Aroldis Chapman struck out Joe Mauer with three fastballs clocked over 100 in the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium Monday night. Mauer is tough to strike out and most of the time puts the pull in play but this was Chapman at his best with the bases loaded and one-out.
Significant, when that can be done at anytime during the season but this is a different time of year and it is now for Chapman and the Yankees fighting for a postseason spot with three huge games against the Minnesota Twins who are fighting for a wildcard.
And with the ineffective Dellin Betances in that eighth inning, Chapman was called in early to get the last five outs. Betances hit a batter and walked two to set it up for manager Joe Girardi to call on his closer. Let it be known now, Aroldis Chapman is the closer and these are the games that have no time to flip -flop the roles in this Yankees bullpen.
“You don’t want those runs to score because they belong to your teammates,” Chapman said through an interpreter after the Yankees 2-1 win over the Twins. “You definitely want to be more aggressive when you face the batters in a situation like that.”
Girardi said, Betances needs to get it together. The Yankees need that punch out of their bullpen of Betances and Chapman, and this series with the Twins could be a preview in two weeks of a one-game American League Wild Card game with these two teams in the Bronx.
The way Girardi managed, this was like a playoff game. Aaron Judge with a first inning home run and a Todd Frazier one-out sacrifice fly was the difference and the Yankees improved their advantage to five games over the Twins for that first Wild Card.
There is still time to catch Boston for the division lead but the Red Sox won again and with 12- games remaining first place is still three games away. So this playoff type of preview came down to the bullpens because the Yankees once again were ineffective getting the runs home, 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and nine stranded on base.
If the Yankees get in this position of win or go home against the Twins, Angels, or the rest of that tight field still fighting, they need to get those runs home. If not, the one-run game will come down to David Robertson, Betances, and Chapman,
But it is Aroldis Chapman who has once again assumed his role as the closer after a brief struggle, The manager is confident and that showed with those big outs in the eighth inning that could have gone a different way for the Yankees.
“Those are two big outs,” said Girardi. “You’re facing Joe Mauer who puts the ball in play and doesn’t strike out a lot. He’s able to strike him out.” Chapman got Byron Buxton to hit a fly ball to right that Judge caught and Chapman finished it up with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
And if the Yankees want to finish off the Twins, assuming that CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka can’t give them innings in the next two games, then it’s off to the pen again. Wasn’t the plan to go with Robertson,, Betances, and Chapman to end tight games like this one?
Girardi is always criticized about that utilization of his bullpen. It can be a gamble and if it works you are the wizard. If not, there is always that time for questions about the decision making. Two weeks from today that decision making in a potential Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium may come into question.
Monday night, when Jaime Garcia had his best outing as a Yankee with nine strikeouts and one run and a no decision. the bullpen did their job. The Twins did not face Luis Severino, which by the way was another good move by Girardi to keep the Twins guessing. A potential Yankees-Twins Wild Card game in the Bronx will definitely see Severino on the mound as the starter.
That Yankees bullpen is another guessing game for the Twins. Aroldis Chapman has retired 21 of 25 batters this month with 7.0 scoreless innings and you can guarantee that Joe Girardi will not hesitate to use his closer again in that same situation down this stretch.
And don’t count out a situation like this in October for Aroldis Chapman because that would decide how far the Yankees move on as they get close to another postseason.
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