Dellin Betances
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Dellin Betances‘ return from a shoulder injury is the real determining factor for how good this New York Yankees team can be.

Let’s make one thing clear from the get-go; the New York Yankees have an elite bullpen without Dellin Betances.

Not only does the Bronx Bombers’ relief corps rank third in MLB with a 3.47 ERA, but second in saves with 21. New York’s bullpen has also held opposing hitters to a .220 batting average. At that rate, who even needs a starter to eat some innings?

However, things are about to change. Per James Wagner of the New York Times, Betances will soon head to Tampa to “ramp up his rehab from a shoulder injury.

That puts the 6-foot-8 New York native on pace for a return later this month, which would be huge for the Yankees.

He hasn’t played all year and though heavy hitters in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have yet to return, just watch. When it comes to the Yankees’ World Series hopes, Dellin Betances is a true X-factor.

Elite middle relief

Imagine, if you will, the beginning of the movie Troy. Triopas of Thessaly’s army is set to battle that of King Agamemnon of Mycenae. Rather than traditional field combat, Agamemnon suggests his best solider, Achilles, fights Triopas’ best, a big scary guy named Boagrius. Naturally, Achilles wins and Triopas thus must join with Agamemnon.

Now, tempting though it may be to compare Dellin Betances to Achilles, it won’t be happening today. Achilles is, essentially, immortal except for one weak spot on his heel. Unless opponents hit this weak spot, they don’t stand a chance.

Rather, Betances is more of a Boagrius in this case. Sure, he’ll run into an Achilles every so often and just not look as sharp by comparison, but he is, on the whole, a very dominant force on the field.

Think about it. Betances isn’t a closer and nor should he be. He owns a 3.69 career ERA in the ninth inning compared to marks of 1.78 in the seventh and 2.18 in the eighth. This doesn’t make him less of a pitcher, mind you. He just isn’t closer material and there’s nothing wrong with that.

This is because Dellin Betances is no ordinary relief pitcher. He has 607 strikeouts in 373.1 innings from 2014-2018. He is also the only reliever in baseball history to post five consecutive 100-strikeout seasons.

Granted, the Yankees are in first place in the AL East and no worse for the wear without Betances, but it doesn’t matter. His return is only going to make an already dominant team even more so.

A key return

That said, the Yankees should have zero problems with how the bullpen has performed this year. Adam Ottavino’s slider has been dirty as ever. Tommy Kahnle is back in top form along with Zack Britton. Chad Green has overcome a rough start and Aroldis Chapman looks like a new man entirely.

That’s all fine and dandy but something is definitely missing. Can this unit maintain its pace once Luis Severino is back from his shoulder trouble? Or what if CC Sabathia’s knee forces him to the injured list again? The Yankees have already had to make use of an opener in the face of injuries, so fatigue has to set in at some point.

It’s also worth noting Joel Sherman of The New York Post pointed out Sunday afternoon, some of the aforementioned names likely wouldn’t be available to pitch for a third day in a row. Now, put the same narrative at certain points over the rest of the season. A lot of burden is suddenly put on the starting staff if the bullpen can’t go at full capacity.

Enter Dellin Betances and his 14.62 career K/9 and 40% strikeout rate. He can switch between a fastball which sometimes touches 100 miles per hour and a deadly curveball with ease.

The point is his return doesn’t just make the Yankees’ bullpen even stronger. It keeps his fellow relievers’ arms fresh for a deep playoff run.

Final thoughts

Everyone knew the Yankees were going to be a different team this year, before and after the injury epidemic. The pitching staff was improved, but with some health-related risks. The lineup was powerful, but without much of a plan if a key guy went down. That the team has played as well as it has despite not having its A-squad most of the year is entirely unprecedented.

However, the team’s one no-doubt area was the bullpen. Even under rough circumstances, the relief corps’ strength always seemed like something to fall back on despite Betances’ injury. Now, he’s ready to come back and the overall pitching staff will be all the better as a result. Betances even said it himself in a recent piece from Sherman.

“It’s pretty much if we have a lead after five innings, it is game over,” he said. “That gives a whole team confidence.”

If Betances can bring that same confidence upon his return, just watch. New York going to its bullpen may as well be an automatic win.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.