MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Royals lead way with three-headed bullpen

KC's formula followed by Yanks with addition of Chapman

Royals lead way with three-headed bullpen

NEW YORK -- The Royals returned to New York on Monday night for the first time since beating the Mets last October to win the World Series.

They were playing a different team in a different stadium. And like the Yankees, times are tough right now for the defending World Series champions, who dropped a 6-3 decision at Yankee Stadium to open a four-game series.

"We're walking around the streets and it's the same hotel we stayed in during the World Series, so it did bring it back a little bit," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "The memories would be a little bit better if we were playing a little bit better. Right now, we're just trying to get this thing turned around."

It may be just a coincidence then that the team, which has thrived the past two seasons on a three-headed bullpen came to town on the night the Yanks' Aroldis Chapman was activated and spit a series of 100-mph-plus fastballs when he pitched the ninth. His last four pitches in striking out lead-off hitter Omar Infante were 100 mph or better.

"We're all watching the board," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "That 101, it's not something you see every day."

Chapman's first K with Yanks

After Chapman's season-opening domestic abuse suspension, New York's 'pen is lined up for the first time in the same fashion as Kansas City behind Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.

The Royals went to the last pitch of their 2014 World Series loss in seven games to the Giants, riding Kelvin Herrera in the seventh inning, Wade Davis in the eighth and Greg Holland in the ninth.

Last season, after Holland injured his right elbow, Davis moved to the ninth, Herrera kept the seventh and Ryan Madson filed in amply in the eighth. The strength of that setup was never more evident than in the World Series when the Mets scored only a single run from the seventh inning on in Kansas City's five-game victory.

This year it has been more problematic. Madson left for Oakland, where he's closing and has eight saves. Davis is still the finisher, while Herrera is in the eighth-inning slot. It's been trial by error in the seventh inning. Joakim Soria, with a 4.11 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP, has caused the turmoil because he hasn't been able to stabilize a middle-inning role.

Herrera's big strikeout

For that matter, the Royals have had a hard time even getting to the back end of the bullpen this season, largely because they've lost 10 out of their past 13 games, Davis has pitched only twice so far this month, once in a save situation (he recorded his eighth) and the other last Wednesday just to get an inning of work in a 13-2 home loss to the Nationals.

Similarly, the Yanks have had little use for Miller. The left-hander recorded his fifth save in the opener of a 2-7 road trip on April 25 at Texas. He didn't record his sixth until this past Friday night here in a 3-2 win over Boston.

The Yankees have won three of their past four, and there's no doubt they're much stronger moving forward in that department. That is, if they can get to that stage of the game with a lead.

"I know how tough it is against us, so I imagine it's going to be exactly the same with Chapman back," Yost said. "You better have a lead by the sixth inning or it's going to be a dog fight."

The Royals, of course, didn't invent the three-headed bullpen combo. There were the "Nasty Boys" of Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers, who combined to save 44 games for the 1990 Reds team that swept the A's in the World Series.

And even the great Mariano Rivera was a setup guy for John Wetteland, the MVP of the 1996 World Series, Rivera replacing Wetteland when he left for free agency. Jeff Nelson was among others Joe Torre used in the seventh inning.

And the Yanks always had a "shutdown bullpen" behind Rivera, Girardi said, adding that they aren't trying to replicate the Royals.

Girardi on Chapman's role

"Obviously it's been really important to them," Girardi said. "But I'm going to say what I've said for a long time. I came here in 1996 and we had shutdown bullpen. We had a shutdown bullpen in 1997, '98 and '99, and it just continued.

"I think the Royals had three different guys who threw really hard. This has been going on for awhile. And when you have four or five guys who have the capability of doing this, it can really make a difference during the course of a season and into the playoffs. We relied on our bullpen during the years we won here."

Just like the Royals.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.