For a team often surrounded by debate and critics, the bullpen was an unquestioned strength for the New York Yankees coming into this season. Now, that same bullpen is just starting to crack a little bit.
You could have made a case against the rotation before the year started. Freddy Garcia was lucky, David Phelps is unproven, Michael Pineda pitched in Seattle last year, Andy Pettitte is old, Ivan Nova is a sophomore, Phil Hughes is inconsistent. You could have argued against almost every starter except CC Sabathia and tried to claim the Yankees’ rotation would be a problem. For the most part it hasn’t been.
You could have talked about the offense. Derek Jeter is old, Alex Rodriguez has a broken down body, Russell Martin faded down the stretch, Curtis Granderson was lucky, Nick Swisher never gets big hits, Mark Teixeira‘s numbers keep getting worse, Raul Ibanez is washed up. Again, there could have been some points made against the Yankees’ offense. For the most part, the offense has played well.
Bullpen Showing Signs of Vulnerability?
That leaves us with the bullpen. There was no counter-argument. It was a top three bullpen last season with Rafael Soriano struggling or hurt for most of it. With Soriano, Joba Chamberlain, Dave Robertson and Mariano Rivera in the mix, the Yankees’ had innings 6-9 figured out every single night.
Add Boone Logan and the big lefty was accounted for late in games. The rest almost didn’t matter. The Yankees had two closers and two more relievers with closer stuff and all season long the bullpen has been reliable. Of course, Rivera was removed from the equation about five weeks in, but Soriano has been arguably the best closer in the league.
Robertson has been hurt but solid when healthy and Chamberlain missed most of the year after a freak accident. Even so, guys like Cody Eppley, Phelps, and Clay Rapada have stepped up and filled major voids.
But since the All-Star Break some minor slip-ups culminated in an ugly performance tonight in Chicago. The Yankees lead 3-0 but it wa cut to 3-2 when Garcia was lifted for Eppley, who promptly recorded the second out of the inning against the only batter he faced.
Eppley came into his appearance with a 5.06 ERA and 18 hits in 10.2 innings since All-Star Weekend. It was likely those recent struggles compelled Joe Girardi to turn to Clay Rapada for a lefty-lefty matchup in the fifth inning of a 3-2 game instead of simply giving Eppley a second batter.
Rapada promptly gave up a base hit and passed the inning onto Chamberlain. The lefty specialist came into tonight’s game with 10 hits and six earned runs against him in his 8.2 innings since the break, good for a 4.15 ERA.
Chamberlain wasn’t much better. Still fresh from beginning his season (only six innings into tonight), Chamberlain gave up a hit to make it a 5-3 deficit before the fifth inning ended. The rusty righty then gave up a long ball once the Yankees’ had reclaimed a 6-5 lead and then hit Kevin Youkilis before departing with no outs in the sixth inning of a 6-6 tie. In total, Chamberlain gave up more baserunners (three) than retired batters (two). Entering tonight, the recovering flame-thrower had given up 13 hits and six runs in his previous six innings to start the year.
From there was little improvement. Logan entered the game and after a clean seventh inning, allowed a two-run homer in the eighth, pitching 1.2 innings and allowing two runs on two hits with a walk. Logan had given up four runs and 12 hits in his previous 15 innings for a tolerable 3.86 ERA since the All-Star Break.
Even newly acquired Derek Lowe served up a home run in his inning of work as the Yankees’ blew two leads and a tie game during a 9-6 loss to the White Sox.
The bullpen accounted for 4.2 innings, six hits, four runs and three long balls on Monday night. It’s been a microcosm of some struggles lately. Since the unofficial second half began, outside of Robertson and Soriano, who are the eighth and ninth inning guys with a lead, the Yankees’ bullpen has thrown 46 innings and given up 60 hits and 32 earned runs, good for an ERA over 6.00 as a unit.
It’s the middle relief not getting the job done. Chamberlain is bound to improve as he gets more innings under his belt and for Lowe it was one bad pitch, but there’s no denying the bullpen is in a slump. Like most things in Baseball, it’s probably just a fleeting string of bad outings, but it’s worth keeping track of into the final six weeks to see how the bullpen looks in time for October.