If there’s anything to learn, again, from Aaron Judge’s second half, it’s that the baseball can get small in both directions, both going out and coming in, and that it’s particularly real when a man is 25 years old, arrived a few months back with 27 big-league games behind him, and has so much strike zone to defend.
Judge did more than his share for the New York Yankees in the first half. He carried the few days in Miami between halves. And then it was time for sliders again. The scouting reports for pitchers against Judge won’t surprise anyone — fastballs in, or fastballs up and in, and sliders down and away. It’s pretty much the scouting report on every good hitter, especially good hitters of a certain size, and the difference between then and now is pitchers are doing a better job of it.
Also, it’s possible Judge is a bit worn down. He’s young and a big fellow and by all accounts works very hard to look like nothing could ever harm him, but that’s also a lot of body and mind to drag from February to October. Minor-league seasons in Tampa or Scranton are not big-league seasons in the Bronx, no matter what the number of plate appearances might say, and being the next whomever — Jeter, Winfield, Howard, pick one — can be trying, as easy as Judge made/makes it look.
The result is a little more of what Judge looked like last summer, when he popped in and hit .179 with 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats and then had to win a job in spring. The batting average was so abhorrent to Judge, he’s said, he sent it to himself on his phone, and keeps it there, and gazes at it, if only to remind himself the game won’t ever be easy. That’s not the kind of guy to hit .179 again, probably, not when he just went three months as the best hitter in the game. And lest one presumes the past six weeks is somehow becoming a mortal wound, keep in mind that on Aug. 9 Judge is a .297 hitter with 35 homers and 81 walks and a .424 on-base percentage and a 1.046 OPS and a 5.3 WAR. That’s a great season, if the season were to end today, which it won’t.
These are the weeks and months that afflict rookies. And veterans. That afflict baseball players. That play on their minds and legs and souls, you know, until tomorrow, when the whole thing starts over again, and the baseball gets small in one direction or the other.
Jake Arrieta is what else. For all that has ailed the Chicago Cubs, for all that has gone right in a perkier second half, Arrieta, one of the issues then, is part of the solution now. In his past seven starts, Arrieta has a 2.18 ERA. In his first 16: 4.67 ERA. He’s averaged 6 ½ innings since the start of July, a full three outs more than he averaged in April, May and June. The difference appears to be better pitches in the strike zone, or better luck in the strike zone, as his strikeouts have declined, but his batting average against (.183 lately, vs. .260 before) and BABIP (.202 now, .318 then) have improved markedly. With free agency coming, Arrieta had stacked a somewhat clunky first half of 2017 atop a so-so second half of 2016, which amounts to a year of, well, un-Arrieta-ishness. And, yet, since becoming a Cub, Arrieta has been durable, he has won in October, he will hit the market at 31 years old, and he is again pitching well, if not at his Cy Young level of 2015. Life’s not a straight line. Neither is pitching.
Tough week for Toronto closer Roberto Osuna, who over five appearances faced 26 batters, had 13 of them reach base — 10 hits, one walk, two hit by pitch — and blew three saves, all at a time the Blue Jays are desperate for wins. Lots of them.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ magic number to eliminate the San Francisco Giants is 24. It’s Aug. 9.
Andrelton Simmons has us rethinking the notion of the Los Angeles Angels as a one-man show. He plays hard, plays fun and, at 27, is having his best offensive season, by far. Minimum 75 plate appearances, only eight American Leaguers – three of them Red Sox, led by Mookie Betts — have hit for a higher average than Simmons’ .341 with runners in scoring position. Also, by most metrics — his 6.0 WAR is second in baseball behind just Jose Altuve — and eyeballs, he is the best defensive shortstop in the game.
For whatever reason — maybe the turnover of the rosters, including an Aaron Judge and a Clint Frazier and a Rafael Devers and an Andrew Benintendi, maybe because the Yankees haven’t won a playoff series in five years, maybe because neither is the Dodgers, but Yankees-Red Sox feels fresh again.
They haven’t played a postseason series against each other since 2004. They haven’t finished one-two in the division since 2009. Nobody’s fed Alex Rodriguez a mitt sandwich in years. Pedro Martinez hasn’t hauled anyone to the ground in, like, forever.
So let’s do another Yankees-Red Sox summer, for old time’s sake. They play three times this weekend at Yankee Stadium and 10 times from Friday, Aug. 11, to Sunday, Sept. 3. Sure, we’ll be sick of it all by Sunday, but hey, think of the children.
Friday: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Jaime Garcia
Saturday: Drew Pomeranz vs. Luis Severino
Sunday: Chris Sale vs. CC Sabathia
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