The last time Aaron Judge hit the way he’s hitting so far this season, he was the runner-up to Jose Altuve for the American League MVP Award. Judge, who hit two more home runs last night in Baltimore and nearly had three, isn’t a runner-up to anybody in 2022 when it comes to the game’s most valuable players.
The last time the Yankees had an MVP was Alex Rodriguez in 2007. After that season Rodriguez opted out of his contract, then turned right around and signed another huge 10-year contract with the Yankees. Now Judge is in the last year of his own Yankees contract. It makes him even more of a player to watch this season, as he’s once again become the Home Run Derby star of the sport.
A lot of batting averages in the Yankees order have dipped lately, even as the Yankees keep winning, off to their best start since the ’98 Yankees ended up winning 114. DJ LeMahieu, hitting ahead of Judge in the order, is at .262. Anthony Rizzo, who got off to such a fast home run start himself, is at .225 behind Judge. But Judge continues to carry the Yankees offense, even as Giancarlo Stanton has been doing some very nice bashing of his own.
The Yankees are second in the Majors with 54 home runs as we move up on the end of the first quarter of the season. Judge has 14 of them, to go with 30 RBIs, and a .315 average and 1.076 OPS. The Yankees had 11 hits against the Orioles in their 5-4 victory on Tuesday night. Judge had four, including those two homers and another ball that would have been a home run before they grew the left-field wall at Camden Yards. Maybe everybody should think about doing that when Judge is in town.
Judge is presently the best bat in the game, and the most dangerous. He continues to be the face of the Yankees the way Derek Jeter last was. Even Jeter never won an MVP Award. If Judge keeps going like this, he sure is going to give himself another great chance.
We always wonder who is going to be the next great Yankees center fielder. Guess what. When Judge is playing out there? He is. And he’s slugged his way back into the conversation about the game’s best players, in there with Ohtani and Mike Trout and Juan Soto (stuck on such a bad team right now) and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Ronald Acuña Jr. when he’s healthy and anybody else you think belongs on the short list.
On the West Coast, Trout and Ohtani have the Angels in second place in their division and looking like a real team again. The Yankees are 27-9. Pitching has had plenty to do with this, of course. But Judge is their best player.
The Yankees have absolutely feasted on bad teams like the Orioles, and when they get home from this short road trip, they get a weekend series against the 18-18 White Sox and then three more against the Orioles. So far this season, the Yankees have a 16-4 record against the Orioles, Red Sox, Guardians, Royals, Tigers. They don’t face their real nemesis in the AL East, the Rays, for another week.
So the Yankees have clearly benefitted from a soft schedule. It doesn’t change how hard Aaron Judge is hitting baseballs again.
“[Judge] hurts us. He’s done that in the past, too,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said after Judge had done it to the O's again. “You make pitches in the middle to him, and he’s got a chance to go deep every time. He’s a really good player, superstar-type player and we’ve got to pitch to him a little better.”
The Orioles did move the left-field wall back 30 feet and make it six feet higher this offseason. Judge still tried to knock that wall down with a first-inning shot that ended up being a double. He still has 13 homers over his last 21 games, to go with 28 RBIs and a snappy .349 average. During this streak he has looked as dominant as he ever has.
Here is what Jameson Taillon, Tuesday night’s starter and winner for the Yankees, said about Judge when it was over:
“I really don’t know. He can hit breaking balls, he can hit fastballs all over the zone. He can do damage on just about everything. He has an extremely balanced swing and he does it off great pitching too, it’s not like he’s feasting off of Triple-A arms. He can do it against anybody.”
The 6-foot-7 Judge can do it against anybody and is doing it against everybody. All Rise is the biggest star in baseball. In all ways.