Thursday, August 14, 2014

Yankees’ Girardi forced to pick bullpen over offense

I tend to side more with optimists when it comes to the New York Yankees despite much of the writing on the wall which suggests I should be viewing their fate with gloom and doom.

In similar fashion, I respect the job that Joe Girardi has done this season with little to work with, but it does not preclude him from some questioning.

I’m sure Girardi would have run away if he was told his rotation would have to be filled with the likes of Chase Whitley, Vidal Nuno, Shane Greene, Esmil Rogers and Chris Capuano who have combined to make 37 starts this season. That’s 31 percent of the total starts for the season.

The same can be said if he was told his offense would rank 20th in runs scored among all MLB teams.

So, an eight-game deficit in the American League East race behind the Baltimore Orioles makes sense. The fact that they have a puncher’s shot at the second wild card with a 61-58 record – they are currently 3.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers and the Seattle Mariners – is quite fortunate.

The Yankees have been fighting themselves at the plate for much of the season. Offense, once a powerful component of their game over these last 20-plus seasons, has hardly shown up this season despite adding some very large contracts for offensive weapons in the offseason.

The lack of run support for the pitching staff, which has performed adequately for much of the season, has begun to wear on the arms and in turn has forced Girardi to make some unorthodox decisions.

Michael Pineda, fresh off a lengthy disabled list stint, was more than admirable in his five frames Wednesday night. He allowed just one run on two hits. He struck out four batters and did not walk anyone. He was at 67 pitches for the night and the Yankees were nursing a 2-1 lead over the Orioles.

Girardi had mentioned that he might allow Pineda to shoot for the 85-pitch mark in his first appearance back, but then thought better of it as he felt Pineda’s pitches were getting up in the zone.

"We thought he started to get the ball up a little bit," Girardi said via "[Seventy-two] pitches in Triple-A and 70 pitches here, there's a different intensity level. He got a ball up to Cruz, and I thought he got a ball up to Flaherty. He got a ball up to Schoop. We just thought he was done."

Was it really a factor of Pineda’s pitches or the sheer desire to put this one in the books with his best two relievers, Dellin Betances and David Robertson fresh, knowing his offense might not score again?

Here is Girardi’s dilemma; which has a better chance of occurring, the offense scoring more runs or the bullpen holding off the opponent? Girardi chose the bullpen, lifted Pineda and charged Betances with getting through three innings.

He was right in the fact that the offense failed to score again until the ninth when they were down by three runs, but wrong because that third inning of work might have been too much for Betances and with Shawn Kelley as the fallback option once the game was tied by Jonathan Schoop’s home run, things got out of hand.

Second-guessing Girardi after the fact is certainly easy for fans. Could he have allowed Pineda to try for a couple outs in the sixth? In my view, yes. But had Betances avoided Schoop’s bat, gets through the rest of the eighth inning and hands the game to Robertson for a win then I'm not writing this article.

Girardi’s been left with little to no margin of error and because Betances and Robertson have been so good, he’s been spoiled to an extent. He looked at them as the only way to maintain the lead. He chose the two arms which have carried the team at times over his flailing offense. Good choice? Bad choice? Only choice?

Girardi's move failed and the Yankees have been reduced to a team whose chance of missing the playoffs for the second straight season now seems greater than them reaching it.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.