When the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, they did so with one of the game's strongest bullpens anchored by closer Brad Lidge. The flame throwing Lidge did not blow a single save in 2008 and turned a average bullpen into one of the best in baseball through his consistently great performance. His impact was enormous and cannot be understated.
Braves closer Mike Gonzalez, coming off Tommy John surgery, has the opportunity to transform the Braves bullpen from horrific to dynamic in 2009. Don't let his mediocre 2009 stats (0-3, 4.28 ERA) fool you, Gonzalez has the makeup and the stuff to be a fantastic closer in this league. The only question is whether or not he can remain healthy.
When the Braves acquired Gonzalez from the Pirates in 2007, they envisioned Gonzalez as a dominant relief pitcher at the back end of the bullpen and a possible candidate to close. Armed with a powerful fastball and a dynamic slider, Gonzalez has all the makings of a great closer. He can strike out hitters even after Tommy John surgery (44 K in 33 IP) and make hitters look absolutely foolish at the dish. But only 18 games into the 2007 season, Gonzalez was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery and missed the remainder of the season. Ouch.
So after missing all of 2007 and a good portion of 2008, this is Gonzalez's chance to prove his worth to the Braves. They will be counting on Gonzalez heavily this season to become the steady and productive force at the back end of their bullpen that they lacked in 2008. Without a solid closer last season, the Braves consistently struggled late in ball games last season and won only 11 one run ball games.
The Braves will need to win lots of close games if they are going to seriously compete in the NL East this season. Gonzalez will play a major role in that. If he performs well, the Braves could become the team no one wants to play in 2009 and a legitimate playoff candidate. Who knows if Gonzalez will turn into a lights out closer like Lidge? He certainly has the stuff to do it.
However, if Gonzalez fails to hold down the job or gets hurt, the Braves will struggle to hold down leads and win ball games. It could get ugly for the third year in a row for the Braves.
The spotlight's on, Mike Gonzalez. Stay healthy!
What do you think, will Gonzalez be the dynamic closer the Braves need?
*Coming up tomorrow, the Philadelphia Phillies.*