- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2009

POINT/COUNTERPOINT

Each week, Nationals beat writers Mark Zuckerman and Ben Goessling debate an issue in major league baseball.

This week’s question: Should the Phillies replace Brad Lidge as closer?

MARK ZUCKERMAN: I don’t see how they can’t make a change. Lidge hasn’t just been shaky; he has been awful. I know he was perfect last year and was a big reason the Phillies won the World Series, but his entire career has been defined by extreme highs and extreme lows. (Remember how long it took for him to recover from the Albert Pujols homer in the 2005 NLCS?) Tough as it sounds, I think the Phillies have to put someone else in the closer’s role.

BEN GOESSLING: I would have an easier time seeing that if they had a surefire substitute in the bullpen. But the truth is they don’t. Ryan Madson would be the natural pick, but he’s been so good as a setup guy the last couple years that it’s tough to see the Phillies taking him out of that spot. J.C. Romero is too shaky to close, and the rest of that Phillies bullpen is filled with guys on the back end of their careers. I could see them making Madson the guy, but I don’t know what else you do other than ride Lidge and hope he turns it around.

MZ: So let me get this straight: Ryan Madson is so valuable a reliever that the Phillies can’t use him in the bullpen’s most important role? The ninth inning needs to belong to your best reliever, plain and simple. Then you work your way backward from there, whether that means Romero, Jamie Moyer or even Lidge as the eighth-inning guy. But if Charlie Manuel sticks with Lidge as his closer, I have a tough time believing this team can repeat as World Series champions.

BG: I didn’t say Madson was too valuable to be a closer. I said he has been too good as a setup guy to move - into a role where he might not thrive - unless the Phillies absolutely have to do it. He said himself he would need to get used to pitching in that situation. Look, it’s obviously in there somewhere for Lidge to bounce back from this - he has done it before, though this time he would have to do it much faster. Your choices either seem to be: rearrange your whole bullpen with a month to go in the season or show some faith in the guy who was perfect last year. I still think you give Lidge a little more time to sort it out. The Phillies are going to win this division easily, so they have some time to set up their bullpen for the playoffs.

AWARD WATCH

Looking at the front-runners for baseball’s season awards. This week: NL Rookie of the Year

J.A. Happ, Phillies

This is going to be a wide-open competition that figures to go down to the wire. Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen is electric, and teammate Garrett Jones leads NL rookies with 16 homers and has a .296 average. And Atlanta’s Tommy Hanson is 9-3 with a 3.15 ERA. But Happ is 10-3 with a 2.63 ERA for a World Series contender. He has been crucial to the Phillies’ run, and that earns him the award at this point.

Others to watch: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates; Garrett Jones, Pirates; Tommy Hanson, Braves; Dexter Fowler, Rockies.

POWER POLL

Team Record Comment

1. YANKEES 82-48 Will Joba Chamberlain still be restricted to three innings in the playoffs?

2. CARDINALS 77-55 Quietly they have become the best team in the NL.

3. DODGERS 78-53 They’re breathing easier now that they’ve opened up West lead again.

4. ANGELS 77-52 Great move to add AL East-killer Scott Kazmir to the rotation.

5. PHILLIES 75-53 Baseball’s best team for eight innings. After that? Yikes.

6. RED SOX 76-54 Who knew Paul Byrd was the missing link?

7. GIANTS 72-59 Huge sweep of the Rockies puts them back in the wild-card hunt.

8. ROCKIES 72-59 OK, forget about the division and focus on the wild card.

9. RANGERS 72-57 Is a .320 team OBP good enough to make the playoffs?

10. RAYS 70-59 Who’s going to step up as the ace of the staff?

* Records and stats through Sunday

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