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Yankees' failure to hit with RISP has been costly in ALCS vs. Astros

Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) at the

Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) at the plate in the fifth inning in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, at Yankee Stadium. . Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Among the many reasons the Yankees were beaten by the Red Sox in four games in the 2018 American League Division Series was their failure to hit with runners in scoring position.

In many ways, that was predictable. The Yankees did not excel in such situations during the 2018 regular season, hitting .253 with a .784 OPS.

But falling off the cliff with runners in scoring position against the Astros through four games in the American League Championship Series was not nearly as predictable. That was by far the primary reason they entered  Friday night in a must-win scenario, trailing the series three games to one.  

The Yankees hit .294 with an .890 OPS with runners in scoring position this season, leading the majors in both categories. But the first four games of the ALCS were a complete 180.

After going 3-for-11 with RISP and stranding seven runners in their 7-0 victory in Game 1, the Yankees  went 1-for-16 with RISP and stranded 26 in the next three games, all losses. Overall at the plate in those games, the Yankees were 16-for-103 with 32 strikeouts.

“There’s just not too many mistakes and that’s the biggest thing, we just haven’t seen too many pitches over the zone when there’s guys on base, and that’s the one thing we’re missing,” Aaron Judge said after the 8-3 loss in Game 4. “So try to capitalize on those.”

In Game 4, the Yankees went 0-for-7 with RISP and left 10 on base.

The Yankees did a bit better in that situation in Game 5 on Friday night. With runners on second and third and one out in the first inning, Aaron Hicks lined a three-run homer off the rightfield foul pole that gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead that held up into the seventh inning.

“It’s tough to say,” Judge said of the issues overall. “Can’t really talk for everybody, but the biggest thing is what made this team so good is we control the zone. Like I’ve told you guys about 18,000 times, you know we control the zone and we do damage when we get pitches in the zone…so we just have to go back to doing that.”

As Judge said, the Yankees were not without their chances, even against a team with three of the best starters atop their rotation.

In Game 4, for example, Gary Sanchez allowed a wild Zack Greinke off the hook by striking out on three pitches with the bases loaded in the first inning. The strikeout came after Greinke walked Brett Gardner with the bases loaded to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. A hit or a walk there and maybe – with the key word being ''maybe,'' given that the 107-win Astros have a pretty good offense, too — the game would have taken on a different look.

“Just keep getting traffic [but] we just can’t get that big hit,” DJ LeMahieu said. “I know everyone wants to be in that position to score some runs. It just hasn’t fallen our way.”

LeMahieu, who hit .389 with a 1.017 OPS this season with RISP in the regular season, credited the Astros’ pitching as well.

“They’ve got a good staff,” LeMahieu said. “Like I said, we just haven’t been able to get that big hit. I think it’s a little bit combination of their good pitching and the [things] not going our way. But I think their pitching has done a pretty good job so far and hopefully we can turn the tables.”

Aaron Boone said “ultimately” winning and losing in the postseason is what teams do with the chances they’re given after creating traffic on the bases.

That's a lot of times what the postseason is, what the playoffs are,” Boone said before Game 5. “You've got to take advantage of opportunities. The last few days we haven't been able to do that, and it's been the difference in us winning and losing games. Hopefully we create more opportunities. Ultimately the goal is to create those opportunities. Now we've got to break through. And that's hard to do, especially when you're facing good pitching and getting a hit is a failing proposition. But the more opportunities we can create, hopefully we can break through with a couple and get on that plane [to Houston].” 

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