The Yankees got a breath of fresh air Friday when A.J. Burnett got back on track, at least temporarily.
Burnett has struggled for the Yankees lately, but he turned in a gem against the Blue Jays, throwing 6 2/3 scoreless innings and leaving with a one-run lead.
Burnett gave way to Joba Chamberlain, and Chamberlain couldn't hold the lead, giving up a run in his one inning of work. Chamberlain has been inconsistent this year, but his inability to hold this lead is a smaller representation of a potentially much bigger problem for the Bombers.
The Yankees, like the Red Sox, have had to overcome injuries and a suspect bullpen.
Start with Chamberlain. When he’s got it going on, his stuff is as nasty as anyone in the game. But for whatever reason, Chamberlain hasn’t been able to truly put it together. His 2010 season has been a perfect example of that. His ERA is 5.40, a product of five outings in which he’s given up two or more earned runs. The Yankees’ record in those games is, not surprisingly, 0-5.
So while the Yankees are going to need to improve their bullpen somehow, a large part of that is going to come from Chamberlain becoming more consistent and avoiding the big innings that have done him in so much this year. If he gets better and starts pitching with the consistency the Yankees expect him to pitch with, it will go a long way in shoring up a shaky bullpen.
Chamberlain isn’t the only problem, though. The Yankees have battled injuries all year. A lot of those injuries are coming in the bullpen, and they’ve had to shuffle and create different roles for their bullpen arms.
Defining those roles is essential to a successful bullpen. As guys start to come back from injuries, the Yankees will have a better idea of what they’ll have going forward, and they’ll be able to set up their bullpen better. With right-handers Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves getting close to returning from injury, things are starting to look up for the pinstripes.
It also won’t hurt if the Yankees’ starters pitch better. Phil Hughes, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettite have all been great for the Bombers this season. But Burnett has been downright terrible at times, and the Javier Vazquez project — part two — has been just as ineffective as the first go-around.
Yankees starters — especially Burnett and Vazquez — will need to be better in order for their bullpen to improve. If the Yankees have to keep sending pitchers like David Robertson (6.15 ERA) or Chan Ho Park (6.41 ERA) to the mound, they will be in trouble.
Of course, there already have been some trade whispers surrounding the Yankees. Most of those whispers are coming in loud screams for a big name like Cliff Lee and not necessarily relief help.
But if the Yankees are to remain atop the AL East and repeat as World Series champions, they’re going to have to make sure their bullpen — leading up to Mariano Rivera — gets even stronger.