They're not the only Big 3. But Yanks' might be biggest of all

May 26th, 2024

We have talked a lot since the Dodgers set their batting order for this season about the three MVPs hitting at the top of it: Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman. And they’ve certainly produced so far. Betts was batting .337 through Saturday night’s games, and Ohtani -- off to the best offensive start of his career across the board -- had 13 homers and was batting .338 himself. Even Freeman, really not off to a blazing start, at least for him, is at .284.

But that is not the hot zone in baseball right now, because that’s the place in the Yankee batting order where they have two former MVPs in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, plus that Soto guy. Juan Soto bats second and Judge bats third, and then Alex Verdugo is between Judge and Stanton. Suddenly, the Yankees have become a hot zone themselves.

This month, it has been even more about All Rise Judge once again rising up the way he did in 2022 on his way to 62 home runs. Over just the last three weeks, he’s raised his batting average from .197 to .280, hit 11 home runs and had homers in four straight games through Saturday night’s win over the Padres.

Here is the damage report for Soto-Judge-Stanton going into Sunday’s games:

  • Soto has 14 homers, 43 RBIs, an OPS of .977, is slugging .570 and has an on-base percentage of .407.
  • Judge has 17 homers, 39 RBIs, is currently slugging .637, has an even nigher OBP than Soto at .413 and an OPS of 1.050.
  • And Stanton, who has been healthy so far, has hit 13 homers with 29 RBIs.

Soto did the most to carry the Yankees offense while everyone waited for Judge to hit his way out of April and into the month of May, which he has now done in such a big, loud way. On Friday night, he, Soto and Stanton all homered in the same game as the Yankees pounded the Padres. On Saturday night, Judge came up in the first inning and hit another ball out of sight and the Yankees were on their way to winning again.

The three MVPs at the top of Dave Roberts’ batting order still have the numbers when it comes to their batting averages, of course. Everybody can see what Ohtani has done hitting in the sweet spot between Betts and Freeman. But the Yankees -- with their own two former MVPs and Soto perhaps on his way to one -- are the team to see right now, and to fear, as their offense has become everything they hoped it could be once they swung the deal to get Soto from the Padres.

It is Soto who has heard “MVP” chants at Yankee Stadium this season. But the way Judge is hitting now, which means the way he hit in ’22, there may be dueling chants at the Stadium when the team gets back there, and it might be difficult to know where the ones for Soto end and the ones for No. 99 begin.

Here was Aaron Boone talking about the homer that Judge hit off Dylan Cease on Saturday night:

“That ball was absolutely hammered. I thought Cease was really good for them. From the side, you just felt this is a guy we’re facing with great stuff. It felt like he was on, and Judge just drops the hammer there in the first inning.”

Judge injured his toe around this time last season at Dodger Stadium, he missed two months and the Yankees never really recovered. It wasn’t just that injury that turned the ’23 Yankees into an 82-80 team. It was a lot of things. But the injury to the big man was the biggest. Stanton, of course, has had merely stretches where he’s stayed on the field for the Yankees since they traded for him, after his 59-homer season for the Marlins in 2017.

But Judge and Stanton are sure on the field now with Soto -- who is always on the field, having played 162 games for the Padres one year ago. Now, they’ve all combined for 44 homers before we’re even through Memorial Day Weekend.

The Yankees keep hitting and hitting for power. The starting pitching, even without Gerrit Cole, has been pretty dazzling lately, and it was again on Saturday night when Marcus Stroman (six scoreless innings, three hits, five strikeouts, one walk) was the one to whom Boone gave the ball.

Here’s what Stroman said about what Judge has done just lately:

"Watching greatness, you know. Sometimes you can kind of take it for granted, to be honest.”

“We’re a big nine, a big 26,” Judge said after Friday night’s game. “Everybody in this clubhouse plays a big part. I would never narrow it down to just three guys.”

Right this minute, big No. 99 is the guy, with eight homers, eight doubles, 14 RBIs and 17 runs over the past 13 games. He, Soto and Stanton are all on target. There are other rough neighborhoods in baseball across the first third of the season. None rougher than this.