A well documented stretch of futility for the New York Yankees saw the team win five games in three weeks. After completing the sweep of the Baltimore Orioles Sunday, they now have five wins in five days.
The team has turned a corner, and they have clearly put the 5-15 stretch behind them. Their offense has performed better, scoring 5.6 runs per game during their winning streak, a full 3.0 runs per game better than the five-game losing streak that preceded it.
However, the key to this turnaround has been the Yankees pitching. After not allowing less than three runs in three consecutive games all season, the Yankees have now done it in six straight games.
“The pitching continues to kind of carry us there through this stretch,” manager Aaron Boone said.
Yankees Starting Pitching
The starting rotation is clicking right now. Gerrit Cole threw a seven-inning, complete game shutout against Baltimore on Friday. Jordan Montgomery struck out a career-high nine batters on Saturday. Deivi Garcia and Masahiro Tanaka also impressed in big games, combing for 11 strikeouts and zero walks in 12 innings of work in their respective starts.
Most impressive has been J.A. Happ. Despite early season struggles and potential friction surrounding the upcoming vesting option on his contract, Happ has become one of the Yankees most reliable starters over the last month. He proved that once again Sunday with five innings pitched and one earned run.
“I thought he made some big pitches when he had to,” Boone said.
After allowing a home run and a single, Happ retired nine consecutive batters before working into trouble in the fifth inning. With runners on the corners and no one out, he managed to induce a ground ball to get Pat Valaika out at home plate on a fielder’s choice. Then, he threw a good slider to strike out Hanser Alberto on the front end of a double play.
Since August 16th, Happ has pitched 29 1/3 innings, allowing eight earned runs. The 2.45 ERA is the best on the Yankees pitching staff in that stretch.
“It’s exciting what we’re seeing here from him,” Boone said. “…right now he’s throwing the ball about as best as we’ve seen.”
Happ feels good and thinks he is throwing to his abilities. Boone gives him and the entire starting staff credit for keeping them in games during this stretch, especially the closer games that were decided late, including Saturday’s 2-1 and Sunday’s 3-1 victories.
Recent Bullpen Dominance
The success of the Yankees pitching is not just a product of the starting pitchers. With their current success, it goes overlooked how well the bullpen is pitching, as well. The Yankees bullpen has not allowed a run since the disastrous sixth inning Monday that saw Adam Ottavino and Chad Green allow nine earned runs and record one out. The streak reached 16 2/3 innings Sunday after the bullpen followed Happ’s performance with four shutout innings.
This is great news for a team that has built its bullpen up with the intent to lean heavily on it.
The big names in the back of the bullpen are pitching well. Zack Britton pitched his fifth consecutive scoreless outing Sunday while Aroldis Chapman recorded his fourth.
“We have a bullpen of a lot of quality,” Chapman said. “It was going to happen that we were going to get back on track. We’ve done a great job the last couple games.”
Specifically, one reliever that has come through for the team is Jonathan Holder. Holder pitched well in 2018 with a 3.14 ERA in 66 innings pitched, but struggled in 2019 with a 6.31 ERA. As a result, Holder was not expected to be a high leverage reliever in 2020. Regardless of expectations, he has emerged as such.
His 2.12 ERA gives Boone the confidence to bring him in to games with men on base. Holder likes the opportunity to pass the ball to the next reliever.
“You get the adrenaline,” Holder said. “You really gotta mentally focus and lock in. It’s just good to get in and get out of those situations.”
Holder has been called on four times in September to enter a game with an inherited runner. That is twice as many times as he had been in July and August combined. His success rate is impeccable as he has not allowed any inherited runners to score in September.
It is now evident that the 5-15 stretch is a distant memory for the Yankees. Their postseason chances are more solidified than they were last Tuesday. With great performances out of their pitching, they look to extend their five-game winning streak on this upcoming Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays. They will continue to lean on their pitching, sending Garcia, Cole, and Tanaka to face the team the trail for second place in the AL East.
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