The Yankees will have a hard time getting past the Houston Astros if they can’t put some runs on the scoreboard. It’s as simple as that.
The offense has been a problem throughout the playoffs. Even while beating the Cleveland Guardians in the Division Series, they did so while hitting just .182/.273/.370. They haven’t topped six hits in a single game since the regular season, they struck out 17 times off Justin Verlander in ALCS Game 1, and they didn’t fare much better with Framber Valdez in Game 2 last night.
Of course, it’s easier said than done, but the Yankees won’t be in a position to win the series if they can’t put together good at-bats and if they keep wasting the few chances with runners in scoring position they have. To explain the Yanks’ offensive woes during the playoffs, it’s important to understand there isn’t just one factor: each hitter is going through something different.
Take Josh Donaldson, for example. He has been a disaster during the whole postseason, taking numerous middle-middle pitches that scream “hit me” ...
Bro what ru looking for pic.twitter.com/Vfetf6tpYp— Gabe (@PlayoffTanaka_) October 20, 2022
... and starting his swing and making up his mind in the middle of it, resulting in some ugly “half-swings,” such as the one below.
Donaldson should definitely be swinging at some of these pitches with two strikes.
As opposed to Isiah Kiner-Falefa, the Yankees know that there is at least some upside in Donaldson’s bat, plus the ability to draw some walks. That, and the fact that his potential replacement (DJ LeMahieu) is currently not on the roster give him some leash, but he just has to be better.
It’s important to note, however, that the Yankees have faced some really tough pitchers so far. The Guardians were sixth in MLB with a 3.47 ERA, and the Astros were second at 2.90. Houston also led the entire league with a 3.28 FIP. These guys really know what they’re doing on the mound.
The tweet below came after the first two ALDS games against the Guardians, but illustrates what the Yanks’ hitters (and particularly Aaron Judge) are dealing with:
What’s going on with Aaron Judge? Part of it is that the Guardians haven’t given him any mistakes to hit. Credit to @MLBNetwork’s Eric Nehs for this data: pic.twitter.com/z8yUiiNWPJ— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) October 15, 2022
The first mistake pitch that Judge saw against Cleveland came in Game 3 of the ALDS. It was thrown by Triston McKenzie, and it was punished for Judge’s first homer of the playoffs. We are still not enjoying vintage Judge, but he has been better since that game.
With Giancarlo Stanton, some of his swings have looked a bit off-balance, as he is still finding his timing at the plate after a horrible second half and the Achilles injury. He’s hitting .167 in the playoffs, but he still has that game-changing power as evidenced by his two postseason home runs.
Another thing that has affected several at-bats from the Yankees offense have been missed calls by umpires. Here are some from the ALCS Game 1 alone:
Last night's home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski has been behind the plate for 14 Yankee games this season.— YankeeSavant (@YankeeSavant) October 20, 2022
The Yankees have won only 1 of those games, the lowest percentage of any umpire in the league (per @TMKSESPN) pic.twitter.com/fgesJLrDqY
Having to complete the rest of the turn with a 2-1 count is definitely not the same as having to do it behind 1-2. The approach changes completely, both for the pitcher and for the hitter. This is why pitch framing has become so important in recent years.
Despite those disclaimers, they’re far from the only reason why Yankees bats have been scuffling. Oswaldo Cabrera, for example, is down to .091 in the postseason with one home run, and with 10 strikeouts in 22 at-bats.
The rookie has expanded the zone ...
... but he also hasn’t been able to make consistent contact in tough pitches inside the zone, like this one:
Again, hitting in the postseason isn’t easy. The pitch that Cabrera swung through in the Karinchak at-bat would have been ball four and loaded the bases. These things make a difference.
In this at-bat (the Karinchak one), Cabrera could have done more with pitches two and five:
Oswaldo Cabrera strikes out swinging.— LFG Cleveland Guardians (@LFGGuardians) October 14, 2022
Bottom of the 8th | 2 outs#CLEvsNYY pic.twitter.com/JAiOJcOOMm
Matt Carpenter is another story. We discussed, in this space, the risks of rushing a player to the big stage with no live, competitive at-bats, and Carpenter has looked quite rusty: in seven plate appearances, he has struck out seven times against Guards and Astros. The swing decisions are atrocious.
Pitch number one was a take. And pitch number four was a swing. Yes. pic.twitter.com/4UQZKlztXy— Andrés Chávez (@andres_chavez13) October 21, 2022
Yikes. That’s what happens when a player is forced to find his rhythm against the best pitchers in the world. As Andrew noted the other day, not everyone can do what Kyle Schwarber did in 2016.
Jose Trevino is also ice-cold, continuing his brutal second half. The Yankees, as a whole, need to start making better decisions at the plate, work the count, and take advantage of the hittable pitches in the zone they get. There seem to be too many takes that should be swings, and too many swings that should be takes.
The combination of laying off bad pitches and offering at good ones is one of the most difficult things to master in professional sports, especially against a pitching staff that seems to have the Yanks’ number. There is a lot of room to improve, and not much time left to do it.
The moment, for the Yankees, is now. These hitters need to show what they are made of.