One of the more basic formulas for winning during the dynasty years of the late 1990s and early 2000s was a strong bullpen. Joe Torre was able to use shut down set-up men like Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton, and Ramiro Mendoza, before handing the ball off to the greatest closer of all-time Mariano Rivera. With Rivera’s retirement at the end of last season, the bullpen, especially the closer position, was a major question mark entering the season. Now entering the final week of July, it is very clear that the Bomber bullpen is once again the biggest strength on this team.
Mariano Rivera was the greatest closer of all-time and surefire first ballot Hall of Famer. It would be impossible to forget about him or even truly replace him. However, David Robertson has done a fantastic job in making the closer position a non-issue for the Yankees. For most teams, having an inexperienced closer is a courting disaster. Robertson is having one of the best seasons of his career, and he should have been an All-Star. Robertson has amassed 26 saves already, and while his ERA is a little high at 2.33, his WHIP is under 1 and he has 67 strikeouts in 38.2 innings pitched.
Meanwhile, the eighth has been even more impressively covered by the All-Star rookie, Dellin Betances. Betances was converted to a reliever last year, and found his calling. He has been absolutely dominant, as he worked his way from last-minute addition to the roster at the end of spring training, to All-Star. Betances has been nearly as good as the great Rivera was as a setup man in 1996, and a worthy successor to Nelson, Stanton, and Mendoza. Betances has 92 strikeouts in 61.1 innings. He is 4-0 with a 1.47 ERA.
The backbone of the tea has been the bullpen all season. Robertson and Betances have led the way, along with Adam Warren, Matt Thornton and Shawn Kelley, forming one of the most formidable ‘pens in the American League. In a way, both Betances and Robertson have followed in the footsteps of the great Rivera this season. Betances as the overwhelming dominant setup man, who strikes outs hitters by dozen, the same type of game-changer that Rivera was setting up for John Wetteland in 1996. Robertson has the more natural progression as the heir to Rivera’s ninth-inning role. Before the year began, the ninth inning for the Yankees was expected to be a story all season. Robertson had no experience, and many thought he was better suited for the eighth inning. But by Memorial Day, the story was dead as Robertson had excelled as the closer.
Betances and Robertson and the rest of the bullpen are the reason the Yankees are currently in possession of a playoff spot. When the rotation lost starter after starter, the bullpen picked up the slack, as none of the replacements were able go deep into games. When the lineup failed to score runs, the bullpen kept the game close when they were down, and shortened the game when they were up. As the dog days of summer approach, the bullpen will continue to be the key to the Yankees’ success this season, regardless of any trades the Yankees make.