Of the many hideous Yankees numbers on the offensive side from the first two games of the American League Championship Series, one clearly stands out more than others.
To the Yankees' panicked fan base. To the media. To the Yankees themselves.
“I mean, 30 strikeouts is . . . that's too much,'' Aaron Boone said Friday. “We know we’ve got to be better than that.”
The Yankees went 9-for-65 (a .138/.200/.262 slash line) with 30 strikeouts and four walks in the first two ALCS games, in which they fell by scores of 4-2 and 3-2.
“You've got to be able to make series adjustments, in-game adjustments. That's all part of the game. So hopefully we're able to do that,” Boone said.
Friday was an off-day for the ALCS, which continues Saturday night at the Stadium with the Yankees in about as much of a must-win situation as they could be, trailing two games to none in the best-of-seven series.
Gerrit Cole (13-8, 3.50), terrific in two starts against Cleveland in the five-game Division Series, will go for the Yankees on five days' rest.
Righthander Cristian Javier (11-9, 2.54) — who struck out 13 in seven innings in combining with Hector Neris and Ryan Pressly to pitch a 15-strikeout no-hitter at Yankee Stadium on June 25 at a time when the Yankees (52-20) were still playing their best ball of the season — will start for the Astros. Javier struck out 194 in 148 2/3 innings and had a 0.95 WHIP during the regular season, so in terms of making contact and scoring runs, the Yankees again have a difficult task in front of them.
After Thursday night’s game at Minute Maid Park, where the Yankees are 1-8 in ALCS games, players in the clubhouse talked about the need to “put more balls in play.”
Boone agreed, though he said he doesn’t want his hitters going to the plate thinking too hard about doing so.
“Contact is incredibly important, especially in certain situations,” Boone said. “But I would argue that controlling the strike zone is more important. And getting a good pitch to hit is more important. And sometimes when you get so focused on 'I'm going to go touch the ball,' you start expanding the strike zone. And when you do that against a Houston Astro pitching staff, you're in trouble and you're playing into their hands.”
Meaning, he said, not a dramatically different approach at the plate.
“I don't think there's any abandoning of a certain thing,” Boone said. “You’ve got to understand that, especially when you're up against elite pitching, you’ve got to find a way. Sometimes that calls in a situation of shortening up. Where are you in the count? What's the situation of the game? What's the scoreboard telling you? Those things are all part of being a really good major-league hitter and offense and you’ve got to play to that.
"But I don't think there's a drastic change in approach now of what we do. At the end of the day, it comes down to making great swing decisions, controlling the strike zone and then playing the game within the game when that calls for it.”
Javier, 25, was overshadowed this season by the work of rotationmate Justin Verlander, the presumed AL Cy Young Award winner. But Javier, who drew praise earlier in this postseason from Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, presents another tough challenge from a Houston pitching staff that was rough on the Yankees all season, not just in the ALCS.
In losing five of seven meetings to the Astros in the regular season, the Yankees scored 22 runs, going 33-for-219 (.151) with 67 strikeouts. With the exception of Aaron Judge's two-walk-off hits, they never led during any of the seven games. In this series, they have led after one half-inning, and the Astros quickly tied it.
The Yankees shook up their lineup in Game 2, starting rookie Oswald Peraza at shortstop and batting Harrison Bader leadoff in the most prominent moves. Bader again will lead off in Game 3. Boone was noncommittal on Peraza, who made a couple of terrific defensive plays in Game 2, meaning Isiah Kiner-Falefa remains an option to start at short.
One change that will not take place with the lineup is anyone other than Josh Donaldson starting at third, Boone said. Donaldson went 1-for-6 with a double and five strikeouts in the first two games but does have a .393 on-base percentage in the postseason (he’s 5-for-22 with six walks and 11 strikeouts).
“As we struggle for offense, period, it's interesting that everyone jumps on him,” Boone said. “I mean, he's gotten on [base] at a 40% clip in the postseason so far for all his, quote, struggles. So we need him. We need him to do something big within this series. We need to get that rolling. But that's with everyone. We're up against a great pitching staff top to bottom and we’ve got to find ways to score runs.”