Yankees bullpen exceeding lofty expectations after opening series of 2017
The inaugural three-game series of the New York Yankees' 2017 season may not have gone exactly as they would have liked, but the performance of the Bomber bullpen has given the team plenty of reason for optimism.
On Opening Day, Masahiro Tanaka's uncharacteristically short outing forced New York's relief unit into the spotlight earlier than expected, but it responded in dominant fashion when called upon.
After the Yankees ace exited the mound with 2 2/3 innings logged, the quartet of Tommy Layne, Adam Warren, Jonathan Holder and Chasen Shreve combined to finish out the game with 6 1/3 scoreless frames, and a total of seven strikeouts versus one walk. The Yankees didn't get the win, but it was a very promising sign for New York's relief corps.
In the second game of the season, CC Sabathia's five scoreless frames set up the Yankees for their first victory of the new year, as the offense came alive to plate five runs and shut out the Rays for a 5-0 victory.
Once again, following Sabathia's start, the Yankees bullpen kept Tampa Bay's offense from gaining any ground on New York's lead, as Bryan Mitchell, Tyler Clippard, Holder, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman locked up the victory in spotless fashion.
Despite the five-run advantage, Yankees skipper Joe Girardi employed his dynamic back-end duo of Betances and Chapman to make sure the Rays stayed off the board, and to give the familiar one-two punch an opportunity to get some use in their season debuts.
Lastly, in the Bombers' third game of the year, the Yankees 'pen was once again as good as can be, with another combined 4 1/3 innings of scoreless pitching. Warren struck out four and walked none over 2 1/3 frames, but the Rays escaped with a 4-1 victory to close out the series.
Entering the season, few doubted that multi-year All-Stars Betances and Chapman would be anything short of stifling, but what the Yankees have gotten from the middle relievers has been masterful. Entering play Thursday, the Yankees are one of just five MLB teams whose bullpens have yet to surrender a run.
Eight different Yankees relievers have made appearances in the team's first three games, and so far, they've dazzled. A strong bullpen has been one of the hallmarks of recent Yankees teams, and it appears that 2017 will be no different.
Assuming Betances and Chapman can stay healthy and continue to rack up mind-bending strikeout totals, New York will be one of the toughest teams to score against late in games. This will prove to be crucial for a Yankees team in transition, as several of their young hitters look to find their grooves at the plate.
In Betances, the Yankees have a known commodity: a three-time All-Star with triple-digit velocity potential and a wicked curveball. In Clippard, the Yankees have another proven MLB closer, who just so happens to be one of baseball's most overqualified setup men. In Chapman, the Yankees' biggest offseason (re)acquisition, the Bombers have MLB's most uniquely dominant arm, and a player with the ability to make his opponents look completely uncomfortable.
With one victory in their first three games of the 2017 season, the Yankees know there's room for improvement, but it certainly looks as though the Bomber bullpen has a chance to be the team's not-so-secret weapon all year long, as it was a year ago.