CLEVELAND -- Aaron Judge has said he is not concerned by his growing strikeout totals, but as the Yankees head into the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World against the Astros on Friday, they hope the rookie slugger can recapture the form that he showed during his September to remember.
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Fed a steady diet of breaking balls and high heat from Indians hurlers, Judge was limited to just one hit in 20 at-bats during the AL Division Series presented by Doosan. His 16 strikeouts in the series, with four coming in Wednesday's 5-2 win in Game 5, established a Major League record for a single postseason series, eclipsing the previous mark of 13.
"I haven't been doing my job there at the top of the order, and my teammates came up big for me this series," Judge said. "Now it's time to regroup and get ready for the AL Championship [Series]."
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Judge's one hit of the ALDS was a big one, a two-run double in the second inning of Game 4 that gave the Yanks a 5-0 lead at the time, effectively sending starter Trevor Bauer to an early exit.
While Judge walked four times against Cleveland pitching, he had higher hopes for his first postseason series. The previous mark of 13 strikeouts had been shared by the A's Brandon Moss (2013 ALDS), the Tigers' Austin Jackson (2013 ALDS) and the Cubs' Javier Baez (2016 World Series).
"He was going up against some amazing pitching," general manager Brian Cashman said. "Turn the page and now focus on Houston. Reggie [Jackson] always talked about, 'If you have the bat in your hand, you can change the story.' Thankfully, he'll have the bat in his hand for another series. He's one of the reasons we got this far, but it takes a village. Other people were able to pick it up and find a way to carry us through."
The upcoming ALCS will feature a head-to-head comparison of the top two candidates for the American League MVP Award, with Judge on the same field as second baseman Jose Altuve.
"They're a tough squad," Judge said. "They've got a potent lineup all the way up and down. Great bullpen, great starters. It's going to be fun. It's a new challenge. We're excited for it."
The Yankees would be thrilled if the trip to Houston helps Judge reclaim the prowess he showed in the final month of the regular season, when he hit .311/.463/.889 with 15 homers and 32 RBIs in 27 games. Brett Gardner said that he expects Judge to bounce back.
"When the team wins and you're not doing well, you don't take it so hard," Gardner said. "He's got a good head on his shoulders and we all struggle from time to time. When the team wins, it doesn't matter so much. We'll be ready to go on Friday."