The Yankees salvaged a little something from the weekend series in Baltimore yesterday with a hard fought 5-3 victory. The big offensive inning in the top of the 5th is what got them the lead, but the real reason they held on to win was the outstanding relief work by the last 3 reliable men standing in the bullpen.
Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson, and Dellin Betances. Only 1 of them was expected to be a critical part of the bullpen's success this year, but yesterday all 3 of them shined in their new roles. Shreve came on in relief of starter Adam Warren in the bottom of the 5th to hold the lead the offense had just given them, and did so by getting Travis Snider to fly out to end the inning. He then returned to the mound for the start of the 6th inning and retired the Orioles 1-2-3 on a pair of groundouts and a foul tip strikeout.
Shreve handed the ball off to Wilson after walking Manny Machado to lead off the 7th, and in one of the more impressive Yankee relief performances of the season, Wilson proceeded to rattle off 6 straight outs to preserve the lead through the 8th. And it wasn't a bunch of good BIP luck. Wilson won a 7-pitch battle with Nolan Reimold on a swing-and-miss curveball to open the 8th and froze JJ Hardy with 3 straight fastballs to end it.
Betances came on from there and corrected a 2-out walk by striking out Matt Wieters on a nasty curveball for his third save of the year. 4.1 innings, no hits, no runs, 5 strikeouts. Shreve got the win, Wilson got the hold, Betances got the save. Ladies and gentlemen, your new Joe Girardi Bullpen Inner Circle.
Of course things aren't going to that perfectly in the box score all the time, and I don't think Joe is all that interested in having to get 4+ innings from this trio often, but yesterday was our first look at the new bullpen food chain while Andrew Miller recovers from his forearm strain. Last week I mentioned that Wilson and Shreve had been pitching well lately in auditions for more important roles. Yesterday was their debut in those roles and they earned high marks, each backing up their stellar recent performance with big time showings in high-leverage situations.
For Shreve, this solidifies what he's done this season and what he showed in his Major League debut last year. He's got an ERA of 2.05 after last night with 26 strikeouts in 26.1 innings pitched. Wilson's ERA is down to 3.52 on the season in 23.0 IP and much more in line with his FIP (3.10) and xFIP (3.77) values. He's given up just 2 runs since May 17th. And Betances, while he's still the best relief pitcher in baseball. 0.27 ERA, 55 K in 33.1 IP, and a nifty 50.0% GB rate. If all you knew was those numbers, you'd feel pretty good about that trio.
And the best part is they can all get right and left-handed hitters out. Wilson's L/R splits are very similar and both very good (.512 OPS vs. LHH, .546 vs. RHH). Betances actually has a pretty sizable reverse platoon split, with righties hitting a robust .123/.250/.141 against him compared to .065/.140/.065 from lefties. Only Shreve has a concerning reverse split - .342 wOBA for lefties against him, .201 for righties - and one would expect those values to normalize a bit over time given his 31.4% K rate against left-handed hitters.
So this is the new late-game bullpen lineup we'll see for the next few weeks. Betances at the end to close things out, Wilson in front of him as his primary setup man, and Shreve in front of Wilson for the important middle relief bridge work. It's fair to point out that these are really the only 3 viable options Joe has anyway. The rest of the current bullpen group (Martin, Ramirez, Santos, Capuano) shouldn't be anywhere near close games. But Betances, Wilson, and Shreve have also earned their new roles by pitching well and pitching very well lately, and there's reason to be optimistic about their chances of performing well in their new roles. If yesterday was an example of what's to come, the Yanks should be just fine until Miller comes back.