What fluke? Jose Bautista hitting .364 with AL-high 8 homers

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Last night Jose Bautista homered for the fourth time in four games, giving him a league-leading eight homers on the season despite missing three games due to the birth of his daughter.

Bautista, whose monster 2010 was deemed a fluke by nearly everyone because it came at age 29 and after six totally unremarkable seasons, is now leading the league in batting average (.364), on-base percentage (.517), slugging percentage (.788), and OPS (1.305) in addition to homers and walks.

When the Blue Jays signed Bautista to a five-year, $65 million contract extension in February many people reacted as if they’d made a terrible mistake, assuming that Bautista failing to duplicate his 2010 breakout would leave them regretting the deal. I tried to point out at the time that in reality he certainly doesn’t have to hit 50 homers with a 1.000 OPS to be worth $13 million per season, although right now that seems like kind of a moot point.

Dating back to September 1 of 2009 he’s hitting .270 with 72 homers, 132 walks, and a 1.016 OPS in 208 games, so anyone calling it a “fluke season” should probably at least do Bautista the favor of calling it a “fluke season-and-a-half” at this point. Or maybe just ditch the “fluke” part altogether until he stops leading the league in everything.

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

Associated Press
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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.