Friday, July 11, 2014

With just three games left before the All Star Game, the New York Yankees haven't had many bright spots. Despite sitting just four games out of first place in the inept American League East, the Yankees have won just one more game than they have lost (46-45).

The Yankees have suffered injury after injury to their pitching staff, and after the news of Masahiro Tanaka heading to the disabled list, Joe Girardi has now lost 80 percent of his starting rotation since Opening Day. One of the only reasons the Yankees even have slim playoff chances is the back end of the bullpen.

With the loss of future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera to retirement it was expected that the New York bullpen would take a step back from dominance in previous years that saw a 1-2 punch of Rivera and Robertson in the eighth and ninth innings. To borrow the phrase from ESPN's Lee Corso, not so fast my friend.

Robertson has taken the mantle from Rivera and has pitched as well as expected with 22 saves in 24 opportunities with a 2.84 ERA to go with 57 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 31 2-3 innings. In Robertson's two blown saves, he's allowed seven earned runs in just one inning. Roberston has 16.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

As good as Robertson has been in the first half of the season, rookie Dellin Betances has been much better. The 6'8 fireballer has struck out 81 batters in just 53 1-3 innings with just 16 walks. Betances has a 0.731 WHIP and a 1.52 ERA.

Betances, a 2014 All Star, has a legitimate case as the most dominant reliever in all of baseball. His mix of pitches, which starts with a high 90s fastball and a devastating curve ball has left nearly every batter he's faced on the defensive almost immediately.

There has been talk that Betances should move to the ninth inning and put Robertson in the set-up role where he excelled in the past, but that is premature. Robertson is one of the best closers in baseball and at this point there is no reason Girardi should consider a change. You could say that is a nice problem to have in a season that is surely giving Girardi more gray hairs.

The third man in the back end of the Yankee bullpen is Adam Warren. Warren isn't as flashy or as dominant as Betances or Robertson, but he has struck out 45 and walked 15 in 48 innings with a 2.63 ERA. He's been stable and given Girardi a reliable arm out of the bullpen to provide depth for the other two.

Together Warren, Betances and Robertson have formed a deadly three-headed monster that has the ability to shorten every game to six innings. It could have been even more deadly if not for the rash of injuries that has fallen on the Yankee starting rotation, instead Girardi has to give away some games to retain the health of Betances and Warren, but that hasn't stopped those three from giving the Yankees one of the best bullpen tandems in the game.

With the news that Tanaka might not pitch for the rest of the season, the Yankees will continue to try and squeeze wins out of a lack of starting pitching depth, but if they're going to reach the postseason in Derek Jeter's final season, the bullpen will be key.


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