The Yankees put an end to the four-game losing streak with an offensive outburst yesterday, on the heels of going 13-13 in July despite a +18 run differential. Lots of close losses — seven one-run losses, three two-run losses in July — will throw a wrench into the ol’ pythag record. Bullpens play a major role in close games, and the Yankees lost a number of those one-run games because their usually reliable relief corps came up short. Just look at the Red Sox series, both Rafael Soriano and David Robertson took losses in that one.
The injury to Mariano Rivera was obviously significant, but Soriano has stepped in and done a marvelous job as his ninth inning replacement. The problem is that the middle relief weakens because he’s no longer throwing the seventh inning. Cory Wade’s implosion left those key middle innings in the hands of a number of specialists, namely Cody Eppley, Clay Rapada, and Boone Logan. Those guys did a fine job for a while, but all of these close games have started to expose their weaknesses against batters of the opposite hand. Here’s a look at the bullpen’s month-by-month stats…
That’s a 3.68 ERA since the start of May — Mo’s last appearance was April 30th — so exactly league average as far as I’m concerned. That’s good, rock solid, but a notch below what the Yankees have gotten from their relievers in recent years. The bullpen pitched to a 3.29 ERA from 2010-2011 and a 3.59 ERA from 2008-2011, otherwise known as the four full seasons of the Joe Girardi era. This isn’t a fatal flaw kind of performance, but these guys haven’t been quite as automatic as we’ve grown accustomed too of late.
Joba Chamberlain officially returned to the bullpen two days ago, adding the kind of non-matchup reliever that I felt was an essential addition over the last few weeks. He showed his rust yesterday and therein lies the problem — we really have no idea what Joba will give the team going forward. It could be two months of utter dominance, it could be two months of replacement level production, it could be two months of something in the middle. Those were two very serious injuries — Tommy John guys tend to struggle with command during the first six or eight months after surgery anyway — and we shouldn’t downplay their potential impact. It’s going to take a few weeks before we get an accurate measure of his effectiveness.
The Yankees have been getting plenty of length out of their starters recently, with just eighth starts of fewer than six innings in the last 27 games. That dates back to the Adam Warren disaster. Only once during that stretch did a starter fail to complete at least five innings, and that was the David Phelps spot start in St. Pete (4.2 IP). The best way to improve the performance of the bullpen is to get even more length out of the starters so the specialists aren’t exposed. The offense blowing a few games open like yesterday wouldn’t hurt either. Girardi has done a really good job of mixing and matching with his middle guys, but the more relievers you use in a game, the more likely you are to run into someone having an off-night. That’s why all the specialists and matchup work can be dangerous.