- The Yankees' bullpen is in an excellent spot headed into Game 5, largely thanks to the lengthy performances of Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino.
NEW YORK—After the “Sev-ver-in-o” chants had dissipated and the roaring crowd at Yankee Stadium had been brought to a resting level, the Yankees’ No. 40 shuffled down the dugout steps, slung a towel around his sweaty neck and traveled to the end of the bench to grab a well-deserved a seat. To his right was Masahiro Tanaka, whose career performance 24 hours earlier kept the Yankees’ season alive. Together, they’ve not only made a trip to the ALCS possible; they’ve positioned New York perfectly for a Game 5.
Luis Severino tallied nine strikeouts across seven gutsy innings in a 7–3 win over Cleveland in Game 4 of the ALDS, allowing just three runs on four hits and a walk. In the process, he gifted the Yankees’ bullpen yet another light day at the office. After tossing 20 innings through New York’s first three postseason games, the league’s second-best bullpen has now been called upon for just 12 outs over the past two games thanks to the distance Severino and Tanaka have provided.
“We’ve seen some of these games [this postseason] where the starter’s getting knocked out in the second or third inning,” said Chad Green. “These last two starts, you couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The outings have allowed Green—arguably the Yankees’ most important reliever with the innings he can provide—to rest for two straight games after surrendering a grand slam to Francisco Lindor in a 23-pitch outing in Game 2. Sonny Gray, who probably would have been used on Monday if Severino struggled early like he did in the wild-card game, also sat the entire game with Adam Warren, David Robertson, Jordan Montgomery and Jaime Garcia. Monday’s game in particular was a crucial one to preserving closer Aroldis Chapman, who needed 34 pitches to close out the Indians in Game 3.
After Severino departed Game 4, the Yankees relied only on Dellin Betances, who received a quick hook in the eighth after walking a pair, and Tommy Kahnle, who recorded the final six outs of the game in brilliant fashion. Heading into Game 5, the Yankees’ most vital group will be locked, loaded, and most importantly, rested.
“Our bullpen’s been a big strength of ours all year,” Brett Gardner said. “To be able to keep some of those guys fresh, keep them out of the game today, [Chapman] threw almost 40 pitches [Sunday], it was nice to keep him out of there. All those guys will be fresh on Wednesday.”
Of course, in an elimination game it’ll be all hands on deck. Indians manager Terry Francona anticipates having every pitcher on his roster available to pitch on Wednesday, as does Yankees skipper Joe Girardi. But many of New York’s arms will be considerably crisper than Cleveland’s.
With Trevor Bauer struggling in the second inning, sitting at 55 pitches, Francona had no choice but to go to his bullpen to stop the bleeding. From there, he had to use an array of arms—all of them, in fact, except for Andrew Miller—to get through the game and keep within striking distance of the Yankees.
“Tried to manage it the best we could,” said Francona. “You get to a point where you certainly aren’t going to match up anymore, but we’re trying to keep the game where we had a chance to win, and we were trying not to overuse people.”
This leaves the Indians in an objectively worse spot than the Yankees. They may have preserved their best reliever, but if Game 5 starter Corey Kluber is knocked out of the game as early as he was in Game 2, the Yankees have the upper hand in a game decided by bullpens. On the other side, Girardi probably won’t need his starter, CC Sabathia, to pitch past the second time through the order with Green, Robertson, Chapman and others waiting in the wings.
The Game 5 script can be written a number of different ways for in favor of New York, whereas Cleveland probably only has one it would really like to see—Kluber to Miller to Allen. It’s good to be versatile, and as hard as it may have been to believe just a few days ago, it’s good to be the Yankees.