The Yankees bullpen has been great all season, but is that enough to warrant making the Wild Card Game a “bullpen day”?
On September 24, 2018, the Yankees used eight pitchers, all of them relievers, in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. The bullpen game was started, or in this case, opened, by talented right-hander Jonathan Holder. Holder, who has a 2.88 ERA in 59 games this season, got through some command troubles to blank the Rays in the first.
From there, the remainder of the Yankees bullpen did the rest; limiting the Rays lineup to just two hits and one run. They also collected 13 strikeouts, including at least one in every inning except the eighth. Rays manager Kevin Cash, who pioneered the increasingly popular “opener” strategy earlier this season, jokingly remarked that the Yankees had a “closer day” because the lockdown stuff of the Yankee relievers resembled that of the league’s top closers.
It is no secret that the Yankees have one of, if not the, best bullpens in baseball. Their top six relievers have allowed only 108 earned runs in 350.2 innings this season, and struck out an astonishing 468 batters in the process; giving them a strikeout ratio of just over 12 per 9 innings. The Yankee bullpen is lock-down, and it consists of some of the most lethal and effective relief arms in the game. So why not use it in the Wild Card Game?
On the other hand, Yankee starting pitching has been good of late, but not dominant. With the exception of J.A. Happ, who is the frontrunner to start the Wild Card Game, the Yankee rotation has had some serious ups and downs in the month of September. The bullpen meanwhile, has been efficient and effective all season long. The addition of Zach Britton at the deadline has only increased the depth and strength of an already elite reliever core.
The Yankees started Luis Severino in last year’s Wild Card Game against Minnesota, only to watch him give up three runs on two homers before pulling him after just a third of an inning. From there, the Yankee bullpen held the Twins to just one more run on their way to a win. If the Yankee starter, whether its Happ, Tanaka, or Severino, gets into trouble again this year, we may not be so lucky.
The Wild Card Game conversation seems to be about who the Yankees best starter is, instead of who the Yankees best pitcher is. The Yankees best pitchers are arguably all in the bullpen, and so using them in a one-game, elimination playoff may not be such a bad idea.