The Yanks rode their bullpen in the Wild Card Game, but they probably won’t be able to do it again in ALDS Game One

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

In the days leading up to last night’s Wild Card Game, we discussed the different ways the Yankees could approach their pitching staff in the winner-take-all affair. There were two approaches, basically. Start Luis Severino, the staff ace, or rely on all those power arms in a bullpen game. Overwhelmingly, RAB readers voted for Severino.

As it turned out, the Yankees did both. They started Severino, but because the Twins knocked him out one out into the game, Joe Girardi had to empty his bullpen. And the bullpen was magnificent. Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Aroldis Chapman combined to allow one run on five hits and three walks in 8.2 innings. They struck out 13. Incredible.

Aside from Chapman, who got the three outs in the ninth, the bullpen went above and beyond the usual call of duty. Green threw 41 pitches in two innings. Robertson threw a career high 52 pitches in a career high 3.1 innings. Kahnle threw 2.1 innings — that’s the second longest outing of his career — and 29 pitches. Girardi’s top three setup guys combined for 23 outs and 122 pitches. Again, incredible.

That performnce comes with a cost, however, as the Yankees won’t have a full strength bullpen heading into Game One of the ALDS against the Indians tomorrow. Kahnle managed to keep his pitch count low, so he should be in decent shape for Game One. Robertson will almost certainly be out of action though, and the same with Green, who typically received two days off following multi-inning appearances during the regular season.

“Greenie probably is going to need two days off. Robbie is probably going to need two days off,” said Girardi following last night’s game. “If you’re playing four games in five nights, it’s really difficult to (keep using your bullpen like this). You can do it probably two of the games of the (five), but you can’t do it back-to-back. And a lot of times you can — if you were to do it on Game Two, you probably can’t even do it on Game Three, even with the off-day in between.”

On one hand, the Yankees do have a pretty deep bullpen, so their “backup” setup men are Kahnle and Dellin Betances and Adam Warren. Yes, Betances has walked a ton of hitters this year and it’s hard to trust him, but when he’s your fourth (fifth?) best reliever, you’re doing okay. Even without Green and Robertson, the Yankees will have some quality bullpen arms available to bring the gap from starter to Chapman in Game One tomorrow.

On the other hand, Green and Robertson are the team’s best relievers, and the Yankees have their best chance to win when those two are available. No Green and no Robertson tomorrow reduces New York’s chances of winning. That’s just the way it goes. That isn’t to say Girardi was wrong to use them like he did yesterday. Of course not. That was necessary to win the winner-take-all game. This is just the consequences of not winning the division.

Bullpen usage tends to rely on the performance of the rest of the team. If the starter and the offense does their job, it’ll impact how the manager uses his relievers. That was the biggest reason the Yankees didn’t dominate even with the Chapman-Betances-Andrew Miller trio last year. The offense and the rotation didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, so those three didn’t have as many chances to impact the game.

So, the impact of not having Green or Robertson tomorrow can be mitigated by the offense and by the starter, whoever it ends up being. I think it’ll be Sonny Gray, but we’ll see. Point is, if the offense can score some runs against Trevor Bauer — not Corey Kluber! — and the starter can go reasonably deep into the game (more than one out, preferably), not having Green and Robertson won’t be as much of a factor as it could be.

The Yankees and Girardi did what they had to do to win the Wild Card Game last night, and because Severino checked out so early, that meant pushing the top relievers much further than usual. And there’s a domino effect to that. Green and Robertson won’t be available in Game One of the ALDS tomorrow. That’s life. Hopefully the starter and the offense can make it a moot point. And if not, it’ll be time for the rest of the bullpen to step up.

Thoughts following the 2017 Wild Card Game

(Getty)
(Getty)

Hey, did I call a comeback win yesterday or what? I even called the Yankees coming back from an early Eddie Rosario two-run home run. Yeah the inning was wrong and the final score was wrong and all that, but I was close! Anyway, the Yankees won last night’s thrilling Wild Card Game and will now take on the Indians in the ALDS. That series starts Thursday. I have some thoughts on last night and things going forward.

1. Man, what a stinker by Luis Severino. I still love the kid, but damn. That was bad, Sevy. Bad bad bad. He was pretty clearly amped up. The sky high velocity and big time missed location tell us he was overthrowing. That kinda stuff can happen when you throw a 23-year-old kid into a pressure packed situation. That’s baseball. I didn’t like the boos though. I mean, I get it, but the Yankees aren’t in the postseason without Severino. No doubt about that. Hopefully Severino got those postseason jitters out of the way last night, learns from the whole experience, and is better for it moving forward. He learned from his struggles last season, remember. This isn’t a guy who struggles and lets it snowball. Severino has had a tough time and rebounded before. Now the Yankees need him to do it again.

2. Speaking of Severino, when does he pitch in the ALDS? He threw only 29 pitches last night. I don’t think the Yankees would bring him back for Game One tomorrow. That’s a little too quick of a turnaround. Could he start Game Two though? That’d be pretty huge, because then he could start Game Two and a potential Game Five on normal rest. Had he thrown a full start last night, Severino would’ve been out of action until Game Three of the ALDS, meaning he could only make one start in the series. Now there’s at least a chance he makes two. Maybe, instead of starting him in Game Two, the Yankees use Severino in relief in Game One? Joe Girardi said last night Chad Green and David Robertson probably won’t be available Thursday following their extended outings in the Wild Card Game. Severino could instead throw an inning or two out of the bullpen tomorrow, then start Game Three as scheduled. I dunno, they’d be jerking the kid around quite a bit. We’ll see. Starting Severino in Game Two seems like a possibility now though.

3. How locked in is Aaron Judge? He singled in the first inning last night, hit a two-run home run in the fourth, just missed another home run — he pulled it foul — before drawing a walk in the seventh, and crushed a loud fly ball to center field in the eighth. Judge was on everything. Even his two outs, a ground out in the second and the fly out in the eighth, were hard-hit. He finished the regular season strong — Judge hit .311/.463/.889 (233 wRC+) with 15 freaking home runs in September — and it sure looks like it carried over into the postseason. It is really, really impressive how he bounced back from that ugly six or seven week slump after the All-Star break. Judge doesn’t get enough credit for being such a smart natural hitter. That was always the book on him in the minors. He had good pure hitting ability but no one knew whether his body would allow that ability to shine. Well, it is shining, and holy crap is it fun. This guy is a superstar in every way. We saw it again last night.

(Getty)
(Getty)

4. Can we talk about Brett Gardner for a bit? What a ballplayer that guy is. The three-run first inning rally started with a Gardner walk, then he hit a solo homer in the second, then he singled in front of Judge’s two-run home run in the fourth. Plus he made that great running catch on Joe Mauer’s deep fly ball to end the sixth inning. Gardner went 2-for-4 with a walk, a homer, and three runs scored last night, and he saw 25 total pitches. And he made that catch. He hit .264/.350/.428 (109 wRC+) and went 20-20 while again playing great defense during the regular season, meaning he was yet again a +3 WAR player. The bullpen and the Didi Gregorius and Judge home runs are going to get all the attention and deservedly so. But Gardner had a huge impact on last night’s game, on both sides of the ball. Do not overlook his importance to the team. He’s a heart and soul player for the Yankees.

5. If there was any question as to whether Joe Girardi trusts Dellin Betances right now, it was answered emphatically last night. The Yankees rolled through Green and Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, and Betances never even warmed up in a winner-take-all game. That never would’ve happened from 2014-16. Heck, Chasen Shreve even warmed up last night. In the eighth inning! Dellin is that far out of the Circle of Trustâ„¢ right now. And he deserves to be. Betances finished the regular season with a 16.9% walk rate and 55 walks plus hit batsmen in 59.2 innings. Unacceptable. I hate using that word, but 55 free baserunners in 59.2 innings from a high-leverage reliever is unacceptable. If at all possible, Girardi should avoid Dellin in high-leverage situations. I have no trouble with how he handled things last night. The thing is, the Yankees are going to need Betances at some point this postseason, maybe tomorrow with Green and Robertson presumably unavailable. They can’t avoid him forever, and they can’t let him sit too long between appearances either. My guess is Betances will throw a bullpen session or simulated game during today’s workout to stay sharp, but nothing heavy enough that it’ll take him out of action tomorrow.

6. I’m curious to see what happens with the DH spot going forward. The Indians do not have any lefties in the rotation, so I have to think Matt Holliday will remain glued to the bench. He can’t face righties, especially righties with good velocity, and the Indians have plenty of those guys. Righties chewed him up in the second half. I don’t think Girardi wants to leave Chase Headley sitting around too long. The Indians have some very good individual baserunners (Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez), but overall, they are not an aggressive baserunning team and they don’t take the extra base a whole lot. Perhaps it’s not imperative to have Aaron Hicks and his arm in center field. So then Headley at DH and Jacoby Ellsbury in center field? I dunno. I’d rather keep Hicks in center and in the lineup, and let Headley and Ellsbury split time at DH. That’d be my ideal situation.

7. Last but not least, I don’t want to hear anything about the new Yankee Stadium lacking energy after last night. That place was rockin’. The stands were shaking and the crowd was electric. The old Yankee Stadium has been romanticized into something it never was. It was never packed with a postseason atmosphere with regularity during the regular season. That game last night was as loud as any postseason game I’ve ever attended at the old ballpark. Turns out you just need a good and fun team to liven the place up.