In what is the most important stretch of the New York Yankees season, the bullpen’s woes continued in Beantown.
It was almost too perfect. New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi pushed all the right buttons and put his squad in a perfect position to win their first game back from an All-Star break they desperately needed against the first place Boston Red Sox.
Chad Green fanned five in two scoreless innings of relief after Jordan Montgomery went just four innings, Adam Warren registered a scoreless seventh and All-Star Dellin Betances struck out the side in the eighth. Heading into the ninth inning with a 4-3 lead, it was up to flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman to put the nail in the coffin in what would have been a huge win in Beantown.
Chapman served up a leadoff infield single to short by Mookie Betts. Dustin Pedroia then slapped a ball to the same spot but this time, Didi Gregorius had a shot to nab Betts at second for the first out of the inning. Unfortunately, a high throw couldn’t be handled by the 5-foot-7 second baseman Ronald Torreyes.
Following those two plays, a double steal was followed by a booted ground ball by Torreyes to score Betts — tying the score at 4-4 — and put runners on the corners for Hanley Ramirez with no outs. After intentionally walking Ramirez, Chapman capped off the horrific inning with a bases-loaded walk to Andrew Benintendi.
It's a walk-off walk in Boston! The @RedSox win 5-4 on @asben16's bases-loaded walk! #MLBNShowcase pic.twitter.com/wNKgUyJMh6
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) July 15, 2017
That dropped New York’s record to 45-42 on the year and sent them into third place in the American League East. Yes, behind the Tampa Bay Rays and 4.5 games behind the Red Sox which, with the way the Yankees have been playing as of late (are 7-19 since they were a season-high 15 games over .500 at the end of play on June 12), feels like 20.
To make matters worse, they have lost each of their last five and six of their last eight games decided by one run. They have blown 18 saves this season and are 10-18 in one-run games compared to the 16 blown saves and their 24-12 record in one-run games in all of 2016.
“You have to win those games,” Girardi said following the brutal loss. “If you want to win championships, you have to win those games.”
Forget a championship. If the Yankees want to make it out of this crucial road trip in relevancy, the bullpen has to get better. If the narrative of the last 30 days (2-8 record, 5.33 ERA from relief pitching) continues, then the once promising season for the Baby Bombers could be heading toward a losing one.
It’s not too complicated. The Yankees’ closer has to get better. Chapman’s effectiveness this season hasn’t even been close to year’s past and that should disturb the Yankees because they handed five years and $86 million to a 29-year-old to an arm that relies on 100+ mph heat. His setup men in Tyler Clippard and Betances haven’t been all that sharp, either, but Chapman is not too innocent here in 2017.
Looking forward, as we have before, Yankees looking eye-to-eye with what could be a road trip that decimates contention chances. If they fall to Boston via a series sweep, the climb back will be a lot steeper. They could have avoided it with what should have been a slam-dunk win on Friday night, but troubling times are ahead now that they’re slated to face Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and David Price over the next two days.
These bullpen woes may disappear at some point, but the clock is ticking. If this is a minor funk and not an indication of a broader dilemma, the team’s most intimidating unit must figure it out before all hopes of October baseball diminish.