By Brad Carroll
When it comes to the back end of a bullpen, it doesn’t get much better than the New York Yankees pair of Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman. There are some other great set-up man-closer combos in the majors as well, including the Cleveland Indians with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. But you don’t have to turn on the television or head out to Yankee Stadium to watch a pair of bullpen arms that are the class of their league.
You just have to head out to New Britain Stadium in Connecticut.
The best back-end tandem in the Atlantic League, and perhaps the history of the league altogether, wear New Britain Bees uniforms.
If you follow baseball, you know the names Joe Beimel and Brandon League, who have combined for 24 seasons in Major League Baseball. Beimel is the Bees’ closer this season, while League is the team’s primary set-up man.
Just imagine facing that one-two punch trailing by a run in the eighth and ninth innings. The intimidation factor is off the charts, especially in a league where many players have never reached the majors, let alone Triple- or Double-A.
“It’s a great feeling,” Bees manager Stan Cliburn said. “Both those guys, from what I’ve seen, are going to be great for us.”
This past Saturday, the York Revolution got to see the duo first hand, as League and Beimel shut the door on a 3-2 win. League loaded the bases in the eighth, and didn’t hesitate to escape the jam unscathed. Beimel allowed a hit in the ninth, but the most important number was 0, as in zero runs in the final two innings, resulting in a Bees win.
“I think it’s awesome,” Bees catcher James Skelton said of the duo. “Both those guys have plenty of time in the big leagues and doing it at that level and coming down here to further their careers to get back to the big leagues is awesome. It’s going to help out a lot of guys in the bullpen - we are young down there. They’re going to be a big help. Obviously our job is to get them back into affiliated ball and I don’t think they’ll be here very long.”
Beimel is a veteran of 13 Major League seasons, spanning time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Nationals, Seattle Mariners and Colorado Rockies. When it comes to big-game experience, especially in the Atlantic League, it doesn’t get any more extensive than what Beimel brings to the Bees’ staff.
With 676 career games and 680 innings logged against big league hitters, nothing will likely shake Beimel when he enters a game with a lead in the ninth. But closing games will be something new, as he has just five career saves on his resume. It doesn’t take a baseball genius, however, to realize Beimel is the clear choice to close games for Cliburn this year.
Plus, with a motivated Beimel on the mound, determined to get one last opportunity to pitch in Major League Baseball, he just might have the same intimidation factor Mariano Rivera was famous for coming out of the bullpen.
“I think we’ve been around a little bit and we’ve probably been in every single situation there is to be in a game, whether that’s pitching early in a game, late in a game or closing it out, whatever, and I think you’ll see two guys that won’t panic,” Beimel said of himself and League. “[League] had bases loaded, one out [on Saturday] and got out of it. He’s done it plenty of times in his career and I feel like I’m kind of the same way to where we’re not going to get overwhelmed in a situation.”
League has plenty of Major League experience as well, logging 11 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, Dodgers and Mariners. League has 74 career saves, including 37 alone in 2011, where he was an All-Star, pitching to a 2.79 ERA. He was in the news the following season when he was traded to the Dodgers and finished the combined season with 15 saves. He had a 14-save season the following year and remained with Los Angeles for another year before playing in the minor leagues in 2015.
Now in the Atlantic League, League has already proven he won’t have many nerves when entering a game in the seventh or eighth inning in pressure situations. Like Beimel, the experience level of League in big-game situations is immeasurable.
“I think experience always has benefits, and the longer you’re in the game, the more you experience different situations and different scenarios,” League said, “and more times than not you look back and a situation helps you with, ‘OK, why did you have that outcome,’ and what adjustments to make along the way. But also with that experience comes the responsibility of helping the young guys that don’t have that experience that we do and answering questions or giving advice when they ask for it.”
In the opposing dugout, the advice of how to face the Bees’ set-up man and closer duo might not be there, as there isn’t much to say except to hope for the best in the final innings of a game.
And if the back-end of the Bees bullpen wasn’t good enough already, if and when Beimel needs a day off, League can step in and close as well, which is a huge advantage the Bees have over other teams in the Atlantic League.
It would have been a surprise if Beimel didn’t have a big role with the Bees, and now with the signing of League just before the season, the back-end of the bullpen could be darn near unhittable.
That is, as long as they remain on the club, as the better they are, the more likely they are picked up by an affiliated club. Which makes it even more timely to get out to the ballpark to watch the pair intimidate and dominate hitters.
Beimel and League, the Chapman and Betances of the Atlantic League.