Brad Lidge yo-yo back on the upswing

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lidge_brad_091015.jpgStill worried about the Phillies bullpen?

For all the talk of Brad Lidge falling off the ledge, he certainly looked fine on Thursday night in the NLCS opener. So did the rest of his bullpen mates (aside from Ryan Madson’s hiccup), holding the Dodgers in check in a wild 8-6 victory.

The Dodgers figured to have an edge in this series in the bullpen department with a lockdown closer in Jonathan Broxton plus a whole host of talented guys like Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario, and a solid lefty specialist in George Sherrill.

The Phillies, on the other hand, had Lidge, who after a perfect 48-for-48 2008 season, reverted in 2009 to the guy who seemed stalked by Albert Pujols in his nightmares. The ugliness lasted all season long, resulting in a line of 0-8, 7.21 that would make Mariah Carey cringe.

But a couple of things were overlooked heading into the playoffs.

For one thing, Lidge seemed to finally get his act together in the last part of the season, allowing one run in his last four appearances. Add to that the two saves he notched in a pair of scoreless appearances in the NLDS, and Phillies fans could at least hope that their incredible yo-yo of a closer was once again on the upswing.

Another overlooked advantage for the Phillies was their overall pitching depth. The Phillies have so many talented starting pitchers they don’t know what do with them all. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee were guaranteed starting spots, but with the extended format of the playoffs, Charlie Manuel has had some flexibility in deciding what to do with J.A. Happ, Pedro Martinez, Joe Blanton and Chan Ho Park, who took Brett Myers’ spot on the NLCS roster.

On Thursday night, Happ came out of the bullpen to get one out, and Park looked strong in a perfect seventh inning. Having these guys ready to go in relief takes pressure off the back-end guys like Scott Eyre, Madson and of course, Lidge.

Look, this isn’t to say this series is close to being over. Lidge gave up a hit and a single on Thursday, and was fortunate to have a hard-hit grounder turn into a double-play ball.

It’s also difficult to predict what the Phillies will get out of Martinez in his Game 2 start Friday, which will be his first action since Sept. 30. (In fact, he hasn’t even pitched in a playoff game since helping the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004.)

But it’s still a good sign for the Phillies to see Lidge notching saves again.

“Honestly, for some reason I’ve really been locked in this postseason. I felt really good mechanically. I feel like myself. I feel pretty comfortable right now.”

Lidge is locked in? Uh oh, Dodgers.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.