ALL IN THE PAST
Playoff slump not weighing on Yankees’ Aaron Judge
HOUSTON — Like anyone wowed by a human’s ability to get a bat to drive a ball to the outer reaches of distance and velocity, Aaron Judge’s New York Yankees love to watch him do his thing.
They gather around the cage at batting practice as he swings for fences, walls and whatever other obstacles are on the horizon.
And even though they could use the bat that blasted an MLB rookie-record 52 home runs more than ever right now, nobody around the Yankees seems to be sweating the fact that Judge is in the most notable slump of his young career.
In no way is Judge viewed as a larger-than-life character among this unlikely group of Yankees, a team that is motivated and in the process of turning the 2017 post-season on its ear.
And for public consumption, in no way is this team relying on the 6-foot-7 slugger to carry them to their first World Series appearance since 2009.
Of course, that’s probably a good thing, given that Judge was a meek 1-for-20 in the fivegame series win against Cleveland and, with 16 strikeouts, set a dubious record for the most whiffs in a single playoff series.
So what gives with the Yanks’ No. 2 hitter, who will try to snap out of it in Game 1 of the bestof-seven series on Friday night here at Minute Maid Park?
“He’s just faced a really good team when it comes to their pitching staff,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said on Thursday. “I thought (Indians pitchers) just made a ton of good pitches on him. I think there were some borderline calls that didn’t go his way, but they made a lot of good pitches.”
Girardi’s subtle message to the umpires aside, just how Judge responds could go a long way to deciding this series. Sure, there’s pick-me-up support from players such as shortstop Didi Gregorius, whose two home runs in Game 5 at Cleveland essentially fuelled the team charter to Texas.
But at the rate the Astros score, this series could be shortened considerably if Judge doesn’t at least contribute at the plate.
“It’s similar to what everybody goes through in the game,” Judge said, addressing his slump in the visitors clubhouse on Thursday after the weary Yankees went through an off-day workout. “It’s just part of it. They make a lot of quality pitches and you’ve just got to tip your cap.
“You can’t give up. You keep fighting, try to make adjustments … it’s all you can really do.”
As composed as Judge has been this season, there was some visible frustration in Game 5 against the Indians. In part, it was recognition of the stakes at play and in part perhaps he wondered if the funk was for real.
“It wasn’t weighing on me at all,” Judge said. “Every day is a new day. Every time I step on the field, I want to contribute.
“It’s just tough in certain situations when you go out there and want to produce for your team and you don’t get the job done, especially in a big situation like that. It’s Game 5. It’s all on the line.
“Some emotions come out here and there, but it’s a reaction to the now. I can’t do anything about the past.”
The Yankees are decided and deserved underdogs against the Astros in the ALCS, a role they thrived on with their historic comeback against Cleveland. The Astros have the edge both in offence and starting pitching, but Girardi is hoping for the latter area to be closer in what has the potential to be an intriguing series.
Masahiro Tanaka, who was brilliant in his previous two outings, will get the start in Friday’s opener followed by Luis Severino in Game 2 on Saturday and CC Sabathia and Sonny Gray for the following two next week in the Bronx. Gray hasn’t pitched since Sept. 28, but threw a simulated game from the mound here late Thursday.
“(The Astros) are a club that scores a lot of runs, but doesn’t swing and miss very much,” Girardi said.
“They’re going to hit their home runs, but they’re going to do a lot of other things offensively, so you need to make pitches.
“This is a very dangerous lineup … we didn’t have a lot of success against Cleveland during the regular season but we pitched better during the playoffs, and you hope that holds true here.”
The same hopes will be carried to the other side of the ball as well. The Yankees couldn’t hit the Indians’ Corey Kluber during the regular season, but ate him up in the ALDS.
They may need the same against Game 1 (and if necessary, Game 5) starter Dallas Keuchel. And a big-swinging Aaron Judge would be a good place to start.
Rookie slugger Aaron Judge will have to break out of his 1-for-20 postseason slump for the Yankees to have any hope of upsetting the Astros in the ALCS.