What a healthy Judge does for the Yankees

June 10th, 2021

had the loudest night at Target Field in Wednesday's 9-6 win, two home runs -- the first a moon shot to center field -- five RBIs. But hit one, too, second man up, top of the first. Then he hit a hard double his next time up. It is Judge, as much the face of baseball as anybody as recently as four years ago, who is quietly having a very good season for the New York Yankees.

As always, with both Judge and Stanton, it starts with them being on the field -- even home run guys as big and talented as they are can’t hit them from the injured list. Judge has now played 59 games so far in 2021, after playing just 28 in the short season of 2020. It means he missed more than half of the games the Yankees played last season, after missing 60 the year before that and 50 the year before that.

It is worth pointing out again that coming into this season, Mike Trout had never missed as many as 50 games in a full Major League Baseball season.

Judge is no longer the home run star of baseball, the way he was when he hit 52 homers in 2017, setting the rookie record that Pete Alonso of the Mets would break two years later. But Judge isn’t far away, either. He’s hit 15 this season, with 35 RBIs. He leads the Yankees in runs scored, and he has a slash line of .293/.396/.548.

Though Judge is supposed to be the face of the franchise -- and one of the faces of the sport -- he can only do it if he stays healthy. And for the most part this season, he has stayed healthy. He is doing damage again for the Yankees as they try to look like one of the best teams in the league instead of the 31-29 team that staggered into Minneapolis on Tuesday night to play the Twins.

It was Judge who, after the Yankees got swept at home by the Red Sox, talked about how his team needed to stand and fight. And when asked if he thought the Yankees could take the fight to the Twins, Judge said this: “That’s what championship teams do.”

But the Yankees haven’t been a championship team in 12 years. They have won just two American League East titles in the past decade. A home-run-or-bust team built first around Judge, and then around Judge and Stanton, has hit an awful lot of home runs since losing to the Astros in Game 7 of the 2017 American League Championship Series. But last October they went bust again in their AL Division Series against the Rays, losing Game 5, 2-1.

Stanton had hit six home runs in six postseason games going into Game 5. But came up empty with the Yankees’ season on the line. Judge hit a home run that night. It was the only run the Yankees scored. Home run or bust. But now, the Yanks have hit six in their last two games, scoring a total of 17 runs. They have beaten up the Twins. Maybe, just maybe, they are about to bust out of what has felt -- with the exception of Judge -- like a team-wide batting malaise as they approach the 100-game season that they have left.

The starting pitching has been better than anybody could have predicted it would be. The bullpen has been solid, as always. But the Yankees haven’t hit. Even with two bust-out games against the Twins on the road, the Yankees are 18th in team batting, three slots behind the wounded Mets, sandwiched in between the Giants and the Marlins. The Yankees have not only been swept at home by the Red Sox, the weekend before that they were swept in Detroit by the Tigers. When they arrived at Target Field, the Yanks were in fourth place in the AL East.

Maybe general manager Brian Cashman can find the left-handed bat the lineup badly needs before the Trade Deadline, as there has never been a Yankees team, in any era, that did not have at least one dangerous left-handed bat in the lineup. But for now, the Yankees are who they are, still looking like world beaters when they are hitting balls out of the park and sometimes out of sight.

And for them to be their best selves, Judge has to be his best self. is their star ace, and is a star closer. But the Yankees still need for Judge to be their star, period.

It’s not as if he went away over the past few seasons. It just feels like he did, as if he was somehow hiding in plain sight at Yankee Stadium, or on the injured list. There is no guarantee that he will stay on the field this season. But he has so far. You see what he can do when he does. Maybe court is finally back in session.