Surging Yanks can only get so far sans Judge

August 28th, 2018

got hit on the right wrist with a pitch thrown by Jakob Junis of the Royals on July 26. A month later, according to Yankees manager Aaron Boone, the big guy is still not ready to swing a bat. Now it's impossible to believe that Judge won't be back in the Yanks' lineup by early September. But who knows? When he got hurt, the belief was he'd be back in three weeks. In the words of radio play-by-play man, John Sterling, that extremely optimistic diagnosis is now high and far and gone.

When Judge suffered the chip fracture in his wrist, the Yankees were three games behind the Red Sox in the loss column. That number has doubled in the past month -- despite New York taking a big bite out of Boston's lead last week. There have been other injuries on both teams since, but the most significant loss has been Judge, the Yanks' most important player, last year's runner-up in American League MVP Award voting, the most dangerous bat in a batting order than also includes .

All of this is why -- as we move up on Friday's grand, ultimate deadline for playoff-bound teams to make trades and have the new acquisitions be eligible for their postseason roster -- the Yankees and their fans think that the most important acquisition for any contending team might be ... Judge.

Healing process slow but steady for Judge

"[Judge] gets them back to their identity, who they are and who they think they can be," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said on Tuesday. "Without him, there's a lot of that engine-that-could stuff going on: 'We think we can, we think we can.' With Judge, they know they can. He completes them."

Showalter is right, as usual. When the Yankees played their best ball this year, and were ambushing people at the bottom of the order.

"In the AL East," Buck said, "you want to line things up so there's no breathing spots for pitchers. You want that kind of grind. Well, trust me on this: Judge is the guy who stretches out the grind for them."

Then Showalter added this: "When [the Yankees] have all their pieces back, they're as good as Boston."

Now the Yankees wait for Judge, their biggest piece in all ways, to get better and get back on the field.

"We just haven't gone to the next level of [Judge] really starting to swing the bat yet," Boone said Monday. "That's been trending in the right direction, but has been something that's moved kind of slow."

Even though the Yanks went from 10 1/2 games behind the Red Sox to six in a blink before a bad, sloppy loss to the White Sox at home on Monday, the math is still not good for them, even as they are conceding nothing in the AL East. If Boston merely plays .500 ball the rest of the way -- and it's highly unlikely that it will become a .500 team for a month after the season the club has had so far -- it would end up at 105-57. For New York to get to 106, it would have to play 23-8 baseball the rest of the way. It would be a winning percentage slightly north of .740.

Could the Yankees do it, have that kind of finishing kick? Sure. It would mean that they would have a higher winning percentage from now until the final game of the regular season -- which is at Fenway Park -- than the Red Sox have had so far, at .682.

The Red Sox have never really had this season. They are without their kid third baseman, . Of course, Chris Sale, their ace, as much of an ace as there is in baseball this season, has now gone to the DL twice in a few weeks because of inflammation and soreness in his pitching shoulder. They have been without the fourth starter in their rotation, , since the All-Star break.

The Yanks, meanwhile, haven't had since July 23, even though Sanchez was hitting just .188 when he went down with a groin injury. They just sent Didi Gregorius to the DL, with a bad heel, but expect him back soon.

The Red Sox can't win in October if Sale isn't himself. And the Yankees can't even think about making the run through October that they did last season without "All Rise" Judge. And, of course, the best September -- and October -- in the AL would see him healthy again and Sale healthy again and the sides even between Boston and New York.

The Yanks will probably add another player this week, maybe even another bat. They are never quite satisfied at Yankee Stadium. But the player they most want to add, and need to add, is Judge.

A year ago, the Astros wanted , and they got him from the Tigers. The Yankees just want their right fielder back. They may still not have a great chance to catch the Red Sox, even if the standings look a whole lot better than they did a week ago. The chance gets a lot better if they can just get their big bopper back. He's been gone for a month and the Yanks still have a record 35 games over .500. They are still hanging around with the Red Sox. But they're not the Yankees without Judge.

Judge is engaged in baseball activities again. Just not the activity the Yankees and their fans want: Back in Boone's batting order and hitting baseballs out of sight. They just want the guy who has become known for his exit velocity to make a big September entrance at Yankee Stadium.