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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, June 9, 2012 at 12:30 PM

Many pundits and analysts thought the sky might be falling for the New York Yankees when Mariano Rivera was lost for the season to a knee injury back in early May. Who would slam the door shut in the ninth inning of close games? Who would be “automatic” when it came to insuring wins? Could the Yankees make the playoffs with so many probable wins turning into possible losses?

Well, closers are important, but stat analysis has made it clear that they’re not worth as many games as everyone thinks. Heck, NO STARS are worth as many games as they’re given credit for by fans and the mainstream media. While the loss of Rivera was certainly a blow, you’d have a hard time showing that it’s hurt the team in the five weeks he’s been out.

Yankees pre-injury: 13-11 (.542)

Yankees since injury: 19-14 (.578)

The Yanks were off to a slow start. But, a recent 11-4 run (highlighted by Friday night’s rout of the New York Mets and Johan Santana) has put the Yanks back in the thick of the pennant race. And, they’re playing their best ball even though Rivera can’t take the field. Rafael Soriano is eight for eight in save opportunities, and has knocked about a run off his ERA since taking over the closer’s role.

When evaluating the impact of a relief ace, it’s important to remember that:

*Many games for the best teams are one-sided victories where it doesn’t really matter who pitches the ninth.

*Most losses don’t involve the relief ace because the team was already trailing entering the ninth inning.

*If a relief ace allows a trailing team to tie in the top of the ninth inning, his team can still win in the bottom of the ninth or in extra innings.

Now, we’ve all seen the devastation that a HORRIBLE closer can inflict on his team. But, those are pretty rare…as few teams are stubborn enough to keep a struggling guy in that role (it only happens if he’s very high paid and the manager is a coward). The Yankees weren’t replacing Rivera with somebody horrible.

Some have argued that even if the new closer gets the job done, there’s a domino effect deeper in the relief staff…meaning a lousy pitcher has to get more innings in the middle of the game. This can happen….but that kind of pitcher is usually only involved in losses anyway after the starter couldn’t get people out. Quality starters get you to the right relievers when they’re pitching well.

So, while Rivera is a luxury to have…the difference between him and a normal closer turns out to be a few wins a year. The conclusion of the math is inescapable. Handicappers need to know the math rather than listening to media doomsayers!

Now, Soriano could blow a save opportunity tonight…something known as “The Notebook Jinx!” But, if you’re a Yankees fan, you should be very happy with the recent 11-4 run, and fairly confident about making the playoffs going forward as the veterans on this offense continue to advance to midseason form.

Coming up for the Yankees

Tonight: Versus the NY Mets on FOX (Hughes vs. Gee)

Sunday: Versus the NY Mets on TBS (Pettitte vs. Niese)

Monday-Wednesday: at Atlanta

Friday-Sunday: at Washington

We’re likely to see some good tests for Soriano in the closer’s role during this difficult schedule stretch. Washington and Atlanta may be playoff entries from the NL East…and all of those games will be on the road. We’ll go so far as to say this…if Soriano shines over the next week, the Yanks are VERY likely to make the playoffs this season. If Soriano has a high profile struggle or two, THEN it’s time to wonder about the impact of Rivera’s injury.

To this point, the Yanks are playing better without Rivera than they were with him (which is a reflection on the slow start of the offense rather than Rivera’s contributions). He’s a true legend…but this is team is good enough to win a pennant without him.

Yankees-Mets and the other FOX regional games will surely be part of the mix tonight for VSM handicappers. Of course, the big news is Game Seven of the Boston-Miami series in the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs. The best plays on the board from the biggest names in handicapping are always available for you right here at VegasSportsMasters. Check the home page of this website daily for big play bulletins. That and the listings on the “buy picks” page are your best sources for special announcements from our industry legends. Hot handicappers are waiting to hear from you!

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