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Behind Judge, Yanks have foundation for run

Rookie had historic breakout; reinforcements needed after June skid
MLB.com @BryanHoch

The Yankees were one of baseball's most exciting teams over the first two months of the season, flying high as a complete unit while Aaron Judge's development into a legitimate American League Triple Crown threat helped carry them a season-high 15 games over .500 on June 12, when they were 38-23.

That success exceeded expectations, but when a slew of injuries and bullpen trouble combined into a bitter cocktail, the Yanks were knocked from their first-place perch in mid-June. They remain playoff contenders, though perhaps not the World Series favorites they were playing like prior to their tumble.

The Yankees were one of baseball's most exciting teams over the first two months of the season, flying high as a complete unit while Aaron Judge's development into a legitimate American League Triple Crown threat helped carry them a season-high 15 games over .500 on June 12, when they were 38-23.

That success exceeded expectations, but when a slew of injuries and bullpen trouble combined into a bitter cocktail, the Yanks were knocked from their first-place perch in mid-June. They remain playoff contenders, though perhaps not the World Series favorites they were playing like prior to their tumble.

"We've just got to get our offense going," Judge said. "Once we do that, we'll just start clicking. Everyone starts feeding off of that, the defense plays off that, the pitchers play off that. We've just got to start stringing some hits together."

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When the club returns from the All-Star break, it expects to welcome back two key pieces in second baseman Starlin Castro and designated hitter Matt Holliday from the disabled list. Manager Joe Girardi said that he expects his roster to be in the postseason chase all the way to the finish line.

"Just as easy as you can lose them, you can turn it around and get hot and win a lot of games like we were before," Girardi said.

Video: MIL@NYY: Cashman discusses first half of the season

What went right
The Yankees decided to have Judge start the year in the Majors, and they were rewarded handsomely as the slugger literally became a permanent part of Yankee Stadium, with the installment of the "Judge's Chambers." Judge, Dellin Betances, Castro, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino were all All-Stars; Didi Gregorius also had a legitimate case. Aaron Hicks had a breakout first half and the Yanks did not need to use a sixth starting pitcher until June 11. Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino stepped up as arguably their most dependable starters, while CC Sabathia gave them a chance to win more times than not.

What went wrong
Masahiro Tanaka was 0-6 with an 8.91 ERA from May 14 to June 17. Betances lost his command in June, Aroldis Chapman's stint on the DL overtaxed relievers like Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren, and Michael Pineda is again having trouble keeping the ball in the park. The Yankees lacked production at the infield corners, especially at first base, where Ji-Man Choi became the seventh player to start a game there this season. Most of those at-bats went to Chris Carter, who was designated for assignment twice before the Yankees released him on Monday. Bird, Jacoby Ellsbury and Holliday all had significant health issues, as did top prospect Gleyber Torres. Dustin Fowler's season ended in heartbreaking fashion, in the first inning of his June 29 debut.

What we learned
Girardi believed that this lineup would score runs in bunches, and with seven players slugging at least 10 homers, that prediction has proven to be accurate. Judge may win not only the AL Rookie of the Year Award, but also be crowned as the AL MVP Award winner. The Yanks have their problem areas, but they have shown enough that general manager Brian Cashman believes he can upgrade the roster for a postseason push, a situation he didn't recommend at this time last year.

Video: Judge passes DiMaggio for most HRs by Yankees rookie

First half top everyday player
The AL's leading All-Star vote-getter with 4,488,702, Judge won over New York City with his charismatic but humble demeanor, focused approach and his Major League-leading 30 home runs -- most of which traveled at distances and exit velocities that most players only dream of.

First half top pitcher
The youngest Yankees pitcher to make an All-Star team since Mel Stottlemyre in 1965, the 23-year-old Severino compiled a 3.54 ERA in 17 starts, tallying 124 strikeouts against 27 walks in 106 2/3 innings. He rebounded well from last year's demotions to the Minors and the bullpen, developing his changeup into a legitimate third pitch behind his fastball and slider.

First-half top rookie
Judge has already exceeded Joe DiMaggio's franchise record for home runs by a rookie, set in 1936, and he sees his name littered across the AL leaderboards on a daily basis. Judge was the AL's Rookie of the Month in April, May and June while also winning AL Player of the Month for June.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees