Yankees Thoughts: Aaron Judge Having Most Valuable Season of All Time

Triple Crown in reach with Judge one percentage point off batting title

The Yankees lost the first two games of their series against the Brewers over the weekend, but on Sunday they produced a comeback win to salvage the third game and Aaron Judge produced his 58th and 59th home runs of the season.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. Aaron Judge is going to win the Triple Crown. Home runs and RBIs are a lock, and now he sits one point (.316) behind Luis Arraez (.317) for batting average. There is no doubt in my mind Judge is going to outhit Arraez (and Xander Bogaerts for that matter) over the final two-plus weeks of the season and complete the single greatest impending free-agent year of all time, and possibly the single greatest offensive year of all time.

I don’t need to hear what CC Sabathia and Phil Nevin think about who is the MVP in the American League. Shohei Ohtani might be the best player in the world, but he’s not the most valuable, not this season at least. Without Judge, the Yankees aren’t a postseason team (or on the wild-card bubble at best) and with him they are the second-best team in the AL, and on their way (as long as they don’t blow it over the final 16 games) to the 2-seed and a bye into the ALDS. The amount of games he has single-handedly won this season is absurd, and while his stats may be unbelievable from afar, if you watch this team every day, his season is even more amazing because you can truly appreciate just how important he has been with nearly every hit and home run being the difference or the only offense in games.

If WAR is what drove Ohtani to his MVP award a year ago, how can it not be used this season? All of a sudden it’s no longer the best indicator of who should win MVP because it doesn’t help the argument for Ohtani? I’m all set with hearing from Sabathia or Nevin or anyone on the MVP debate who doesn’t think it belongs to Judge because it’s not a debate. It’s not Judge or Ohtani. It’s Judge or no one.

2. After losing the first two games to the Brewers by blowing a five-run lead on Friday and then getting shut down offensively on Saturday, the Yankees bounced back with a win on Sunday to salvage the third game of the series. It was nice of Anthony Rizzo to grace the Yankees with his presence on Sunday in the win. Rizzo missed time in early July with back issues, missed a week in early August with back issues and returned on Sunday after three weeks away because of back issues and subsequent headaches caused by an epidural used to treat the back issues.

Rizzo had homered in the last two games he started at the end of August, but without a proper rehab assignment it seemed farfetched to think he would return without missing a beat, but that’s exactly what he did, going 3-for-6 with with a home run. Just seeing Rizzo’s name in the lineup gives the lineup more credibility, and most importantly, it forces a weak bat and fringe major-league bat out of it.

3. It also moved Giancarlo Stanton out of the 2-hole where he has struggled mightily, but had to hit because there is literally no other option on the team. Unless you want Josh Donaldson or Isiah Kiner-Falefa hitting there. (Sorry, that’s not even something to joke about since I’m sure Aaron Boone would love to have either of them in that spot.) Stanton went 0-for-the series (though he did draw one walk), striking out six times in his 14 plate appearances, including a Golden Sombrero (four strikeouts) on Saturday. It was his second Golden Sombrero in his last three games, as he also picked one up in Boston on Wednesday.

Stanton has two home runs since July 15 and one of them came off a position player pitching in a blowout. So he has one home run since July 15, and is hitting .130/.239/.234 since then in 88 plate appearances. When Stanton is unproductive, he hurts the lineup double. He becomes a roster problem because he will bat in an important spot in the order despite being unproductive and because of he Yankees’ unwillingness to play him in the field ( even though he always performs better at the plate when he’s also in the game defensively). he clogs up the designated hitter spot. The Yankees have unsuccessfully tried in the past to keep Stanton healthy by limiting him to being a full-time DH. He has gotten injured whether he’s only playing the game offensively or not, so it’s time to put him back him in the field, and if he gets hurt, so be it. The only way to keep him healthy is to have him not play baseball.

Unfortunately, Stanton isn’t going to play the field again this season. Boone has said there’s no plan to have him play the outfield at this time, and at this time, it’s September 19 and there are 16 games left in the season. Add in Harrison Bader possibly playing in an actual major-league game for the Yankees on Tuesday night at the Stadium, and that’s that for Stanton playing the field. If anything, the Yankees would stick him in the small-ish Yankee Stadium right field with Judge in center. But Bader finally playing means Judge goes back to right, and there’s no way the Yankees are going to have Stanton in the Stadium’s vast left field. That’s why they had Oswaldo Cabrera practicing the position prior to the games over the weekend.

4. I have no doubt Cabrera will play a fine left field. He continues to excel at positions he has little to no experience playing and he’s excelling in it at the major-league level. It’s pretty remarkable. Cabrera went 5-for-10 with four walks over the weekend and is no 9-for-27 with a pair of doubles and a pair of home runs in his last seven games. The bat is starting to catch up to his defense and there’s no way right now he can be removed from the lineup given his production and versatility. I expect he will be the team’s left fielder come Game 1 of the ALDS if Andrew Benintendi doesn’t return.

5. Ideally, the Yankees will have too many players for not enough positions if everyone gets and stays healthy before the postseason. Rizzo is now back. Bader is supposed to make his Yankee debut on Tuesday. Benintendi, DJ LeMahieu and Matt Carpenter are still working their way back. But if those three do return, the Yankees will have the following players for eight lineup spots:

Anthony Rizzo
DJ LeMahieu
Gleyber Torres
Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Josh Donaldson
Oswaldo Cabrera
Andrew Benintendi
Harrison Bader
Aaron Judge
Giancarlo Stanton
Matt Carpenter

Three of those 11 would have to be on the bench. Rizzo and Judge aren’t going to the bench. The Yankees didn’t trade for Benintendi to not play him, and they didn’t give away Jordan Montgomery to not play Bader. Stanton is the highest-paid position player on the team and under contract for 37 more years, so he’s not going to the bench. That leaves LeMahieu, Torres, Kiner-Falefa, Donaldson, Cabrera and Carpenter for three spots. If you read this site or these Yankees Thoughts often, you know which three I’m sending to the bench.

(I didn’t include Oswald Peraza on this list because he’s already on the bench as the Yankees continue to stunt his development.)

6. I think the Yankees want both Kiner-Falefa (at shortstop) and Bader (in center field) in the lineup, which is as regrettable a decision as giving Aaron Hicks a seven-year contract extension. That duo plus Jose Trevino would give the Yankees as weak a 7-8-9 as any postseason lineup could ever have, and they would be trying to win the World Series with one-third of their lineup being essentially three automatic outs against the pitching they will see in the postseason. The last time the Yankees won the World Series in 2009, their 7-8-9 was Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner. Cano hit .320 that year with 25 home runs and an .871 OPS. Swisher hit 29 home runs with, drew 97 walks and had an .869 OPS. Gardner was the weakest bat on the team and still had a .345 on-base percentage and a .724 OPS. Trevino has a .682 OPS, Kiner-Falefa a .652 and Bader a .673.

7. I guess we’ll get to the bridge of too many players for not enough spots when we get to it. Hopefully, it doesn’t become a 2006 situation in which the team is having Stanton learn to play first base for the postseason like they did for Gary Sheffield because there was no place to put Sheffield with Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi at other positions. For now, the return of Rizzo means no more Marwin Gonzalez at first base and the return of Bader should mean the end of Hicks getting playing time (though I’m sure Boone already has a plan mapped out to get Hicks an unbelievable amount of at-bats over these last 16 games.)

8. The Yankees’ improving health isn’t only for the offense. The rotation will get Luis Severino back this week for the firs time since mid-July and it couldn’t come at a better time with Frankie Montas pitching like Javier Vazquez and making excuses like Sonny Gray. (I wrote all about Montas’ disastrous Yankees tenure to date on Sunday.) Montas has been bad (and delusional) and now he’s hurt, so he has been a total zero for the Yankees since being acquired. He’s actually less than zero since they traded JP Sears and Ken Waldichuk for him and could have either used those two arms themselves or used them in another deal at the deadline or another deal this offseason and they gave away Jordan Montgomery because they acquired Montas. Instead they are stuck with Montas for next season as well.

9. Severino is either going to be the Yankees’ Game 2 starter or their Game 3 starter with Nestor Cortes being the other. Gerrit Cole is going to be the Game 1 starter, and I have about as much faith in him pitching well on October 11 at Yankee Stadium as a I do with Boone making logical and sensible lineup and bullpen decisions in the postseason. Cole was once again atrocious on Sunday, giving up multiple home runs and needing 94 pitches to get through five innings.

It’s hard to hear the narrative that Cole “only gave up four hits” or that “he made one or two mistakes” when half of those hits left the park and the one or two mistakes went over the fence. It’s one thing to allow a solo home run here and there, but Cole isn’t doing that and now leads the league in home runs allowed. Guess what kind of teams he will face in the playoffs? Ones that hit home runs. If the Yankees plan on getting out of the ALDS for the first time in three years, they are likely going to have to get by the Astors or Blue Jays at some point to keep their season alive. Cole can’t be “good” against either of those teams. He has to be great because their starting pitching will be against the Yankees.

10. A little over a week ago, the division lead was in serious trouble. The Yankees were on the verge of completing the worst game-lead collapse in baseball history before stabilizing the division lead last weekend. Four days ago, the division lead was once again safe. But after losing two of three to the Brewers coupled with the Blue Jays winning two of three from the Orioles, the division lead, while still stable, isn’t exactly comforting at 5 1/2.

There are only 16 games left on the schedule for the Yankees, which is why Fangraphs gives them a 96.5 percent chance to win division. But it’s hard to believe in the math behind division odds when I watched the Yankees’ 15 1/2-game lead fall to two games in the loss column a little over a week ago.

On Tuesday, the Yankees begin a six-game homestand against the last-place Pirates and the last-place Red Sox. They are set up to put the division just about away by Sunday and render their upcoming three-game series against the Blue Jays meaningless. Judge is also set up to break Roger Maris’ Yankees and AL home run record if he can hit three home runs in the next six games.

This week has a chance to be special all around. Don’t screw it up.

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