In the dwindling days before the July 31 trade deadline, speculation has centered on the Phillies' need for another hitter, preferably one who swings from the right side. Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter with strong postseason numbers, would be a great fit.
It makes sense. The Phillies offense has struggled during long stretches of the season, especially against lefthanded pitching, and Beltran might be the best bat on the market.
But unless they add a big-time reliever - like San Diego's Heath Bell or Mike Adams or maybe Baltimore's Koji Uehara - instead of or along with a hitter, the Phillies will be trusting the crucial innings of a World-Series-or-bust season to a bullpen featuring a converted setup man (Madson), two out-of-nowhere, four-month sensations (Bastardo and rookie Michael Stutes), and a rehabilitated veteran with a shortage of pop on his fastball (Brad Lidge).
Is that anyway to protect the promise created by one of the best starting rotations in baseball history as well as some of the most accomplished position players in franchise history?
Strictly by the numbers, the Phillies don't need help at the back end of the bullpen. At the front end, maybe, but any team that relies on its fifth or sixth reliever in the playoffs isn't going to be riding on any floats in any parades anyway.
Madson has been great (3-1, 2.20 ERA, 15 for 16 in saves) and Bastardo has been even better (3-0, .099 ERA, 7 for 7). Add in strong work by Stutes (4-1, 3.24 ERA despite a couple of recent stumbles) and the back end of the bullpen has been an exclamation point, not a question mark.
Manuel was coy on Wednesday when asked if Bastardo or Madson was his closer. The Phillies manager basically said that both pitchers could fill the role depending on the situation.
Is that like having two No. 1 goalies?
Lidge, the 2008 hero who pitched a 1-2-3 inning at a rehab assignment with Lakewood on Wednesday, is expected to rejoin the team in the near future, perhaps as soon as Friday. It's a stretch to imagine Lidge regaining his role as closer - unless he suddenly adds five m.p.h. to those 89 m.p.h. fastballs, thanks to an adrenaline surge from being back in the big leagues - but he's likely to add depth and matchup versatility.
The Phillies probably can't count on Jose Contreras, who is nursing a sore elbow. But if Roy Oswalt continues to progress from a lower-back ailment and returns to form, Vance Worley could join Kyle Kendrick in the bullpen when the team switches to a four-man rotation in the playoffs.
Unless Worley is traded to the Mets in a swap for Beltran, that is. Or in another deal for a righthanded bat.
So barring a surprise move in the next nine days, the Phillies will count on a bullpen led by Bastardo, Madson, and Stutes.
Not as complementary guys. Not as role players. As the main men for a team whose sensational starting rotation and aging, accomplished nucleus cannot be compromised by late-inning collapses.
Nobody could have imagined that in April. But these guys have been so good, they might have compelled the team to trust them to pitch the biggest innings of the biggest games of the season.
That's a heavy burden for an inexperienced guy such as Bastardo, who has been prone to injuries in his career and isn't used to this kind of workload.
Or Madson, a veteran who had just 20 saves in seven-plus major-league seasons before 2011.
Or Stutes, a rookie looking at his first big-league August, much less September and October.
Manuel is flush. He's a manager with surplus of closers, with two in the bullpen and another one on the way.
Of course, Laviolette had three goalies, too. And come playoff time, he would have given anything just to have one on whom he could rely.
Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, email@example.com,
or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.