If the New York Yankees hold on to the playoff spot they currently have, there’s one unit that can make the difference between an early exit and a deep run: the bullpen.
The Yankees have one of the best bullpens in the majors, with an arsenal of arms to lock down games. If they have a lead heading into the sixth inning, chances are they will win. The combination of Chad Green and Adam Warren on the front end and Tommy Kahnle, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, and Aroldis Chapman on the back end is very formidable, and has led to a lot of wins recently.
They also take a burden off of the offense, since batters only need to score enough to give the bullpen the lead. Plus, they can also take over for a starter as early as the sixth, if necessary. In a five- or seven-game playoff series, they can very realistically be the catalysts for advancing.
When it comes to the postseason, anything goes, especially when it comes to bullpen management. Managers forgo normal strategy and put relievers in earlier than usual, putting pressure on their opponents and shortening the game. Last postseason saw Indians manager Terry Francona make liberal use of shutdown reliever Andrew Miller, sometimes putting him in as early as the fifth.
This was one of the primary reasons why the Indians won the AL Pennant and came within one win of a World Series title. With all of the relievers he has, Joe Girardi can mix-and-match in a postseason series, keeping opponents on their toes and not knowing whom they will face.
However, the bullpen isn’t without its faults. Notably, it is tied for second in the majors for the most blown saves with 20. Had they converted even just half of those, they would have a solid lead in the AL East instead of contending for a wild-card spot. In addition, some say that Girardi doesn’t always use the best option in each relief situation.
For example, this past Sunday’s loss to the Red Sox saw Girardi leave in Chapman in the tenth, and he allowed two hitters on base, which made his responsible for the winning run. Many said that Girardi should have replaced his closer once there was no more save opportunity. The Yankees have lost important games before when Girardi didn’t play his cards right, and that can still happen even in the postseason.
Yet despite some apparent flaws, Yankee fans should definitely have confidence in their bullpen. They have blown just three have come since the All-Star Break, and one since they acquired Robertson and Kahnle.
They have enough talent that they could win even if Girardi makes a bad decision. After all, the Cubs still won the World Series last year despite Joe Maddon’s overuse of Chapman. If you’re looking for an unexpected World Series contender, then the Yankees’ bullpen certainly makes them fit the bill.