The Yankees’ biggest baseball boy, Aaron Judge, went 0-4 in ALDS Game 1 against Indians pitching, taking home a golden sombrero for his efforts. Based on Judge’s media magnet role on the Yankees, it won’t be surprising if in advance of Game 2 questions swirl about his ability to succeed at the plate in this series.
While Judge’s signature booming offense will be an important piece in their toolbox if the Yankees hope to beat out the Indians in this five-game series, he’s not their only issue.
In a decision heavily scrutinized in advance of Game 1, Cleveland manager Terry Francona’s opening gambit to start Trevor Bauer instead of ace Corey Kluber worked out beautifully. Bauer took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning and let up only two hits in 6 2⁄3 innings pitched.
The Indians’ bullpen did the rest, with Cleveland having to use only Andrew Miller and Cody Allen for a few innings to close out New York, 4-0. All in all, the Yankees managed only three hits the entire night.
That’s an issue. Especially because New York can’t now look at Game 2 and say “it’s fine that we couldn’t get anything going in Game 1; that was Corey Kluber and this should at least be easier!” Nope, the Yankees are going up a level in difficulty now, and if they don’t figure out Cleveland’s pitching from the get-go their future at the plate looks very much the same as their present.
Besides Judge’s four K’s, Didi Gregorius went 0-4 with two strikeouts and Gary Sanchez went 0-4 with a K of his own. Only Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, and Greg Bird were able to eke out walks throughout the entire game, with one each.
So it’s not just that the Yankees lineup couldn’t get a hit, it’s that things aren’t going to get better for them in the near future. And if there’s one team in the postseason that teams shouldn’t want to go down 2-0 to in a five-game series, it’s the Cleveland team that lost only four times in their last 30 games of the season.
MLB.com’s David Adler points out that Cleveland’s pitching staff threw 35 pitches to Judge and Gary Sanchez combined. Sixty percent of those pitches were curveballs and each of their five combined strikeouts was on curves.
Bad news for those two guys: This season Corey Kluber’s curveball was his second-most popular pitch after his fastball. He throws it 27.4% of the time. That’s up nearly a full 8% over last year. If his command is where it usually is, that Sanchez and Judge stat could look very similar two nights in a row.
Which is (say it with me now!) a worst-case scenario for the Yankees. A few hits from Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks aren’t the answer when they’re facing this kind of pitching staff. No disrespect to Castro and Hicks — that’s just not a winning plan.
It’s like baking a decent and tasty Betty Crocker pie and then showing up to the county’s premier pie contest and competing against Kluber and his grandmother’s world famous pie crust recipe. Your pie might taste good, but good luck against that standard of competition.
The Yankees also won’t have Sonny Gray on the mound again, and while they didn’t find the rest of their rotation from an open call audition or anything, they have only one Sonny Gray — who didn’t look awful despite the runs he gave up. So now they’re staring down a future where their pitching lets up more than the four runs Gray held the Indians to tonight and where they still can’t get any hits.
Kluber could completely fall apart: He could tighten up and leave the game early after struggling to place his pitches. But the safe bet is that he’ll at the very least be above average on the mound.
Whether the Yankees will rise to the same level at the plate is much more up in the air. But they’re going to have to figure out how to do that before wasting too much time, otherwise this hole they’re in will get twice as deep faster than you can say “All Rise.”