Soto-Judge tandem has potential to mash way into record books

June 4th, 2024

What we’ve seen over the past month as Aaron Judge has started hitting home runs the way he did two years ago on his way to 62 is just how much he lost, and what we lost, on a Saturday night in June almost one year ago exactly. Judge was chasing a ball in right field at Dodger Stadium and ran into a door out there, and tore tendons in his right big toe when he did. He wouldn’t play again until the end of July. And what we lost while he was out of the Yankees' lineup, really, were home runs. Lots of them.

Heading into his return to Yankee Stadium after the way the Yankees just rolled through their recent West Coast trip, Judge had hit 15 homers over the past month. He had six, and was hitting .197 on May 2. Now he has 21, and a batting average of .288, and he just produced one of the most impressive months of extra-base hitting any Yankees team had ever seen.

If Judge is blessed with good health this summer and the rest of the way, before long we could once again be talking about him making a run at 60. And if Juan Soto continues to hit ahead of him the way he has pretty much since Opening Day, the two of them have a chance to do something that only the combinations of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle have ever done for the Yankees, according to the Elias Sports Bureau:

Hit 40 homers -- or more -- in the same season.

So Judge might make more home run history at Yankee Stadium. Soto might be right there with him. For now, Judge is on a pace to reach the middle 50s in homers for what would be the third time in his career, something Ruth did four times for the Yankees. A little over a month past his 32nd birthday, No. 99 is still very much in the prime of his career and has once more become the most dangerous hitter in baseball, more dangerous than Soto or Shohei Ohtani or anybody else.

We keep comparing Ohtani to Ruth because of the way he both pitched and hit before this season, evoking the amazing memory of what Ruth did for the Red Sox before coming to the Yankees and basically inventing the home run in baseball. But when Judge has managed to stay on the field, starting with when he broke what was then the rookie record for home runs with 52 in 2017, he really has been a modern-day Ruth for the Yankees, bigger than life the way The Babe was.

Judge hit those 62 homers in ’22, more in a season than Ruth ever hit and one more than Roger Maris hit in ’61 -- a season for the Yankees in which both he and Mantle chased Ruth all the way into September. Last season, one in which Judge ultimately missed 56 games, he still ended up hitting 37 homers. If he had played the same 157 games he'd played in 2022, that number projects out to have been around 54. It is about what Judge is on pace to do this season, at least so far.

After Judge hit No. 21 on Saturday night at Oracle Park, here is what the kid who grew up in Linden, Calif., about an hour and a half away, had to say:

“I’ve got a lot of family in town, a lot of friends in town,” Judge said. “We’ve got to do something special for them. I’m just trying to stay locked in and put on a show.”

Judge had more extra-base hits in May than any Yankee had had in a month since Joe DiMaggio in July 1937. It was only the eighth time in AL/NL history since World War II, that any hitter had produced extras like this in a month.

Then he and the Yankees just went rolling merrily along into June, sweeping the Giants. Yeah. Judge had stayed locked in and put on a show. He comes home now to New York with his 21 homers and 47 RBIs. Soto, hitting ahead of him, has 17 home runs now, 53 RBIs and a .322 batting average. It’s still just the first week of June and the two of them, have already combined for 38 home runs and 100 RBIs. Ruth and Gehrig hit their 40 or more together in 1927, '30 and '31. The Babe hit 60 homers in ’27, Gehrig hit 47. In ’31, Gehrig even tied Ruth, both of them hitting 46. Then Maris and Mantle did what they did in ’61, combining to hit more homers -- 115 -- in one season than any two Yankees ever had.

Even in the past 20 years in baseball, two or more players on the same team hitting 40 or more has only happened nine times: Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds for the Cardinals in ’04; David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez did it for the Red Sox in both '04 and '05; Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome for the White Sox in '06; Mike Trout and Pujols for the Angels in 2015; Josh Donaldson and José Bautista for Toronto in '15; Nolan Arenado and Carlos González for the Rockies also in '15; then Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien for the Blue Jays in '21. In 2023, three Braves teammates hit 40-plus homers when Matt Olson mashed 54, Ronald Acuña Jr. went deep 41 times and Marcell Ozuna had 40.

It has happened four times with the Yankees despite all of their home run history. And it might be happening again, in real time.

“Talk to me at the end of June,” Aaron Judge said.

The rest of baseball has been warned.