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.