The New York Yankees squeaked by the Atlanta Braves last night by the score of 5-4, continuing their torrid post-All Star Break stretch and moving ever closer to the playoffs. They may have benefitted from a questionable call at the plate involving Freddie Freeman in the fifth, depending on who you ask, but the Bronx Bombers got the W and that's all that matters. They've now won 11 in a row and have taken 10 straight series.
Last night also functioned as yet another heart attack appearance from Aroldis Chapman. The reliever entered the ninth with the Yankees up two. He got the first out, a Travis d'Arnaud grounder to short. He gave up a single before striking out Guillermo Heredia. Two outs with a man on first for one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in baseball. How hard can it be to get that final out?
It turns out it was very hard. Chapman completely lost it at that point, promptly walking the next batter, giving up an infield single to load the bases, and then walked in a run. It was at that point, with the bases loaded and the Yankees up by one, that Aaron Boone finally pulled the plug and inserted Wandy Peralta, who earned the final out.
The worst part about it all is that nobody is surprised this is the performance Chapman puts forth. He started off the season scalding and didn't even give up a run until late May after recording 11 saves. Then, in June, Chapman just... lost it.
He gave up multiple earned runs in an appearance for the first time on June 10, blowing a save opportunity against the Twins and giving up four runs in the process. It's basically been downhill from there. He's given up 17 runs in 19 innings pitched since then. Chapman has still managed to get it done here and there, recording 11 saves in that same timespan, but nobody knows what they're gonna get when Chapman trots out from the bullpen now, least of all the man himself.
This happens to pitchers and Chapman isn't an anomaly in this regard. Slumps happen in baseball, and usually pitching slumps are more heavily scrutinized because of the direct impact it has on win-loss records. The bigger issue is not that Chapman can't find his stuff and hasn't for months, but that Aaron Boone keeps going back to him.
It's easy to see the logic. New York would rather have Chapman keep trying to work his way out of whatever's going on and have him ready to go for the playoffs, a future growing more likely by the day as the Yankees keep winning games. But he has single-handedly cost the Yankees four games in the last two and a half months. That isn't a lot in the grand-scheme of the 162-game season, but we're quickly reaching the point in the year where every win matters. Especially since the margin for error is razor-thin in both the AL East and the Wild Card race.
Boone's insistence to keep bringing Chapman in during these high-leverage situations will eventually spell doom for the pinstripes. Keeping a guy's confidence high is one thing, and as important as it is, Chapman hasn't had a few bad games or a bad week. It's been a bad couple of months.
Chapman is a great closer when he's feeling it. But when he's not, everything goes off the rails to an extent that the Yankees should be greatly worried. There are other relievers in the bullpen who aren't as good as Chapman at his best but certainly are not wont to completely blow everything up like Chapman does at his worst. Boone needs to recognize that before it's too late.