Never Forget: Brad Lidge Retires

Never Forget: Brad Lidge Retires

“The 0-2 pitch – SWING
AND A MISS, STRUCK ‘IM OUT! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 world champions of
baseball! Brad Lidge does it again, and stays perfect for the 2008 season.”
– Harry Kalas

In our eyes, Brad Lidge will always be perfect. If nothing
else, he was the perfect man to finish the job every time he was called upon in
’08, including the final inning of the World Series. Now that he’s calling it
quits
after an 11-year big-league career, it gives us all a chance to reflect
on just how vital he was to the city’s first major sports championship in 25 years.

I doubt anybody could have predicted quite how important Lights Out was going to be upon his arrival in Philadelphia.

Lidge was sent from Houston along with the immortal Eric
Bruntlett during the ’08 offseason in exchange for Michael Bourn and prospects
Mike Costanzo and Geoff Geary. An All Star in ’05, he had gained some measure
of fame with the Astros, but perhaps more so for surrendering a game-winning
home run to Albert Pujols in the NLCS that same year. After a couple of
up-and-down seasons, the Phils were able to swoop in and land their closer for relatively cheap.

The rest is history – literally. Lidge saved 41 games in 41
regular season opportunities in ’08, followed by seven more successful
conversions in the playoffs. He won NL Comeback Player of the Year and Relief
Man of the Year awards. And of course, he struck out Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinske on
a slider to clinch the Phillies’ first World Series victory since 1980.

The guy even narrates the team’s championship DVD!

Lidge fell out of favor relatively quickly however. He
signed a three-year extension worth $37.5 million, and was never quite the same
after that. He finished ’09 with 11 blown saves and a 7.21 ERA, and spent a
good portion of the next two seasons on the disabled list. With his contract
finally up, Lidge joined the Washington Nationals last winter, though he only
appeared in 11 games. Now 35, he's decided to retire.

Yet for one season, if only one, Lidge was perfect. Do the
Phillies win a World Series without him? Maybe. Maybe not. From where we stand
today, it’s impossible to say he wasn’t instrumental to that run – and if not Lidge,
then who?

The guy was no Hall of Famer. In fact, he only had a handful
of decent seasons when you really start to dissect the career. And, yeah, he only
spent four seasons in Philly, and even two and a half of those were disappointing.

You might say Brad Lidge merely had impeccable timing. Any way you choose to slice it, the man is an all-timer here, if nowhere else. His was
not a classically great career, but there is no debate, he achieved
greatness and then some.

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No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

The addition of outfielder Michael Saunders doesn't suddenly make the Phillies an NL contender, but coupled with the trade for Howie Kendrick, the Phils' projected lineup is much deeper and more well-rounded than it was at this time last year.

By adding two capable corner outfield bats, the lineup has been lengthened, and it's unlikely you'll see someone like Freddy Galvis in the five-hole much in 2017.

The Saunders signing is not yet official, but assuming it goes through, the Phils' lineup could look like this on opening day:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (S)
2. Howie Kendrick, LF 
3. Odubel Herrera, CF (L)
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF (L)
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS (S)

Considering the Phillies started Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos in the outfield corners last opening day, this is a huge upgrade even if Kendrick and Saunders are not huge names. 

Phillies leftfielders hit .212/.284/.332 last season. Unless Kendrick forgets how to hit overnight, he won't come close to those numbers. Phillies rightfielders had eight home runs in 637 plate appearances last season. Give Saunders that many PAs and you're likely looking at 27 to 30 homers.

Before last season, Kendrick hit between .279 and .322 every year from 2006 to 2015. Having a guy who can hit .290 with a .330-plus on-base percentage in the two-hole is a big deal, especially if he's hitting between Hernandez (.371 OBP last season) and Herrera (.361 OBP). You can foresee plenty of scenarios where, if that's the 1-2-3, Herrera comes up with runners on the corners in the first inning.

Saunders is another 20-plus home run bat. When you look through the Phillies' lineup, there are potentially five of those. Plus, don't sleep on the improvement Herrera made in that department last season, almost doubling his HR total from eight to 15.

The balance of left-handed and right-handed bats will make the Phillies more difficult to pitch to. It was important that the outfield bat they added was left-handed, because if not you'd be looking at an extremely right-handed heavy middle of the order.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of adding two veteran hitters who have had success in the majors. Franco could use all the additional advice he can get. Herrera, too, is at an impressionable age. Might Franco be less likely to give away an at-bat, as he did so many times in 2016, with someone like Kendrick there to greet him at the top step of the dugout? That question may sound silly, but the entire environment changes when you add a respected veteran leader to a clubhouse filled with kids.

This is not to say the Phillies will have a top-five offense in 2017. They'll still likely be toward the bottom-half or bottom-third of the National League, but as of right now this isn't the NL's worst lineup like it was for the majority of last season. The Reds and Padres have worse lineups, and you could add the Brewers and Pirates to that list if Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen are traded.

Pete Mackanin has called for more offense and more lineup flexibility and he's gotten it, even though it doesn't involve real star power. Kendrick's ability to also play first base and second base could allow Aaron Altherr to get some playing time in an outfield corner when Hernandez or Joseph sits. 

The only real casualty of the Saunders signing is Roman Quinn, who Mackanin confirmed Tuesday night would likely spend the year at Triple A. Quinn showed some flashes late last season and is an exciting player, but it would have been risky to rely on him as a starting outfielder in 2017 given he's never even reached 400 plate appearances in a season. 

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

With the Sixers winning and Joel Embiid turning heads nationally, interest in Brett Brown's team continues to grow. So much so, apparently, that the Sixers' home game against the Rockets on Jan. 27 has been moved to ESPN.

The announcement that Sixers-Rockets would replace Bulls-Heat was made by the NBA Tuesday night. It will be the second Sixers game on national TV this season and they'll look for a better result than the 24-point loss in Minnesota on TNT Nov. 17.

The Sixers host the Rockets a night after the NBA announces the All-Star Game reserves. (Starters are named Jan. 19.) It seems likely at this point Embiid will have a spot on the Eastern Conference roster.

The Sixers have five games before then and all will be challenging: vs. Toronto, vs. Portland, at Atlanta, vs. Clippers, at Milwaukee. Add in Houston and those teams are a combined 151-101 (.599).

They will catch a break in one of those games by missing Clippers PG Chris Paul, who will miss six to eight weeks after having left thumb surgery.

The Rockets, at 32-12, are third in the Western Conference, 1½ games behind the Spurs and 4½ behind the Warriors. Houston is on pace to shatter some NBA three-point records under first-year head coach Mike D'Antoni, an assistant on Brown's Sixers staff last season.

The Rockets set the NBA record on Dec. 17 for threes made (24) and attempted (61) in a game. And this past Sunday, the Rockets and Nets tied the NBA record by attempting 88 threes.