies won the World Series. Even then, however, Lidge should have come with a big warning sign tattooed to his forehead: His 4.5 walks per nine innings in 2008 indicated a pitcher who always lived on the edge. He fell off it in 2009 with one of the worst relief seasons of all time (0-8, 7.21 ERA) and battled injuries the past two seasons.

3. Francisco Rodriguez, Mets, 2009-11, $12.33 million

2006-08: 9.9 WAR, 2.24 ERA, 149 saves, 208.2 IP
2009-11: 4.7 WAR, 2.88 ERA, 83 saves, 197 IP

Like the Phillies, the Mets bought high on K-Rod, signing him after his record-breaking 62-save season with the Angels in 2008. Despite those 62 saves, K-Rod's strikeout rate had declined from previous years and his control had always been spotty. He posted a 2.88 ERA in the three seasons of the deal, but was hardly the dominant closer expected for a $12.3 million salary.

4. Joe Nathan, Twins, 2008-11, $11.75 million

2004-07: 13.0 WAR, 1.94 ERA, 160 saves, 282.1 IP
2008-11: 6.8 WAR, 2.49 ERA, 100 saves, 181 IP

Only Trevor Hoffman recorded more saves than Nathan from 2004 through 2007. Over those four years Nathan allowed a lower OPS than Rivera. Entering his age-33 season, the Twins gave him a big four-year deal. He was terrific for two seasons before tearing a ligament in spring training in 2010 and undergoing Tommy John surgery.

5. Francisco Cordero, Reds, 2008-11, $11.5 million

2004-07: 10.1 WAR, 3.06 ERA, 152 saves, 279.1 IP
2008-11: 6.2 WAR, 2.96 ERA, 150 saves, 279.1 IP

Cordero was exactly as advertised: A durable closer who makes you gnaw your fingernails on a nightly basis. He blew 24 saves over his four-year deal with the Reds, giving him a save percentage of 86 percent. In other words, the Reds paid top dollar for a guy who was essentially a league-average closer.

6. Billy Wagner, Mets, 2006-09, $10.75 million

2002-05: 10.8 WAR, 2.01 ERA, 138 saves, 287 IP
2006-09: 5.2 WAR, 2.35 ERA, 101 saves, 203.1 IP

It's hard to say this signing turned out well for the Mets, although Wagner posted good numbers when healthy. In 2006, he blew a 1-0 lead in Game 2 of the NLCS. By Game 7, Willie Randolph had lost confidence in Wagner and left in Aaron Heilman in the ninth inning of a tie game; Yadier Molina homered. In 2007, Wagner blew fives saves, but two of those came in late August and the final one came in late September, in the middle of the Mets' horrific collapse (he allowed three runs in the bottom of the ninth to the Marlins, who would win in 10 innings). In 2008, he missed the final two months as the Mets blew another division lead in September. That led to the club signing Rodriguez for 2009, which meant the Mets paid over $20 million for two relievers. They lost 92 games.

7. Kerry Wood, Indians, 2009-10, $10.25 million

2007-08: 2.1 WAR, 3.28 ERA, 34 saves, 90.2 IP
2009-10: 1.2 WAR, 3.74 ERA, 28 saves, 101 IP

After a solid 34-save season with the Cubs in 2008, the Indians took a chance on the injury-prone right-hander. He had a 4.80 ERA in 81 games with Cleveland, before getting traded to the Yankees at the trade deadline in 2010.

8. B.J. Ryan, Blue Jays, 2006-10, $9.4 million

2001-05: 7.5 WAR, 3.25 ERA, 42 saves, 318.1 IP
2006-10: 4.5 WAR, 2.95 ERA, 75 saves, 155.1 IP

Ryan had emerged as a dominant reliever with the Orioles in 2004 and 2005 (he averaged 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings those two seasons), leading then-Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi to sign Ryan to mega-deal worth $47 million. The Jays got a great 2006 out of him (38 saves, 1.37 ERA), but then Ryan hurt his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery.

9. Brian Fuentes, Angels, 2009-10, $8.75 million

2007-08: 2.8 WAR, 2.90 ERA, 50 saves, 124 IP
2009-10: 1.5 WAR, 3.41 ERA, 72 saves, 103 IP

Fuentes posted solid numbers with the Rockies, relying on his deceptive left-handed delivery to fool hitters. While he saved 48 games for the Angels in 2009, his big platoon split made his overall numbers mediocre and Mike Scioscia limited him to just 55 innings. The next year, he was traded to the Twins in August.

10. Jose Valverde, Tigers, 2010-11, $7 million

2008-09: 3.3 WAR, 2.93 ERA, 69 saves, 126 IP
2010-11: 3.8 WAR, 2.59 ERA, 75 saves, 135.1 IP

After going 52-for-52 in save opportunities in 2011 (he did lose five games, however, including one in the postseason), the Tigers exercised a $9 million club option for 2012. Needless to say, Papa Grande will be hard-pressed to match his 2011 numbers.

Madson is a good pitcher, but predicting good health for a reliever -- especially a 30-something one -- is clearly a dicey proposition. The Phillies are now of baseball's big-market monsters, so they can afford a $40 million gamble more than most teams, but that's what signing Madson would be -- a very big gamble.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

What went wrong with the Astros

May, 17, 2011
From 1979 through 2006, the Houston Astros were one of baseball's best and most consistent franchises. They suffered just six losing seasons and made the playoffs nine times. They finally reached their first World Series in 2005, but that was primarily an aging club at the end of a long run of success. Jeff Bagwell was done, Craig Biggio and Roger Clemens were old, Andy Pettitte would return to the Yankees and Morgan Ensberg never repeated his big season.

And the talent dried up. The Astros are on their way to their fourth losing season in five years and will likely lose more than 90 games for the first time since 1991. As Buster Olney wrote in his blog today, with Drayton McLane selling the team to Jim Crane, the new ownership group knows it has to pay more attention to player development.

[+] EnlargeBrad Lidge
Photo by Craig Melvin/US PresswireThe Astros haven't had much luck in the first round of the draft since taking Brad Lidge in 1998.
1. A string of bad drafts. Former scouting director David Lakey nailed his first two first-round picks, drafting Lance Berkman in 1997 and Brad Lidge in 1998, but the Astros haven't drafted a first-rounder since who has developed into a solid major leaguer. (Time will tell, of course, on recent picks like Jordan Lyles and Delino DeShields Jr.) The Astros only had one top-10 pick from 1993 through 2007 (Chris Burke, 10th overall in 2001), which doesn't help, of course. The team also forfeited its first-round picks in 2003 (for signing Jeff Kent), 2004 (for signing Andy Pettitte) and 2007 (for signing Carlos Lee). It's hard to fault the Kent and Pettitte signings, but Lee has been both expensive and now unproductive.

Every team misfires in the draft but the Astros have had a long string of misfires. In 2005, under scouting director Paul Ricciarini, they were picking 24th and selected pitcher Brian Bogusevic, who was later converted to an outfielder. Matt Garza was the next pick and Colby Rasmus went later in the round. With the 23rd pick in 2006 they took high school catcher Max Sapp, who hit .224 in three seasons in the minors and then developed meningitis, which ended his career. Even before contracting meningitis, the Astros had shown their doubts about his future big-league status, drafting catcher Jason Castro in the first round in 2008. Two picks after Sapp, the Angels selected another high school catcher, Hank Conger, now playing well as a rookie. But the big blows were a string of drafts from 2000 onward that produced few big leaguers -- guys who should be in their primes right now.

2. McLane refused to spend on the draft, sticking to the MLB recommended slot bonuses. For example, the team failed to sign third-round pick Drew Stubbs in 2003; he later became a first-rounder of the Reds. Castro, drafted 10th overall in 2008, was taken one pick before Justin Smoak, whom most scouts rated much higher. Smoak signed for a bonus $1.5 million more than Castro.

McLane always operated the franchise like a mid-market team, instead of one playing in the sixth-largest metro market in the U.S. Under McLane, the Astros ranked in the top 10 in payroll in the majors just twice -- sixth in 2006 and eighth in 2009. Maybe there isn't quite enough fan interest in Houston to allow the Astros to play with the big boys -- even during their great run in the late '90s and early '00s, they reached a peak attendance level of fifth in the NL.

3. The Venezuelan pipeline shut down. Whether through deploying fewer resources, not spending money or just signing the wrong guys, a once fruitful operation in Venezuela -- arguably the best in the majors -- has returned little talent in recent years. Among the players Houston signed out of Venezuela: Richard Hidalgo, Bobby Abreu (although he was lost in the expansion draft), Carlos Guillen, Johan Santana (lost in the Rule 5 draft), Freddy Garcia and Melvin Mora.

4. Bad deals. The Carlos Lee -- six years for $100 million in 2007 -- was a bad deal at the time, an overrated RBI guy with mediocre OBPs who played poor defense. As predicted, it's become an albatross and he'll still be making $18.5 million in 2012. The team drafted Ben Zobrist and later traded him to Tampa Bay for Aubrey Huff. That's 68 games of Huff before he left as a free agent.

Crane will take over officially sometime this summer. He's got a lot of work ahead of him.

Follow David on Twitter: @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog: @espn_sweet_spot. And follow the Astros blog here.
Eric and Mark go around the diamond on Friday's Baseball Today podcast with:
  • Twins have a big hole to fill after Tsuyoshi Nishioka breaks his leg.
  • Mark explains how he jinxed the Royals and Pirates.
  • Brad Lidge out until the All-Star break.
  • Studies on good and bad starts to a season.
  • How many baseballs are used in a game?
  • Greatest rivalry in sports, fun facts about ESPN anchors and more.
And now a look through the Senior Circuit injury wire.

Chris Coghlan and Mike Stanton, Marlins: Coghlan is suffering from right shoulder tendinitis but is expected to start on Opening Day and will monitor his throwing carefully. Stanton missed much of spring with a quadriceps strain but returned last Friday and hit two home runs.

Mets: Where to begin? Jason Bay could now begin on the DL with a rib-cage discomfort, after missing two games recently with back stiffness. The Mets appear committed to Carlos Beltran as their Opening Day right fielder. He played a minor league game over the weekend and went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and had a double and triple hit over his head. Backup catcher Ronny Paulino could be headed to the DL with stomach issues. Johan Santana hopes to pitch sometime this season.

Chase Utley, Phillies: You've been following this one. Nobody knows when he'll be ready ... if it all, although he said Monday a goal is to return before the All-Star break.

Brad Lidge, Phillies: Lidge will undergo an MRI today to see if there is structural damage in his shoulder. He'll start on the DL, with Ryan Madson taking over as closer.

Placido Polanco, Phillies: He missed two weeks with a hyperextended elbow but is back and apparently OK.

Adam LaRoche, Nationals: He has a slight tear in his rotator cuff but will rehab and play through it.

Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey, Reds: Cueto has shoulder inflammation and Bailey has shoulder impingement and both begin the season on the DL (along with backup outfielder Fred Lewis, who has a strained oblique). Cueto has resumed playing catch and Bailey is expected to miss two starts. Mike Leake and Sam LeCure join the rotation, although the Reds don't need a fifth starter the first turn through the rotation.

Clint Barmes and Jason Castro, Astros: Castro is out for the season after tearing up his knee (and now catcher J.R. Towles has a balky back). Barmes is out 4-6 weeks and the Astros just acquired Joe Inglett to help with infield depth.

Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, Brewers:: Marcum missed a start with a stiff right shoulder but threw four pain-free innings on Monday. Greinke just started playing catch after suffering a fractured rib playing basketball. A late April return appears to be the goal.

Corey Hart, Brewers: Hart is aiming for a mid-April return from a strained rib-cage muscle. The Brewers just acquired Nyjer Morgan for outfield depth.

Chris Snyder, Pirates: The catcher's bad back will likely land him on the DL, leaving the Pirates with Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo behind the plate.

Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: He's out for the season following Tommy John surgery, with Kyle McClellan taking his spot in the rotation.

J.J. Putz, Diamondbacks: A stiff back has limited Putz in Cactus League action, but he's still hoping to be Arizona's closer come Opening Day.

Ian Stewart, Rockies: He's missed time with a right knee sprain and left Monday's game with a tight hamstring, but said he isn't concerned. The Rockies traded for Josh Fields as insurance and have Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez on the roster.

Jon Garland, Casey Blake and Dioner Navarro, Dodgers: Garland suffered a strained oblique early in spring training and just getting back to building up his arm strength. He'll need a couple weeks. Blake has back inflammation and will begin the season on the DL. Jamey Carroll is around to fill in (or Juan Uribe will shift to third with Carroll playing second). Backup catcher Navarro is also expected to start on the DL with a strained oblique.

Mat Latos, Padres: Latos has bursitis in his right shoulder and heads to the DL. Keep tabs on this one as the Padres will undoubtedly be cautious with the young ace.

Brian Wilson and Cody Ross, Giants: Wilson has a strained oblique and likely to begin on the DL, but could be activated as soon as April 5. Bruce Bochy hasn't announced his backup closer plans. Playoff hero Ross is on the DL with a calf strain and could miss three weeks. Nate Schierholtz could take his place or rookie Brandon Belt could play first base with Aubrey Huff moving to the outfield.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.
Tim Kurkjian reports that Brad Lidge won't be ready for the season opener and included this scary-sounding quote from Lidge: "I've never had shoulder issues before."

As good as the Phillies' rotation is, the bullpen is starting to look the opposite of that. Last season, the bullpen was only 10th in the NL in ERA, and that was with good Lidge (as opposed to the 2009 disaster), a career year from Ryan Madson and the surprising effectiveness of Jose Contreras. Check out the 2010 numbers of the projected relievers:

Brad Lidge (2.96 ERA, 1.23 WHIP)
Ryan Madson (2.55 ERA, 1.04 WHIP)
Jose Contreras (3.34 ERA, 1.22 WHIP)
J.C. Romero (3.68 ERA, 1.61 WHIP)
Danys Baez (5.48 ERA, 1.64 WHIP)
Kyle Kendrick (4.73 ERA, 1.37 WHIP as starter)
Antonio Bastardo (4.34 ERA, 1.50 WHIP)

That is not a good 'pen, especially with the likely regression of Madson and Contreras. The good news is that the Phillies' bullpen pitched the fewest innings in the NL last season, a number that should decrease with the addition of Cliff Lee. The Phillies survived Lidge's 0-8, 7.21 season in 2009, but overall that 'pen was still ninth in the NL with a 3.91 ERA. We don't know whether Lidge's injury is serious or will linger, but even with a healthy Lidge, this is a mediocre group that provides another reason why the Phillies aren't a lock to win the East.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.
As you can imagine, with the season nearing, moves being made and players hitting the DL, Eric Karabell and Keith Law had plenty to discuss in Friday's Baseball Today podcast, such as:

Lidge joins long list of those playing hurt, hurting team

February, 18, 2010
What? Brad Lidge was hurt last year? And it actually affected his pitching? I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you ...
A year after converting all 48 save chances, Lidge led the major leagues with 11 blown saves last season. He had surgery to repair his right elbow in November and right knee in January.


Lidge completed his first three save chances last year, then blew one April 19. Less than two weeks later, the Phillies briefly sidelined their closer due to right knee inflammation.

He said Wednesday the knee pain caused him to change his mechanics: He put more pressure on his right arm, leading to the elbow injury.

"You try to convince yourself that you're not 100 percent but you're fine, you'll be able to go out there and do the same thing and get results as normal. You try everything to do that," Lidge said. "It's not about trying to trick people as much as convincing yourself. If you can't sell it to yourself, there's no reason to go out there. I think the biggest thing is I was trying to convince myself I could get it done the same way and I felt I could do it, but I wasn't the same guy last year."

No kidding? What was your first clue?

Your pain?

Your drop in fastball speed?

Or was it the 7.21 ERA?

I know it's easy to say these things now. Of course Lidge was hurt, now that he's had a couple of postseason surgeries.

My point is that it should have been obvious to everyone last summer that Lidge wasn't healthy.

Amazingly, the Phillies very nearly won a World Series despite routinely deploying the game's worst reliever in critical situations. Considering that the Phillies won 93 games during the regular season, and that they did reach the World Series with Lidge pitching reasonably well in four postseason innings before the World Series, at this point the only truly interesting question is this:

If the Phillies had acknowledged Lidge's injuries, would they have won four World Series games rather than two?

Well, they lost Game 4 when Lidge gave up three runs in the top of the ninth inning. That game had been tied, and the Phillies might easily have lost regardless of who'd pitched that ninth inning for them; they weren't exactly swimming in good relief pitchers, and wouldn't have been even if they'd excised Lidge from the roster.

But if the Phillies had won Game 4 and Games 5 and 6 had gone as they actually did, a Game 7 presumably would have pitted C.C. Sabathia against Cole Hamels at Yankee Stadium. You can guess who'd have been favored in that one.

Without Lidge, I would give the Phillies something like a 40-percent chance of winning Game 4 and a 45-percent chance of winning Game 7 ... which adds up to something like a 1-in-5 chance of winning the World Series if they'd properly diagnosed Lidge's various maladies before November.

That's not great, 1-in-5. It's just better than losing.

Explaining Brad Lidge?

November, 6, 2009
Buried at the very end of an update that's mostly about the Phillies exploring replacements for Pedro Feliz -- due $5 million if he's a Phillie again next season -- is this tiny item:
    Closer Brad Lidge is scheduled to have his right elbow examined today, said Amaro. Lidge might have “loose bodies” in the elbow, the same issue that sidelined lefthander Scott Eyre in September.

If it turns out that Lidge was pitching hurt all season, someone should be fired.

Won't these people ever learn?

Podcast: Rob Neyer

November, 2, 2009
Rob Neyer covers Game 4 of the World Series , discussing Alex Rodriguez, Brad Lidge, Cole Hamels and more.

Kneejerk Reactions: Game 4

November, 2, 2009
Hero: Johnny Damon, after singling with two outs in the top of the ninth, promptly stole second base ... and took another base upon noticing the simple fact that, umm, nobody was covering third. How important was that? Brad Lidge, perhaps worried about one of his patented sliders skipping past Carlos Ruiz, fed fastballs to Alex Rodriguez, who drove home Damon with the tie-breaking run.

Goat: If anyone should have covered third base and dissuaded Damon from advancing -- or perhaps even tagged out Damon to end the inning -- it was Lidge, who also managed to give up three runs and take the loss.

Turning Point: Lidge zipped through the first two Yankees in the ninth, and got ahead of Damon 1-and-2. But Damon fouled off a pitch, took a couple of balls, and fouled off two more pitches before driving a single into left field. Just like Joba Chamberlain in the eighth, Lidge was just one strike away from a brilliant inning, only to lose (in his case) everything.

Costly Move: Chase Utley is one of the game's best defensive second basemen. But in the fifth inning he eschewed a sure force out at second base for the chance at a double play, and the result was two Yankees on base and nobody out. As things played out, Utley's errant glove flip cost the Phillies a run that would eventually seem quite precious.

Another Costly Move: Potentially costly, anyway. As a friend notes, Joe Girardi lost a one-run lead in the eighth inning without using either of his two best relievers. This is -- or should be -- what they teach you not to do on the first day of Managing 101. (What's more, if the Yankees hadn't scored in the ninth, Girardi apparently was going to bring in Phil Coke rather than Mariano Rivera, echoing a similar mistake made by Joe Torre six years ago, also in Game 4 of the World Series).

Good Move: With Howard representing the tying run in the seventh inning and CC Sabathia having thrown 102 pitches, Girardi summoned Damaso Marte from the bullpen, and Marte got ahead of Howard quickly before retiring him on an easy fly to left field.

Telling Statistic: At the single most important moment of the Phillies' 2009 season, Charlie Manuel relied on a relief pitcher who finished the regular season with zero wins, eight losses, and a 7.21 ERA. Should anyone really be surprised that this didn't work out particularly well?

History Lesson: Eight times before this year, the Yankees have won three of their first four World Series games. Eight times, the Yankees eventually won the World Series.

For more: Crashburn Alley's brutal (but fair) postmortem and It's About the Money (Stupid!)'s own kneejerk reactions.

Numbers not on Phillies' side

October, 15, 2009
Recently, I wrote this:
    Let's assume that the Phillies do beat the Rockies. With the 2008 version of Brad Lidge protecting small leads, I would rate the Phillies as slight underdogs against the Dodgers. With the 2009 version, though? I'll take the Dodgers in five.

In response (mostly in the comments), MGL accused me of hyperbole.

To which I respond, "Guilty as charged, Your Honor."

But let me run through my thought process here ...

I don't believe the Phillies are as good as the Dodgers. During the regular season, the Dodgers outscored their opponents by 169 runs; the Phillies outscored theirs by 111. Granted, the Phillies got a lot better during the season when they added Cliff Lee, but the Dodgers got better when they got Vicente Padilla and George Sherrill, and when Manny Ramirez returned to the lineup. No question, Lee's a great pitcher, but he doesn't wipe out the Dodgers' obvious edge all by himself.

So, when I described the Phillies as slight underdogs (with Brad Lidge the Great), I meant that I would have picked the Dodgers in six games, mostly because there aren't many seven-game series. Does Brad Lidge really push the number to five, all by himself? Of course not. No player could. Maybe he pushes them down from six to 5.63 or something. But that's hardly worth mentioning, so I rounded down for dramatic effect. Call it poetic license, if you prefer.

Anyway, I bring all this up by way of introducing another prediction: My friends at Diamond Mind Baseball have played the NLCS 1,000 times, and the results are even more lopsided than I guessed: Dodgers 765, Phillies 235. Oh, and the most common result? Dodgers in five.

Why? Well, this is mostly speculation, but in addition to the Dodgers simply being somewhat better than the Phillies, the Phillies' three left-handed starters just don't seem to match up well with the Dodgers' righty-laden lineup. Granted, roughly the same might have been said (and probably was) just one year ago. That's why they actually play the games for real.