We were happy last season with the 6 IP, 2-3 ER performances the pitchers behind Cole Hamels were serving up. Sure, with enough offense, these blue-plate specials seemed like Le Bec Fin-quality meals. Joe Blanton with an ERA of 4.50? C’est magnifique! Jamie Moyer winding through a five- to six-inning outing? Delicioso!
But the meals might start to taste sour next season. Especially if the Phillies bullpen doesn’t reach its very high 2008 standards. Consider:
The 2008 group of Brad Lidge, JC Romero, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre and Co. finished with a 3.22 ERA, second in the majors.
The 2007 group of Brett Myers, Tom Gordon, JC Romero, Ryan Madson, Antonio Alfonseca and Co. finished with a 4.50 ERA, 24th in the majors.
We know Lidge is very good. And while Romero will miss 50 games, he’s proven to be a reliable setup man. Madson has also desrved his title. But Durbin is the wild card. How a man whose season-best ERA was a 4.72 can dip down to an ERA under 3.00 so quickly is very curious. Sure, he pitched well, and we saw that during 2008. But something tells me he won’t exactly replicate his 2008 performance.
This is even more certain with Romero’s absence. Durbin might be relied upon to take some later innings, which wouldn’t be a good idea. In 2008, opponents hit .319 against Durbin in the eighth inning, and .313 in the all-too-important “late and close” situation. We all saw what happened when he pitched in the postseason (a couple shaky outings against the Dodgers and very little time against Tampa Bay). It seems that Durbin is at his best as a total middle reliever pitching in medium-leverage situations, and anything more could prove futile.
Middle relief was the key to the Phils pitching success in 2008. It’s what they sorely lacked in 2007, what kept them from winning certain games and from holding the close ones. Durbin was the reason for this surge in middle relief. Hopefully the Phils won’t need to take him out of the role, because if they do, those starting pitching numbers won’t taste so fine.