Yankees Thoughts: Aaron Judge Has Earned Every First-Place AL MVP Vote

Judge continues to be Yankees' only source of offense this season

The Yankees momentarily ended their second-half slide with a five-game winning streak, but after losing back-to-back games to the worst team in the American League, the second-half misery is as bad as ever.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. After the Yankees were able to salvage the final game of their four-game home series against the Blue Jays a week ago and then beat the Mets twice at the Stadium, you know Aaron Boone, Brian Cashman, the entire front office and ownership breathed a sigh of relief. They definitely thought the Yankees were “turning the page” Boone seems to always reference in his postgame press conferences, and that the team was putting their abysmal second-half performance to date behind them. When they opened their four-game series in Oakland with a 13-run outburst, it likely only further reinforced the idea within the organization that the team was back, and scoring 13 runs without hitting a single home run would quiet the critics that the team too desperately relies on the long ball. But over the weekend, the post-June 18 Yankees returned after a five-game hiatus, posting back-to-back losses to the worst team in the American League and the second-worst team in baseball.

2. Not only did the Yankees lose back-to-back games to the A’s on Saturday and Sunday, they recorded one hit in their 11-inning loss on Saturday and scored one run on Sunday. Over the final 22 2/3 innings in the series, the Yankees got five hits, all singles.

After losing the series finale, Boone was asked about the offense’s struggles, and after tipping his hat to another fringe major-league starter he actually referenced the shadows in Oakland because of the West Coast start times as a reason why the offense didn’t show up against a team on pace for 102 losses.

The fact that the word “shadows” came out of Boone’s mouth is despicable because it means that he truly thinks that’s a valid excuse for why the Yankees were embarrassed over the weekend. Are the shadows the reason why the under in Yankees games is 15-3 since August 9? Are the shadows the reason why the Yankees have multiple everyday players with sub-.700 OPS? Did the A’s not have the same shadows covering the home plate area when they batted?

3. Prior to Opening Day, the Yankees tweeted their 2022 slogan:

No moral victories. No excuses. No storylines. No narratives. Talk is cheap.

Remove the four uses of “No” and change “cheap” to “everything” and you have the 2022 Yankees.

4. It’s not like the Yankees were shut down by (now former A’s) Sean Manaea or Chris Bassitt in Oakland. They were shut down by Adam Oller (who entered Saturday with a 6.41 ERA) and Adrian Martinez (who entered Sunday with a 6.08 ERA). Both starters managed to have the best starts of their careers on back-to-back days against a team that’s supposedly vying for a championship.

Yes, the two losses on Saturday and Sunday erased whatever feel-good mirage the Yankees had created over their previous five games. The wins over the Blue Jays (1), Mets (2) and A’s (2) leading into the weekend weren’t a sign the Yankees were getting back to being the pre-June 19 Yankees.

5. Not a single person other than Aaron Judge should receive a first-place AL MVP vote this season. The Yankees hold a rather comfortable AL East lead (though it has been cut in half over the last two months) with five weeks left in the season. With Judge, the Yankees are going to finish with the second-best record in the AL and get a first-round bye in the playoffs. Without him, they are likely on the postseason, wild-card bubble.

From mid-April until mid-June when the Yankees were keeping pace with the 1998 Yankees, I consistently wrote the reason the Yankees were where they were was because of Judge, the starting pitching and the combination of Michael King and Clay Holmes. But since King went down for the year (and likely next year), Holmes became ineffective and got hurt, and the starting pitching regressed, the only constant has been Judge. He is the sole reason the Yankees are where they are, and has been the only consistently productive presence on the team all season.

6. Judge homered on Monday and Tuesday against the Mets and on Friday against the A’s (all Yankees wins). Those were the only home runs hit by the Yankees all week. The last time a Yankee other than Judge homered was last Sunday when Andrew Benintendi hit his first home run as a Yankee. The team that relies on the home run to produce a biggest percentage of its runs than any other team in the majors hit one home run in 38 innings against the A’s and had only one of its players hit home runs in a six-game span. Yeah, the Yankees are fine!

That’s sarcasm, obviously (have to tip my hat to Boone any time I use the word “obviously”). The Yankees aren’t fine. Fare from it. They are now 29-34 since June 19. They are 14-22 since the All-Star break. They are 9-16 in August.

Judge’s historic season combined with the starting pitching and the early-season backend-of-the-bullpen dominance has masked an abundance of issues with the team. The same issues that have existed since Opening Day that the Yankees continue to choose to do nothing about.

7. I have no idea how the Yankees can consider themselves championship caliber if Isiah Kiner-Falefa is starting at shortstop on Monday night in Anaheim and not either Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe.

Kiner-Falefa is down to .262/.310/.314 on the season. His .625 OPS is the lowest it’s been all year and there’s an incredibly good chance it dips below .600 by the end of the year if he continues to play. He has two extra-base hits since July 27 and three since July 15. We are almost at the point where he has grounded into as many double plays (13) as he has extra-base hits (18).

Josh Donaldson is equally as bad of a problem. His numbers are nowhere as bad as Kiner-Falefa, but given Donaldson’s salary, career numbers and the fact he continues to bat in the heart of the order based on his career numbers, actually makes him worse than Kiner-Falefa. Donaldson is as washed up as it gets, but because the Yankees are paying $24 million for this season and owe him $24 million next season, his leash is endless. We know it’s endless because he keeps batting fifth with a .694 OPS.

On Sunday, Aaron Hicks started his first in a week, and singled, scored the Yankees’ only run and walked, so you can be sure he will be back in the lineup in Anaheim, as if reaching base twice in one game somehow makes up for his .216/.337/.302 slash line.

8. Because the Yankees won a few games last week with Benintendi hitting leadoff, you can bet your ass the plan for the rest of the season will be to bat him leadoff against righties and DJ LeMahieu against lefties. I hate it. Pick a leadoff and stick with it. And if it’s between those two, give me LeMahieu. But really, give me Judge.

This is the lineup I want to see if the Yankees ever get back to full strength:

Aaron Judge, CF
Matt Carpenter, DH
Giancarlo Stanton, RF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
DJ LeMahieu, 3B
Andrew Benintendi, LF
Oswald Peraza/Anthony Volpe, SS
Oswaldo Cabrera, 2B
Jose Trevino, C

Yes, that means Gleyber Torres, Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa (and Harrison Bader if he ever actually plays) on the bench. It means a better Yankees team.

That lineup will never happen.

9. It will never happen because the Yankees aren’t going to call up Peraza (who is hitting .290/.357/.496 in Triple-A since May 25) or Volpe (who is hitting .293/.383/.544 in Double-A since May 28).

Here is how Kiner-Falefa performed at each level of the minors:

Triple-A: .479 OPS
Double-A: .699 OPS
High-A: .700 OPS
Single-A: .617 OPS
Rookie: .705 OPS

(The fact he made the majors is remarkable. Him being an everyday player for the New York Yankees is like he won a contest to do so.)

It will never happen because the Yankees won’t bench Donaldson (who they regrettably traded for and took on his entire salary, but reportedly tried to trade him at the deadline) or Torres (whose offensive career is a lost cause and who the team also reportedly to move at the deadline). And the second Bader is healthy, he is playing every day, whether he’s the outfield version of Kiner-Falefa or not.

10. This was supposed to be an “easy” West Coast trip, against the A’s (who are on pace for 102 losses) and the Angels (who are on pace for 92 losses). Instead, the Yankees are 2-2 on it and now head to Anaheim to see an Angels team that just swept the Blue Jays in Toronto. The same Blue Jays that won three of four against the Yankees in the Bronx a week earlier. After the three games in Anaheim, it’s off to Tampa for three with the Rays.

On June 18, the Yankees had a 15 1/2-game lead in the AL East. That lead is now down to 7 1/2 over the Rays and seven in the loss column. A bad few days in Anaheim and a bad Labor Day Weekend in Tampa, the Yankees could be on the verge of an all-time collapse. I’m sure Boone’s hat is ready to be tipped to Jose Suarez, Mike Mayers and Patrick Sandoval in Anaheim.

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