Angels manager Mike Scioscia is taking a lot of heat locally for continuing to play struggling 42-year-old Raul Ibanez, especially after the team called up first base prospect C.J. Cron to provide an alternative at designated hitter.
Ibanez is hitting .153 with three homers and a .514 OPS in 56 games. By comparison, Cron is hitting .275 with three homers and a .763 OPS in 33 games since being called up from Triple-A last month. And yet Ibanez has started three straight games over Cron, with Scioscia explaining to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times:
There’s no doubt he’s making some strides in the batter’s box, and you’re seeing better swings. The bottom line is production. Nobody understands that better than Raul. He knows he needs to have better at-bats. Nobody is working harder than Raul, and we’re confident he’s going to contribute for us.
It’d be one thing to show patience in a star player going through a prolonged slump, but when a 42-year-old hits .153 in 56 games and wasn’t all that good to begin with in recent years … well, it would seem like an obvious opportunity to turn the page and give Cron an extended chance instead. Ibanez hasn’t topped an .800 OPS since 2009 and hasn’t topped a .310 on-base percentage since 2010. Scioscia is waiting around for a bat that’s nothing special anyway.
For a few days, it looked like Aaron Judge was finally hitting his stride in the postseason. He was still striking out at a regular clip, piling more and more strikeouts atop the 16 he racked up in the Division Series, but he was mashing, too. He engineered a three-run homer during Game 3 of the Championship Series, followed by another blast and game-tying double in Game 4. His one-out double helped pad a five-run lead in Game 5, while his 425-footer off of Brad Peacock barely made a dent during a 7-1 loss in Game 6. And then Lance McCullers‘ curveball found and fooled him, as it did five of the 14 batters it met in Game 7:
The strikeout was Judge’s first of the evening and 27th since the start of the playoffs. No other major league batter has racked up that many strikeouts in a single postseason, though Alfonso Soriano’s 26-strikeout record in 2003 comes the closest. Within that record, Judge also collected three golden sombreros (four strikeouts in a single game), narrowly avoiding the dreaded platinum sombrero (five strikeouts in a single game).
It’s an unfortunate footnote to a spectacular year for the rookie outfielder, who decimated the competition with 52 home runs and 8.2 fWAR during the regular season and was a pivotal part of the Yankees’ playoff run. Thankfully, the image of McCullers’ curveball darting just under Judge’s bat won’t be the image that sticks with us for years to come. Instead, it’ll look something like this: