The Yankees are 31-15, the second-best record in baseball. Want to know what's a complete bummer about that? That it is also the second-best record in the American League East.
Yes, if the playoffs began today, the Yankees would be hosting the wild card game. This isn't about the way MLB sets their playoff brackets. It is about how critical each and every game is going to be for the Yankees this season as they battle the Red Sox for the division crown.
When the Yankees lose, it is of course first about the players. They have bad games -- starters pitch ineffectively, the offense might fail to hit with runners in scoring position or the bullpen might squander a lead. The game is certainly in the hands of the players.
However, the manager has influence over these games. If they didn't, teams wouldn't employ them, or the coaches standing by their side. Managers undoubtedly do not get enough credit for wins, and get lambasted more often for losses. It comes with the territory. Win or lose, in Yankees manager Aaron Boone's circumstance, he deserves to take some criticism for his actions while managing the bullpen this season.
The Yankees now sit 46 games into the season and it is time Boone takes full responsibility for his decisions. If Larry Rothschild isn't helping, then get rid of him. Otherwise, the calls are Boone's.
For some fans, their thought process is clear; the Yankees are winning, so don't even think about calling out the manager for a decision (or multiple snow-balling decisions like Wednesday night) he makes. And especially don't do so it if it's just a loss here and there. I believe we've established that each win counts. If that wasn't clear, I'll say it again: the Yankees are a wild card team right now.
When Boone was hired, I immediately suggested that his complete lack of coaching or managing experience was going to cause the him the most trouble when it came to managing the bullpen. Boone's life experience in the game was not going to carry him through the moments in a game in which he had to make the call because players put him in a bad situation.
It is true that Yankees starting pitchers do not go deep into games, forcing early use of the bullpen. Boone's relievers have largely underperformed this season -- to the point that I suggested earlier this week that the bullpen might receive a summer makeover. The Yanks have been without two of their better relievers in Tommy Kahnle and Adam Warren for much of the season. Add all of those items together and Boone has factors affecting his ability to navigate the middle and late innings of a game.
While the situations affect Boone, they do not impede him from making the right call. Boone and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have looked lost at times mid-game and with the presupposed bullpen plans for games all season. Boone mostly received a pass from me early in the season because he was learning the ropes. I held Rothschild accountable for some of the blunders and the reactionary, versus proactive, choices that were made with the pitching staff. Rothschild knew the pitching staff, while Boone was immersed in a crash course, "Why and when do I use this reliever?"
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Wednesday's ball game encapsulates what's gone on much of the season; Boone often lacks a pulse for the game. Further and more discouraging at this stage, Boone has yet to fully comprehend what his relievers can and cannot provide him.
Wednesday night's debacle began with giving Green the entire night off, instead using Jonathan Holder to get out of the fifth inning jam left behind by CC Sabathia.
Green is not as dominant as he was last season, but he's easily the second-most effective reliever on the club behind closer Aroldis Chapman. Boone wanted Green to rest and essentially get a second day off in a row with Thursday's scheduled off-day. However, the thought should have been that Green receive Friday off with Yankees ace Luis Severino on the mound that day, which presents a better chance the right-hander reliever would not be needed.
Boone could have gone to Holder, who has been pitching well, after Green for the sixth inning instead of Chasen Shreve. Shreve, who has been completely ineffective recently, started the bullpen implosion and David Robertson finished it off. At this time, Robertson is about as unreliable as he's ever been. The Houdini tricks are no longer working, yet he was the go-to pitcher when the Yanks were in trouble.
The manager topped all of that off by going back to Dellin Betances for a second inning despite everyone except him (and apparently Rothschild) knowing it wouldn't work. Boone should be pleased with any clean inning from Betances and move on. Instead, for the fourth time this season, Betances was asked to add an inning of relief. And for the fourth time he allowed a run in the second frame of work.
Boone surely had some factors going against him, but making the right calls when necessary is all he's asked to do. The Yankees won a ton of games in which Boone was able to just sit back, relax and enjoy the show because the Yanks were dominating. However, when the spotlight has shown on his in-game maneuvering with the bullpen, he almost invariably makes at least one head-scratching decision.
The Yankees have more wins than any team except the Red Sox and that's fantastic. But when push comes to shove in the postseason, will New York be able to get past a potential wild card game with a manager blind to the idiosyncrasies of his relievers? Based on what we've seen to date, the answer is no. Fortunately, Boone has another 116 games to ace the course.