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Best 2B in baseball? He plays in the Bronx

Low-key LeMahieu is once again the Yankees' MVP
@MikeLupica
September 16, 2020

The Yankees scored 20 runs and had 16 hits against the Blue Jays on Tuesday night. Four of those hits were by DJ LeMahieu. He also hit one of the Yankees' six home runs, scored three runs and knocked in five. Then the Yankees went out the following night and

The Yankees scored 20 runs and had 16 hits against the Blue Jays on Tuesday night. Four of those hits were by DJ LeMahieu. He also hit one of the Yankees' six home runs, scored three runs and knocked in five. Then the Yankees went out the following night and went deep seven more times, two of them by LeMahieu, who is now hitting a fast .373.

Luke Voit hit two homers in the Tuesday barrage and another the next night, to make it a league-leading 19 for the season. He has knocked in 45 and has been the slugger Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were supposed to be. Voit has been great. LeMahieu has been the Yankees’ best player since they signed him as a free agent away from the Rockies.

He is also the best second baseman in baseball, even though people don’t talk about him that way nearly often enough. Just in terms of batting average, there isn’t a second baseman in the sport anywhere close to him. He is that good. Quietly. Even he jokes about what a lousy quote he is.

He tested positive for COVID-19 before he was scheduled to return to New York with the Yankees before Summer Camp in July. He injured his left thumb in August and missed some time. So he has played 39 of the Yankees’ 49 games so far. But when he has been on the field, he has continued to show everybody why he is merely indispensable.

You know the kind of money the Yankees have thrown around, whether absorbing Stanton’s contract in a trade or signing Gerrit Cole, their ace, as a free agent. They once gave Jacoby Ellsbury $153 million for seven years. But it is LeMahieu, who got $24 million for two years when the Yankees signed him, who has been as important as any free agent they have signed lately.

“He is a baseball player,” Brian Cashman, the Yankees' general manager, always says of his second baseman.

LeMahieu’s former manager with the Rockies had an even better description of DJ LeMahieu.

“He’s a baller,” Walt Weiss said.

Gleyber Torres was terrific for the Yankees last season, a breakout season for him. But it was LeMahieu who was the MVP of a Yankees team that ended up winning 103 regular-season games. He hit .327 with 26 homers and 102 RBIs and helped people remember, in case they’d forgotten, that he’d been a National League batting champion in 2016, when he was with the Rockies. He hit .348 that year. He is well north of that now. The 26 homers for the Yankees last season were a career best. He is a better player now, at 32, than he has ever been, leading off for Aaron Boone and playing second base.

He is also about to become a free agent again if he chooses. He is going to make a lot more than $12 million per year. Not a lot of attention was paid when the Yankees did sign him, or that Jim Hendry, the special assistant to Cashman who’d drafted LeMahieu for the Cubs in 2009, talked about what a perfect fit LeMahieu was going to be with all the home run hitters the Yankees had.

Everybody pays attention to DJ LeMahieu now, especially as the Yankees try to make a run at the end of the regular season. The guy has been one of the quiet stars in the whole sport since he got to Yankee Stadium.

Cashman has been praised, and properly so, for finding guys like Voit and Gio Urshela over the past couple of years. Voit, in particular, is playing like a total star himself this season, especially as the Yankees have been sending one guy after another to the injured list the way they did last season. LeMahieu was one of them. Now he is back, in such a big way.

On Tuesday he even managed to hit a 48.7 mph pitch thrown by Blue Jays infielder Santiago Espinal, mopping up for the Blue Jays in the ninth, out of the park -- the slowest pitch recorded in the pitch-tracking era that began in 2008. You throw it, at any speed, and LeMahieu will hit it somewhere.

This is what Voit said after the Yankees won, 20-6, scoring more against the Jays than either the football Jets or Giants had scored in their opening games:

“DJ is the freaking best hitter I've ever played with, and he continues to keep raking.”

There was the thought when LeMahieu first got to the Yankees that he might move around in the infield, and he did, and still can. But he has settled at second base now, and leading off. For now he has Voit hitting home runs behind him. All the Yankees raked Tuesday night, and again Wednesday. Started with LeMahieu. No one who had watched the Yankees play in 2019 was remotely surprised when it was LeMahieu who kept the Yankees’ season alive with a top-of-the-9th home run in Game 6 against the Astros.

Tim Anderson, the White Sox shortstop, is tied with LeMahieu atop the Majors at .373. The next-closest batting average for a second baseman in the AL belongs to Hanser Alberto of the Orioles. He’s at .293.

Lot of big contracts on the Yankees. Lot of big names. Guy with a pretty long last name is their best player. Has been for a while.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.