NEW YORK -- After a brief respite to catch their collective breath, the New York Yankees are about to embark on a stretch of 20 consecutive games without a day off.
And the odds are that they will play every one of those games minus the services of Andrew Miller, who in his short time with the club has become an integral part of their early success and a vital key to their continued success this season.
Miller went on the disabled list Wednesday with a forearm strain, an injury that will keep him from even picking up a baseball for 10-14 days. And who knows how long it will be after that before he was ready to pitch again? A similar injury put Masahiro Tanaka on the shelf for six weeks; since Miller is not a starter and rarely works more than one inning in any given game, the presumption is his absence will not be as long.
OK. Let's call it a month.
That means between now and the All-Star break, the Yankees will have to do what they resisted doing this offseason, when they signed Miller to a four-year, $36 million contract after David Robertson left for the North Side of Chicago.
They will have to hand the ball to Dellin Betances and hope he can get the last three outs of a close ballgame on a consistent basis.
There are many schools of thought on the true value of a closer, and on just how important those last three outs of a game really are. The truth is, many times the key outs in a game come much earlier than the ninth inning, and are gotten by some obscure situational reliever. The closer, like a surgeon, comes in at the end and gets all the glory. And there are prominent GMs who believe that for most clubs, the role of a closer is overpaid, overrated and over-glorified.
There was no dispute about Robertson's predecessor, Mariano Rivera, of course; between 1997 and 2013, no one ever did the job as well and as consistently for as long as Mo did it.
Over the long haul, no one pitcher could replace Rivera. But for individual seasons, the Yankees found that Mo could be replaced, and even equaled. Rafael Soriano did it quite well when Rivera tore up his knee in 2012; Robertson did it last year in his first season as the Yankees full-time closer; and Miller collected more saves in April than Rivera ever had in any of his 19 seasons. Nor had any Yankees closer in history ever converted his first 17 save opportunities, as Miller did when he closed out a game in Seattle on June 3.
But that still doesn't answer the key question: How much of a blow is it to the Yankees to lose Miller?
The answer is, probably not as bad a blow as it would appear.
We already know that the loss of Rivera could be survived for one season here or there. So it stands to reason that after just 28 games, the loss of Miller can be survived, as well.
There's no doubt Betances has the talent to do it; last season, even though Robertson got all the saves and, eventually, $46 million of the White Sox' dough, Betances was by far the best relief pitcher on the Yankees staff and among the top 5 relief pitchers in all of baseball.
The question for him, as for all relief pitchers suddenly thrown into the pressure cooker of the closer's role, is whether he has the gut for it, the temperament, that curious blend of cool and hot that allows a pitcher to stay calm under the most dire of circumstances while still firing thunderbolts at opposing hitters in a one- or two-run game.
Mo certainly had it, and so did Robertson, and so, it appeared, did Miller.
But there are other factors involved in Betances' success, namely, the series of pitchers that leads up to him. Rivera was fortunate in having a chain of terrific set up men, from Mike Stanton through Robertson, and Robertson had Betances, of course. Miller, too, had Betances to deliver him a clean ninth inning more often than not, allowing him the luxury of concentrating solely on getting those last three outs.
The question now is, who will serve that role for Betances? Who will be Dellin's Dellin?
The Yankees bullpen has been superior for much of the early part of the season, but as the weeks have dragged on, it has become more and more apparent that the further backward you worked from Miller, the more porous the pen became. David Carpenter, signed to fill the role formerly played by Shawn Kelley, turned out to be a bust and is no longer here. Adam Warren, who was excellent as a seventh-inning man, is now needed in the rotation. Esmil Rogers, who -- with Betances -- is one of just two right-handers in the pen, has become unreliable, to put it mildly. The rest of them are either situational lefties (Justin Wilson, Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren) or a failed starter, such as Chris Capuano.
That makes Betances' job more difficult, and could even make his appearances infrequent. Teams that don't take many leads into the ninth inning hardly need a closer, now do they?
The point is, the loss of Miller is more than merely the loss of a closer. It throws off the entire balance of the bullpen, reshuffles the roles, and forces the Yankees to do some serious thinking about roster re-alignment.
Depending upon how long Miller will be out, they might be able to find someone in the system to step into one of the available roles; maybe a Jose Ramirez or a Branden Pinder, both of whom have been up here briefly, could be fitted for the part. Fans would be thrilled if fireballer Luis Severino, the current jewel of the farm system, was brought to the Bronx.
But in the end, it is going to come down to Betances and his golden right arm. For the next month or so, he will have inherited the job a lot of Yankee fans thought he was entitled to from the beginning.
And, for better or worse, he will have the chance to prove them right.