NEW YORK - The Yankees have underperformed for much of the season so far. On Monday something could begin to push their pendulum in the other direction. They are getting Aroldis Chapman back off suspension and the addition of the game's hardest-throwing reliever could change things in a myriad of ways.
Chapman has been serving a 30-game suspension levied by Major League Baseball under its new domestic-violence policy. After an argument with his girlfriend in which she claims he placed his hands around her neck, the 28-year-old Cuban fired a gun eight times at the wall of their garage in Davie, Fla.
When the suspension is completed the Yankees will finally have their biggest strength in place and best weapon at their disposal. Chapman is joining Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to form one of the most formidable end-game units ever assembled.
Since the start of 2015, Chapman, Miller and Betances rank first, second and third respectively in strikeout percentage according to STATS. All of them strikeout more than four of every 10 batters they face.
"It shortens games," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I think I'll probably enjoy having that immensely."
"Yeah, definitely we have a chance to be maybe the best bullpen in baseball," Chapman said Sunday at the Stadium through an interpreter. "The quality of arms we have, it's amazing."
Girardi plans to have Chapman as the team's closer with Miller and Betances-- each likely a closer on almost every other team-- setting up. Miller, the Yanks' 2015 closer, has expressed unbridled excitement about the addition of Chapman indicating egos won't be an issue.
"I'm super-excited and happy that the manager has given me a vote of confidence in letting me be the closer," Chapman said. "At the same time, I'm very humbled by Betances and Miller, their moving down on the order to allow me to pitch the ninth."
In the Yanks' starting rotation, only Masahiro Tanaka has been excellent but Nathan Eovaldi is coming on strong. Luis Severino and Michael Pineda have not pitched to expectation and CC Sabathia has just gone on the disabled list with a mild groin strain. But things are changing for them.
While all will still want to pitch deep into games it's no longer essential. Just five or six good innings -- a much lighter load -- may now be all that's required.
If the slumbering Yankee offense could awaken to give them consistent leads -- something it looked ready to do in battering Boston's David Price in Saturday's 8-2 win but then didn't in Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Sox -- victories seem destined to lie ahead.
But an even bigger benefit may be how that trio's presence influences opposing teams.
"We can't ask our guys to do something different in the first five innings as offensive players because of what lies out there waiting," Boston manager John Farrell explained. "But as a manager, you could look to manufacture runs a little bit earlier. ... If we're in the bottom of the order, would we look to manufacture a run earlier in the game because of that? It's a definite possibility."
Farrell undersells it. Yankees opponents are no doubt going to feel pressed to score in the first five innings. Their bullpens will feel less margin for error with holding a lead. And that added pressure gives New York an edge no other team has.
Chapman admitted he should have shown greater restraint and insists no one was harmed and therefore he hasn't done anything wrong. Authorities in Florida did not feel there was case enough last fall to pursue charges. While all of that is dubious, the only penalty Chapman was going to face was the yet-to-be-determined suspension.
And with that hanging over him, it allowed Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to but low on Chapman and a salary that works out to under $10 million after the suspension from the rebuilding Reds. He didn't have to give up a top prospect in the group of four players they dealt for the southpaw.
That deal is a no-lose, which brings us to the last way the Yankees begin to benefit as soon as Chapman returns. If New York's offense doesn't get it together -- or if the older players in the lineup break down -- Chapman is still going to serve them well. A free agent at the end of the season, he could become one of the biggest targets at the trading deadline for contenders. Those four pieces dealt for Chapman could become a top prospect or two within a year of the deal.
Chapman hasn't been permitted to pitch in minor league games, only extended spring training action, but a scout who saw him told The Sports Xchange "he might be able to fit right into his role without a bump; there will be a lot on him the first time he pitches for the Yankees but if he's not right on his game immediately it won't be long after."
Yes, things are about to change for the Yankees and change for the better. The hope is that Chapman's return helps redirect them toward the playoffs this season. And maybe it will.
But even if it doesn't, he could help them reach the next postseason. Either way, the return of Chapman is about mean something good for the Yankees.