The New York Yankees beat the Cleveland Indians 5-2 in Game 5 of the ALDS on Wednesday to win the series and advance to the next round where they’ll play the Houston Astros.
The win was improbable in several ways. The Indians entered the postseason as the hottest team in MLB, having rattled off a 22-game win streak, winning 33 of their last 37 games. The Indians also held home-field advantage and used it to go up 2-0 on the Yankees early in the series.
However, after blowing an 8-3 lead in Game 2, the Yankees rallied in New York, taking both games to even up the series and go back to Cleveland for a decisive Game 5.
Once in Cleveland, the Yankees were carried by Didi Gregorius, who hit two home runs in the first three innings to give New York a 3-0 lead. They also got a red-hot start from CC Sabathia and dutiful relief work from David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman.
Making the Yankees’ come-from-behind series win even more improbable is that they got almost zero production from their two sluggers, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez.
Judge and Sanchez this season combined for 88 home runs, with Judge setting a rookie record with 52 blasts, and 204 RBIs. In the ALDS, the two had a combined five hits, two home runs, five RBIs, four walks, and 26 strikeouts. Judge, in particular, was a mess at the plate, becoming the first player to have three four-strikeout games in one series.
Yet thanks to some hot-hitting from players lower in the lineup, the Yankees managed to squeeze by the Indians.
All of this should frighten the Astros.
The Yankees just beat a 102-win team while their best player was drowning in a sea of strikeouts. If Judge gets hot, they are frightening.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 12, 2017
Judge in particular could be worrisome for the Astros. Judge has struggled mightily since his record-setting performance at the Home Run Derby. In the second half of the season, he hit just .228 and posted 99 strikeouts. He got warmer in September, but once again hit a wall in the ALDS, as he struggled against breaking balls and pitches low in the zone.
There is, however, some small proof that Judge can be an effective postseason hitter. In the win-or-go-home Wild Card game against the Minnesota Twins, Judge had two hits, including a home run to help the Yankees advance.
Sanchez, likewise, could provide a needed boost to the Yankees offense. Though he is not the hitter Judge is, he’s still a slugger who hit 33 home runs in just 122 games this season. If Sanchez gets untracked, he adds scary depth to the Yankees lineup from the cleanup spot, particularly if players like Aaron Hicks and Todd Frazier can continue producing at the bottom of the Yankees lineup.
The “Baby Bombers,” as the Yankees’ young core is often called, have already exceeded expectations, and a loss to the Astros in the ALCS would not be a disappointment. But given their performance so far without much help from Judge and Sanchez, it’s possible that the Yankees could become an even scarier opponent for Houston.