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Yankees’ bullpen edge could prove decisive in ALDS versus Boston

New York’s relief corps is the envy of the league.

Dellin Betances was one of the heroes of New York’s Wild Card Game triumph over Oakland.
Dellin Betances was one of the heroes of New York’s Wild Card Game triumph over Oakland.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

We’re all too familiar with Boston’s celebrated starting rotation. Perennial Cy Young Award candidate Chris Sale is followed by past winners David Price and Rick Porcello. Former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi rounds out the quartet of pitchers who will start against New York in the ALDS.

The games may not be decided by the starters, though. The Yankees’ offense puts a lot of traffic on the bases. New York’s hitters are adept at fouling off pitches, working deep counts, and driving up pitch counts. If they can keep this going during the Division Series, the Yankees will be able to get into the Red Sox bullpen early, which is Boston’s main weakness.

Closer Craig Kimbrel is as good as it gets, but getting to him is Boston’s problem. The path to Kimbrel in the ninth has been somewhat of an adventure for the Red Sox. This provides a great opportunity for New York.

Matt Barnes is Boston’s primary setup man, but the right-hander missed most of September with a hip injury. Ryan Brasier is another trusted righty whom the Red Sox will lean on. He logged 33 solid innings for Boston this year after coming over from Japan.

Heath Hembree and Joe Kelly are Boston’s other short relievers, both of whom have struggled mightily with consistency this season. Their positions in manager Alex Cora’s circle of trust are shaky at best. The pair allow a lot of baserunners, while Hembree is prone to giving up the long ball. Knuckleballer Steven Wright and swingman Eduardo Rodriguez will be used in long relief. Boston’s relief corps pales in comparison to the Yankees.

New York’s bullpen is one of its greatest strengths, and it is arguably the best in baseball. The Yankees boast four guys who are legitimate, top-shelf closers in Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, and Zach Britton. Chad Green and Jonathan Holder have been outstanding in middle relief. Rookie LOOGY Stephen Tarpley and fifth starter Lance Lynn have also been added to New York’s Division Series roster.

That group of Yankees hurlers (minus Lynn) pitched to an eye-popping .193/.273/.310 slash line across 363 innings this season. They notched an astounding 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, while limiting opponents to only 3.3 walks per nine. Their 2.82 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and .583 OPS against are the envy of the entire league.

In contrast, the relievers on Boston’s ALDS roster have produced a 3.44 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and .667 OPS against. They’ve been stingy with the home run (.9 per nine), but not as good as New York (.7). Opponents have achieved an on-base percentage of over .300 against the relievers that will be coming out of Boston’s bullpen against the Yankees during the ALDS.

Throughout the long season, manager Aaron Boone often went to lower-tier relievers like A.J. Cole, Luis Cessa, and others to pitch in close games. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. With precious few off-days, you simply can’t pitch your best arms every single day. Everything is different now that the calendar has flipped to October.

With a day off before ALDS Games One, Three, and Five, the schedule really favors the Yankees by allowing their top relievers to pitch in every game. Before the Wild Card Game against Oakland, Boone said he planned to be aggressive in using his formidable bullpen arsenal, and he showed it by pitching Betances for two frames beginning in the fifth inning. We should expect more of that aggressiveness during the Division Series against Boston. The Yankees boast a marked bullpen edge over the Red Sox, and it could very well prove decisive in this series.