Inbox: Should Judge move down in order?

Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers Yanks fans' questions

August 21st, 2017

I believe moving down in the order will take some pressure off and allow him not to be so much the focus of the team. What do you think?
-- Michael O., Georgia

That could be an appealing way for Judge to reset and clear his head, but only as a temporary move. I still believe for the Yankees to get where they want to be, Judge needs to be a productive force in the middle of the order. It seemed telling after Sunday's game in Boston when he, unprompted, said, "I'm a three-hitter. I'm the middle of the order. I've got to be that guy for the team."
Removing that pressure, even if it's just for a game or for a series, might help. Pitchers do seem to have adjusted to him, feeding Judge a steady diet of high fastballs and low breaking balls, but he's still getting some pitches that he should hit. Judge said that he has been missing the ones that he was driving into the gaps and over the wall earlier in the season.
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"The past four weeks, I guess, I'm fouling those pitches off so now it's 0-1," Judge said. "Now they're giving me a dirty pitch and it's 0-2. Before you know it, you're always in that fight mode instead of being able to attack. I just can't miss my pitch."
If the Yankees did something like they are doing with , backing him off that role with the intent of eventually putting him back there, it might help Judge to relax. Regardless of if he is hitting third or not, there are still going to be important situations where he will need to put the bat on the ball and drive runs in.

"If you're relying on one guy, it's going to be a long year," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's going to have his ups and downs, just like has had, just like [Didi Gregorius] has had, just like [] has had, [] has had. Everyone in that lineup. You've got to ride it out."
If the Yankees don't make the playoffs, what will be the one standout game that is blamed?
-- Matthew B., Leesburg, Va.

There's recency bias here, because let's be honest -- a 162-game season doesn't boil down to one game -- but there are losses that are more memorable than others. As Girardi said on Sunday, they could have very realistically won four out of six from the Red Sox in this home-and-home stretch and instead settled for two wins.
If you want to point to Aug. 13 in New York, when they outlasted Chris Sale's dominance to push across a run against Matt Barnes, only to see Chapman give up a ninth-inning homer to and lose in 10 innings -- well, you're not wrong. Nor would it be incorrect to say Friday at Fenway, when they trailed 3-0, took a 6-3 lead and then lost, 9-6. That was the most silent I've heard the clubhouse after a game this year, though they bounced back the next day.

Should, as you suggested, they not make the playoffs, I'm sure that there will be a September game that fans and media point to as "the moment." The Yankees started 21-9, so they're 45-48 since then. Their high-water mark was 15 games over .500 (38-23) before a June 13 walk-off loss to the Angels, and are 28-34 since then. So it's really your choice how to slice it; none of this really happens in a nine-inning vacuum.
Why do fans talk like the season's over when the Yankees still have the top American League Wild Card spot?
-- Andrew S., Brookline, Mass.

Hey, there's the flip side of the preceding question! You're correct in that the odds are still very much in favor of the Yankees playing at least one postseason game in 2017. As I write this on Monday morning, Fangraphs has the Yankees with a 76 percent chance of making the playoffs, and a 68.9 percent chance of that coming via the AL Wild Card. Ever hear someone say that games in April and May don't really matter? They sure do, and the 2017 Yankees are a great example of why.
Would the Yankees (and their fans) prefer to beat the Red Sox out for the division and avoid a one-game playoff situation? Well, of course. Does it hurt fans more to lose head-to-head against Boston? You bet. If it's not that, then maybe the trepidation comes from the fact that should they proceed past the AL Wild Card Game, the reward is an AL Division Series showdown with the Astros, against whom they're 2-5 this year (though Houston only outscored them by two runs in those seven games, 43-41).
Have there been any rumblings among upper management and team leadership about what the coaching staff will look like next year with Girardi's contract?
-- Vincent L., Boston

Team brass has been quiet on that topic, and let's also remember that general manager Brian Cashman's deal is up after this year. If I had to hazard a guess right now, I would say that both Cashman and Girardi will have offers to return, though I'd put the percentage at less than 100 percent that both will. As you'd expect, they're both saying that their focus is on helping the team win games in 2017 and not worrying about '18 and beyond.

What will the lineup look like when Greg Bird, and are all back?
-- Raymond P., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

First, do you realize that the Yankees have not yet fielded the Opening Day lineup we envisioned coming into the spring? By the time Gregorius returned from his right shoulder injury, Sanchez had injured his right biceps and then Bird disappeared with the right ankle injury that would cost him most of the season. The next time those three all appear in the lineup together will be the first time in 2017.
So what would a "whole" Yankees lineup look like when they can incorporate Bird, Castro and Holliday? Here's one guess, which allows Girardi to split up the lefties like he prefers: Gardner LF, CF, Judge RF, Sanchez C, Gregorius SS, 2B, Bird 1B, Holliday DH, Headley 3B. What would your ideal lineup look like?