Despite their usual great hopes, the Bronx Bombers were 15-15 and in last place in the American League East after a 3-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians on May 1.
Then, on May 2, reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge went on the injured list. However, since his return on May 9, the Yankees have begun to right the ship, going 10-3 since his activation and 6-1 since May 15 to climb to third place in the division, thanks in large part to their captain.
While Judge’s comeback has been critical to New York’s resurgence, he isn’t the only vital piece of the puzzle that has helped the club regain its footing. When fellow outfielder Harrison Bader (who came to the Yankees through trade with the St. Louis Cardinals last season and began the 2023 season on the IL with an oblique injury) was reactivated on May 3, he had an immediate impact both at the plate and roaming centerfield.
After returning from a right lat strain, starting pitcher Luis Severino pitched 4.2 innings and allowed one run on Sunday against the Reds in Cincinnati. Former MVP Giancarlo Stanton is “really close” to returning.
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That well-rounded identity extends beyond the box score. For the past seven years, Judge has demonstrated that he cares more about the Yankees winning than he cares about the back of his baseball card.
That selfless attitude is what landed the 31-year-old a nine-year, $360 million contract from the Yankees this offseason. Sure, his 2022 MVP win may have increased his asking price slightly. However, the superstar’s intangibles are equally important to the organization.
“It’s a comfort to him knowing that all of his hard work has paid off financially,” said Yankee’s first baseman Anthony Rizzo of Judge. “In New York, he has the opportunity to really focus.” He makes the decision to settle somewhere with [his wife] Sam. All of your comfort off the field almost guarantees your comfort on the field.”
It’s clear that Judge isn’t the same as he was last year. He’s smiling more broadly and frequently. He’s more easygoing on the field and in the dugout. He’s showing us a little more personality than in previous years.
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Those “cheater” charges just appeared to make Judge better. He was named the American League Player of the Week on Monday after slashing.500/.621/1.273 in 22 at-bats with seven runs scored, two doubles, five home runs, 11 RBI, seven walks, and one stolen base in six games.
This season, the Yankees are 25-14 (.641) with Judge in the lineup and 5-6 (.454) without him. Following his 10-day absence from the injured list, New York is 9-3, with the captain homering eight times in his last nine games.
What has most pleased Boone about Judge’s season is how he has continued where he left off in 2022. The judge may not hit 62 home runs again, but he is beating his 2023 expectations with 14 home runs in 141 at-bats and a.298/.400/.652 slash line. When he’s in good shape, he’s an unstoppable force. When he’s on, he elevates the Yankees. Without him, though, thanks to his long-term contract, New York doesn’t even have to consider it.
“I just want to make sure that whatever is going on around us isn’t having a huge effect on us,” Boone said. “Come in, walk in with that edge, prepare, and go compete, which we’re doing really well.”
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And right from the start. Judge’s all-around brilliance has been on the show since his first full season, when he became only the second rookie in MLB history to collect at least 100 RBIs, 100 runs, and 100 walks, joining Ted Williams. He was also the only player in baseball that year to have at least 40 home runs and nine steals. Last year’s 62-homer season overshadowed the fact that he stole a career-high 16 bases.
Judge, a 6-foot-7, 282-pound colossus who could easily have succeeded in the NBA or NFL, has made it a goal to excel in all aspects of baseball. Simply classifying him as a “home run hitter” is not only incomplete but also wrong. He has grown into probably the best player of his generation.
“It was about being a complete player even as a kid,” Judge remarked in March. “I never wanted to be just a hitter or just a defensive player.” I wanted to be well-rounded and assist others in whatever way I could.”
However, the 2013 first-round draft pick is the No. 2 prospect in the New York Yankees farm system and the top prospect selected by the Yankees in the 2013 draft, joining fellow 2013 first-round picks Eric Jagielo and Ian Clarkin in our top 20 prospect list.