The Yankees found themselves in a crucial situation in the Wild Card Game on Wednesday night, holding on to a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning, with the A’s threatening to finally break through in the run column. Back-to-back singles had knocked Luis Severino out of the game, and Aaron Boone turned to a surprising arm in Dellin Betances to get the Yanks out of the jam and keep the shutout intact.
Many were likely expecting David Robertson to come in and do his Houdini act, but Boone went with Betances, to the dismay of some in Yankees Universe. Three outs and two stranded runners later, nobody was complaining anymore.
Then, Betances emerged from the dugout for the fifth, another mild surprise. Primarily used for one clean inning in the regular season, Betances was now being asked to record six outs with the season in the balance. He did so with ease.
This is a different version of Betances right now. After a shaky start to the season, he has taken off on one of the best runs of his career, which is saying a lot for a four-time All-Star. Sure, he had plenty of hiccups in multi-inning situations before, but that has subsided. In fact, in his first four multi-inning appearances this season, Betances allowed eight runs. He since hasn’t given up a run in his second inning of work the last four times he’s been called upon for multiple innings, per Katie Sharp of The Athletic. He also has been more effective with runners on base.
Dellin Betances with RISP and 2 outs this season (incl tonight):— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) October 4, 2018
28 batters faced
This of course is huge for Boone and the Yankees, especially since they lost a valuable reliever from last year’s postseason run. Tommy Kahnle mysteriously lost his velocity and efficiency, and will be a non-factor in the ALDS. Kahnle posted 2.38 ERA in last year’s postseason while not allowing a run until the ALCS, and that production will have to be replaced. That could be Betances, who was a non-factor himself last year.
The Yankees have already seen how big a role Betances can play in longer appearances, and this holds true when you zoom out and look at the league as a whole. Managers are more cognizant than ever of leveraging their best relievers in October, going back to Cleveland’s Andrew Miller experiment in October of 2016. The A’s tried the same tactic against the Yankees, bullpenning the game, getting three innings from setup man Lou Trivino, and asking for multiple innings from closer Blake Treinen. In the playoffs, having someone like Betances that can cover multiple high-leverage frames is vital.
Fans will likely still shake in their seats should Betances be on the mound with runners on, or if he trots out for a second inning of work. Their minds immediately think back to the times he faltered in such situations, and there is some validation to that fear. However, Betances has been building confidence and mowing hitters down since May, and if he can continue to perform in a second inning of work and strand inherited runners, it will be a huge weapon for Boone in an already deep Yankee bullpen.