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Deal or No Deal, Yankees’ Bullpen Will Evolve

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Change is inevitable over the course of a major league schedule.

With 162 games on the docket — not counting spring training or the playoffs — it’s impossible for things to stay the same. Faces come and go, injuries disrupt things and roles are reassigned. Every team deals with it to some degree, knowing full well that change is a matter of when, not if, from the outset of each new season.

But even that being a given, the Yankees’ bullpen has undergone what amounts to monumental modifications since spring training. Back then, Aroldis Chapman was the undisputed closer. Jonathan Loáisiga was the team’s top setup man, positioned as a potential successor to Chapman after a breakout 2021 campaign. Chad Green and Michael King were healthy and reliable.

Fast forward to Sunday: Clay Holmes has replaced Chapman as the Yankees’ finisher after the latter endured injures and inconsistency. Loáisiga is trying to regain his 2021 form after his own struggles and a stint on the injured list. Green, a picture of health since 2016, had Tommy John surgery in May. And King, who like Holmes was having a breakout year, had his season end on July 22 when he fractured his pitching elbow.

“It’s definitely something that’s evolved quite a bit,” Holmes said Sunday. “Things have changed.”

It is an evolution that has worked thus far, even if things fell apart Sunday afternoon when Holmes allowed his first home run of the season at the worst possible time: Salvador Perez’s three-run blast turned a 6-5 Yankees lead into an 8-6 Royals victory, handing Holmes his third blown save in 20 chances.

With the trade deadline on Tuesday, more bullpen alterations could be coming. But even with an occasional hiccup, it is worth noting that the Yankees’ relief corps remains one of baseball’s best — on paper anyway. Entering Sunday, New York’s bullpen was first in batting average allowed (.202) and second in both E.R.A. (2.86) and Fangraphs’ calculation of wins above replacement (5.5).

As obstacles have presented themselves, various relievers have stepped up. Holmes turned an interim job as closer into an All-Star nod; even after Sunday’s disaster, his E.R.A. is 1.77. The veterans Wandy Peralta and Lucas Luetge have sub-3.00 E.R.A.s. So do the youngsters Ron Marinaccio and Clarke Schmidt, who has thrown three scoreless innings in back-to-back outings, a notable development in the Yankees’ post-King world.

Even Albert Abreu, whom the Yankees had traded to Texas in April, has an E.R.A. around 1.00 since reuniting with New York in June after a season in which he was traded again, to Kansas City, waived, and then claimed by the Yankees.

“You’re going to have the ebbs and flows and bumps along the way where you have a day where they get to the bullpen, or we’ve had some injuries that have shaken some things up and moved some things around,” Manager Aaron Boone said Sunday of his relievers, who had allowed one earned run over 14 innings in four games against the Royals before Holmes’s blown save. “But the talent is very much down there to have runs like this where they are incredibly effective.”

Boone added after Sunday’s game: “We just got to keep refining, keep getting better and put ourselves in a good position moving forward.”

As good as the numbers have been overall, the Yankees’ bullpen has room for improvement, even without a deadline acquisition.

Whether that happens is largely up to Chapman and Loáisiga, whose E.R.A.s are 5.01 and 6.75 E.R.A.

Chapman, an impending free agent who has been stripped of his closing status, has allowed seven earned runs over nine and one-third innings since returning from an Achilles’ injury, but he has thrown three straight scoreless frames. Loáisiga has surrendered four runs over six innings since coming back from shoulder inflammation. But he hasn’t allowed any damage over his last three outings.

Boone has found their recent work “encouraging.”

“I think we’re seeing really good and positive steps from Aroldis, from Lo,” Boone said before complimenting New York’s younger relievers.

Catcher Jose Trevino was on the same page as Boone. “Chappy’s made some good strides, Loáisiga’s coming around,” Trevino said before going on to praise the team’s younger pitchers. “Clarke is picking up slack. He’s been doing a great job. Ron Marinaccio has been doing great. It’s good for these guys to get rolling.”

(Marinaccio joined Holmes in faltering Sunday, allowing a solo home run in the eighth inning.)

In addition to Chapman and Loáisiga pitching to their potential, the Yankees have one other avenue for upgrading their bullpen without trading away prospects.

Zack Britton, a former closer and one of the team’s highest-paid pitchers, has not pitched all season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last September. The left-hander will throw to live hitters for the first time this week, and if the final stages of his rehab go well, he will rejoin New York before season’s end.

Britton has been a dominant late-inning reliever throughout his career, but the Yankees aren’t getting ahead of themselves as they await his return.

“I don’t want to put an expectation on it,” Boone said. “He’s doing well. He’s about to get to the live hitter portion of the rehab and return, so we continue to be encouraged. But what it all means? We’ll just wait and see.”

Of course, it is hard to depend on a pitcher coming off major surgery down the stretch and in the playoffs. The same can be said about trusting inexperienced relievers or those who have been inconsistent at best thus far, groups that account for the bulk of the Yankees’ bullpen. The stakes only increase from here, and the Yankees don’t have many pitchers they can definitively count on in high-leverage situations despite some sterling statistics.

That makes relief pitching an area of interest ahead of the trade deadline, even if it is not necessarily a necessity.

“We’ve got a good bullpen,” Trevino said. “If they go out and get somebody — good. If they don’t, let’s roll. I mean, we’re going to go with what we have, and if they bring in somebody that helps us win ballgames, good. But if not, we go with what we have.

“I’m confident in what we have.”

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Knicks vs. Bulls prediction: NBA picks, odds

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The NBA’s longest win streak is finally over after the Knicks suffered their first loss in nine games on Wednesday. Expect New York to start a new streak Friday against a team it dominated the last time they faced off.

The Knicks were playing like the best team in basketball during their lengthy win streak, posting the league’s best net rating (+17.3) with six double-digit victories in that eight-game run. That included a 23-point beat-down of the Bulls exactly a week ago, when New York drained 17 3s and saw three players score at least 22 points in an easy win.

Knicks vs. Bulls (7:30 p.m. Eastern) prediction: Knicks -5.5 (Caesars Sportsbook)

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That game marked the worst offensive showing of the season for Chicago (91 points), which has struggled with chemistry and spacing issues all year long. The Bulls rank dead last in 3-point attempts per game (28.8) and third-worst in offensive rebounding rate (23.6%), which leaves very few easy scoring chances for one of the NBA’s worst offenses.

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It’s the opposite story for the Knicks, who boast three legitimate shot-creators and also rank among the league leaders in points in the paint. Julius Randle (31 points) relentlessly attacked this Chicago defense in their first meeting before allowing RJ Barrett (27 points) to lead the way in the second affair — his fourth of five straight games with at least 22 points. 

I don’t see this Knicks attack slowing down against one of the league’s most inconsistent defenses. And until Zach LaVine returns to his All-Star form, I’m skeptical of the Bulls’ offense showing up on Friday, too.

Knicks vs. Bulls pick: Knicks -5.5 (Caesars Sportsbook)

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Devils vs. Bruins prediction: Bet on New Jersey to end slide on NHL Friday

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After starting the season 21-4-1, it looked like the New Jersey Devils were going to run away with the Metropolitan Division as one of the very best teams in the NHL.

Not only were the Devils cruising, but their underlying metrics were elite. New Jersey was the best 5-on-5 team through the first quarter of the season.

Three weeks and one six-game losing streak later, and the Devils have fallen back to earth and are now two points behind the Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division. 

The Devils were able to get off the schneid with a win over Florida on Wednesday, but the task doesn’t get any easier with the league-leading Boston Bruins in town.

New Jersey is a slight +102 home underdog against Boston starting at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+ and the NHL Network.  

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Tomas Tatar #90 of the New Jersey Devils
Tomas Tatar #90 of the New Jersey Devils
NHLI via Getty Images

Bruins vs. Devils prediction

Even though the Devils have struggled to get results over their last 10 contests, their underlying numbers don’t suggest there’s all that much wrong with how they’re playing. New Jersey isn’t posting the pace-setting numbers it did through Thanksgiving, but it’s still skating to the fifth-best expected goals rate and high-danger scoring chance rate in the league over its last 10 contests.  

Those numbers should help ease any sense of panic that New Jersey could continue to fall back further into the pack as we head toward the New Year. 

So if New Jersey is still tilting the ice in the right direction, what is the issue for the Devils? 

For one thing, the Devs are struggling to find the back of the net like they did when they were rolling. New Jersey has scored just nine goals in its last five games, and four of those tallies came in a 4-2 victory over Florida on Wednesday. Over their last 10 games, the Devils rank 25th in the NHL with a 6.56% shooting percentage. 

Additionally, the Devils are not getting the goaltending needed to stabilize them. New Jersey’s netminders were always thought to be the team’s biggest weakness, and that has started to show lately as the Devils rank 23rd in the NHL in 5-on-5 save percentage over the last 10 games.

Hampus Lindholm #27 of the Boston Bruins
Hampus Lindholm #27 of the Boston Bruins
NHLI via Getty Images

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The Bruins, meanwhile, continue to roll. Boston is 7-1-2 over its last 10 contests and ranks third in the league over that span in expected goals rate and fourth in high-danger chance percentage. The Bruins pace the NHL with a +54 goal differential, which is 25 goals better than the team in second (Toronto). 

But as impressive as Boston has been over its first 31 games of the season, the Bruins are playing on a back-to-back on Friday, while the Devils were off on Thursday night. 

The Bruins are the better team in a vacuum, but this is a good buy-low spot on the Devils, who are still playing solid hockey but are just not getting the results.

Devils vs. Bruins pick

New Jersey Devils +102 (FanDuel)

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At the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, a Female Crew of Two

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Kathy Veel has come a long way since 1989, when she first sailed in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race with an all-female crew on the Belles Long Ranger.

“It started off with four of us women — we figured, let’s give it a shot,” said Veel, 70, a retired teacher who lives in Bullaburra, about 60 miles west of Sydney, Australia. “We didn’t have a boat. We didn’t have any money. It was a real start from scratch. No one took us seriously.”

Not anymore. Veel is now back for her third Sydney Hobart, which starts on Monday, this time also breaking ground. She will be part of the only all-female crew competing in the race’s two-handed division on the Currawong, at 30 feet long the second smallest boat in the fleet. She will be sailing with Bridget Canham, 62, of Sydney, a veteran of several Sydney Hobart races.

Veel said that in 1989, there were doubts the crew of women could handle the grueling conditions of the race.

“We were kind of a token gesture,” she said. “There were a lot of people who didn’t think we were up to it. They would ask, what we were going to do when it’s blowing 30 knots and the boat is swamped? We’ll be doing pretty much what they’ll be doing — putting up sails and racing the boat.”

Their goal was to simply finish the race, which they did. “It opened the door for us,” Veel said.

“Women in sailing have come so far,” she said. “Most boats these days have got women on them. And that’s great.”

Canham, a retired nurse who volunteers as an emergency boat pilot, said sailing had indeed changed.

“Sailing is more of an integrated sport now,” she said. “Now, it’s just by coincidence that we are just two women on a boat. We’re just sailors. We don’t think of ourselves as anything different.”

The two-handed division, where a boat is raced by two sailors — as opposed to a large crew ranging from 6 to 25 — is now in its second year at the Sydney Hobart. For Veel and Canham, the draw of two-handed racing is access.

“Having a fully crewed racing yacht was way outside of my resources,” Veel said. “I’m retired. But now that they have the two-handed, we can do the race. It gives people the opportunity to sail in the race who aren’t on a fully crewed yacht.” Yearly maintenance on two-handed boats might be $10,000, while much larger yachts require millions of dollars to maintain.

Canham also said the sailors in the two-handed division were a tightknit group. “The two-handed community is just so supportive; it’s like we are all on the same team,” she said.

Veel and Canham generally split duties on the boat, taking turns on the sails and at the wheel, with Canham focusing on sails and Veel on navigation and race tactics.

“Bridget knows the wind and is good at getting the best out of the boat,” Veel said. “She’ll have every sail tweaked and tuned. She never takes her eye off the ball. She’s also extremely gutsy and strong-minded and determined.”

Veel and Canham have prepared for the event by sailing in four other races this year. Over that time, they realized the boat, a Currawong 30, built in 1974 with beaten 20-year-old sails, needed upgrades, but they’ve accepted its limits.

“We’ve been able to test out our boat in these previous races, but it really has felt that 90 percent of this race has been just getting to the start line,” Veel said. “We’ve just been focused on getting the boat ready. Now that we are there, and there are no more obstacles between us and the race, that’s when I’m starting to wonder what have I got myself into. Now it’s real.”

Canham heads into the race committed, but knows their limitations.

“No one is expecting us to do anything,” she said. “But I don’t think they realize just how determined we are.”

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