The New York Yankees quickly dispatched a good Minnesota Twins team in a three-game Division Series sweep. Everybody knew that the Houston Astros, though, were going to pose a significantly harder challenge, and that the Bombers would need to use all of their resources to even the odds.
Granted, the Yankees’ bullpen is better than the Astros’ on paper, which is important given Houston’s clear advantage in the starting rotation. That doesn’t mean the Yankees can’t run out of weapons to neutralize the ‘Stros offense at some point, as happened in Game Two, for example. And that’s where everybody realizes the importance of Dellin Betances to this ballclub.
After missing the first 24 weeks of the regular season because of serious lat and shoulder problems, Betances made an appearance on September 15. A few days later, he was diagnosed with a partial tear of his left Achilles tendon, effectively ending his comeback attempt, his season, and putting an unfortunate damper on his hopes of a big paycheck this off-season.
The good news is that according to Dr. Brian Sennett, chair of Sports Medicine at Penn Medicine, Betances is expected to be ready for spring training. He said a few weeks ago that the “overall prognosis is good.”
Betances’ injury has also affected the Yankees, especially in the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros. Of course, there is no guarantee that the Yankees would be ahead by now if he was healthy, but he would have come in handy in a couple of spots in the first few games.
Speaking of that second game of the ALCS, the fact that James Paxton pitched an abbreviated start didn’t help matters because manager Aaron Boone had to use his bullpen in the third inning, whereas Houston did it in the seventh thanks to a strong game by Justin Verlander. Once Boone used Chad Green, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman, CC Sabathia, and Jonathan Loaisiga, he had little choice but to stick with J.A. Happ, who had gotten two big outs in the bottom of the tenth, to start the eleventh.
If Boone had Betances to count on, that moment in which he was forced to put a lesser reliever could have been delayed somewhat and given the offense another chance or two to score some runs and break the tie. However, Happ allowed a walk-off homer to Carlos Correa and the Astros evened the series back then.
A healthy Dellin Betances has the potential to be the best reliever onthe Yankee roster, and that’s including closer Chapman and setup men Ottavino, Kahnle, and Britton. He is that good. 2019 just hasn’t been his year health-wise.
Game Three was another example of how much the Yankees miss Dellin. In the hypothetical scenario that Betances was healthy and effective, like he has been almost all of his career, he would be very high in the pecking order and would provide Boone with better coverage of high-leverage innings, like the seventh on Wednesday, instead of risking using Ottavino, who hasn’t looked very effective lately and allowed a couple of runs in a close game.
The manager would be able to “hide” the struggling Ottavino and put him in lower-leverage spots to see if he can regain his confidence with a scoreless inning (he has been extremely unlucky to this point, to be fair.)
The point is that the Yankees didn’t need Betances to take care of the Twins, but they sure can use him in the highly-contested matchup with the Astros. For starters, it is a best-of-seven series and instead of fielding the likes of Tyler Lyons and Loaisiga, they would have another power arm to take care of the stronger part of the opposing team’s lineup.
Also, Betances is a very experienced reliever, yet he is still in his prime. He is 31 years old and his career numbers are mouth-watering: he's accumulateda sparkling 2.36 ERA in 381.2 innings, with 14.64 K/9 and 11.3 WAR. He even had a 3.0 fWAR season in 2014, which is nuts for a reliever. He has pitched in the postseason, with a 1-1 record and a 3.27 ERA in 11 IP. He has allowed six hits and seven walks, with 17 strikeouts in three seasons (2015, 2017, and 2018.)
This year would have been a fantastic opportunity for Betances to seek revenge after he allowed an earned run in one inning back in 2017, when the Yankees faced the Astros in the ALCS. He had a couple of walks and only one strikeout.
Betances’ ability to get strikeouts in bunches would have been extremely useful to help the Yankees navigate the “fat” part of Houston’s order, consisting of George Springer, José Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, Yordan Álvarez, and Carlos Correa. Too bad that fate didn’t allow it to happen.