As the Yankees prepared for their Wild Card match against the Twins, the most obvious advantage they had going into the do or die game was the ability to turn the game over to the bullpen at any point and be confident. They proved this to the extreme by going to the pen after only one out, but the plan was expected after any sign of danger from their starter.
In the Division Series against the Indians, the bullpen was again expected to be a significant plus for New York, and they did the job for the most part. There has, however, been a shift in the pecking order from the end of the regular season to six games later facing the Houston Astros.
Tommy Kahnle has returned to high leverage innings, being entrusted to pitch a crucial two innings in Game 4 to close out the homestand and tie the series. He not only succeeded in doing so, but he dominated the Indians, striking out five of the six batters he faced. Before that, he came in to relieve David Robertson in the Wild Card game and pitched a perfect 2.1 innings.
Kahnle was one of the few question marks among the set of elite relievers heading into October. He struggled in August to the tune of a 5.23 ERA and 18 baserunners in 10.1 innings.
But like many of the Yankees, Kahnle bounced back in September, and has taken off currently. While Robertson has deservedly been praised for his excellence since returning to pinstripes, the most important piece of the trade for Brian Cashman was acquiring Kahnle, and he has stepped up at the right time.
On the opposite side, Dellin Betances has been a mixed bag so far, which is pretty accurate to his season overall. Betances pitched a solid inning in Game 1 of the ALDS, but there wasn’t much pressure since it was late in a game that the Yankees were down 4-0. He appeared the next night in the extra inning mess that was Game 2, and looked great for two innings before hitting a roadblock and surrendering the walk-off hit to Yan Gomes. His last appearance in Game 4 hardly inspired confidence, as he faced two batters, walked them both, and then was pulled.
Figuring out how to keep Betances in control has been an issue that has alluded a solution for much of the last two years. When he’s on, he’s dominant, practically unhittable. When he’s not though, it’s best to get him out as soon as possible. With a fresh series, it’s probable that Joe Girardi will go to Betances in one of the two games in Houston, just to see what he’s got.
While Betances may not be able to be trusted to hold a definable role for the remainder of the postseason, it is imperative that he gets work in the series, since it seems that the only one able to get Betances out of his problems is Betances himself. Ideally there are enough arms in the pen that one will always be available to pull Betances if it’s apparent he has an off night again, but it is also possible that he winds up with the ball in his hands in another extra inning affair and no-one is left behind him.
An interesting wrinkle in the bullpen formula has been Chad Green. The rookie reliever had earned his way to the top of the list in the regular season, and saved the season when he relieved Luis Severino against the Twins in the Wild Card. In his next appearance however, it was apparent that he did not have much in the tank. Cleveland worked him efficiently, and after the infamous no-challenge decision on Lonnie Chisenhall’s hit by pitch, Francisco Lindor took him deep for a grand slam.
Girardi didn’t call on Green for the rest of the ALDS, and now has him rested to face the Astros. While his implosion in Cleveland was stress-inducing, it was atypical to Green’s body of work all season, so he is likely to return to putting out any fires the Yankees run into. It will be worth watching, however, if Girardi is willing to extend Green for multiple innings and risk wearing him out so quickly again.