ALDS Takeaways: Gregorius sends Yankees to ALCS with two-homer night

New York Yankees' Didi Gregorius points to the dugout after hitting a two-run home run off Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber during the third inning of Game 5 of a baseball American League Division Series, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

A third consecutive win against the defending American League champions assured the New York Yankees of a berth in the ALCS Wednesday. With Cleveland eliminated, we can now say with certainty that it’ll be the Yankees or Houston Astros representing the AL in the World Series.

For at least a day or two, Joe Girardi can breathe easy. In the meantime, here are some observations about the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS…

MISMATCH ON THE MOUND
Corey Kluber‘s probably the favourite to win the American League Cy Young this year after striking out 265 hitters with a 2.25 ERA. And yet in two ALDS starts against the Yankees, Kluber didn’t come close to replicating those results. The 31-year-old allowed nine earned runs on 10 hits while pitching 6.1 innings

Meanwhile, CC Sabathia succeeded against a tough Cleveland offence that scored more runs than all but five MLB teams this year. That’s not a lineup you want to face twice in a week—especially if you haven’t appeared on a Cy Young ballot in half a decade.

Regardless, Sabathia provided the Yankees with two strong starts, including a nine-strikeout performance Wednesday made possible by an effective slider. The 37-year-old left-hander will be a surprisingly intriguing free agent this off-season after posting respectable numbers in 27 regular season starts (3.69 ERA, 148.2 innings, 4.11 xFIP, 1.9 WAR). First, though, more post-season appearances await.

GREGORIUS COMES THROUGH
When the Yankees first traded for Didi Gregorius, he had the unenviable assignment of replacing Derek Jeter at shortstop. Gregorius started slowly, with nine homers and a .688 OPS in 2015. In each of the next two seasons he improved, hitting 20 homers with a .751 OPS in 2016 before hitting 25 homers with a .796 OPS in 2017. Along the way he averaged more than three wins above replacement per season.

Now, he’s coming through in clutch moments that bring to mind his predecessor. With two home runs Wednesday he now has three homers in elimination games this October. Safe to assume, then, that the Yankees have no regrets about the three-team 2014 trade that landed Gregorius from Arizona in exchange for reliever Shane Greene, who went to Detroit.

JUDGE KEEPS WHIFFING
Aaron Judge led the American League with 208 regular-season strikeouts, so it should come as no surprise that he has continued striking out in the playoffs. At the same time, few would have anticipated the extent to which Judge would continue whiffing. In 20 ALDS at-bats, he struck out 16 times.

We’ve seen him make in-season adjustments before, but this isn’t what the Yankees would have hoped for during their best player’s first playoff series, and it won’t get much easier against Houston in the ALCS.

A DISAPPOINTING ENDING
By any measure, Cleveland was the favourite in this series. They reached the World Series last year, and might have been stronger in 2017, when they won 102 regular-season games, including 22 in a row. With a potent lineup, elite bullpen arms and a considerably deeper rotation than they had this time last year, Cleveland was objectively the stronger team.

Still, the Yankees deserve some credit here. They’re scarier than most wild-card teams, with a bullpen that plays up in October. Ultimately, those relievers helped extend the season of a team that should no longer be underestimated this October.