Despite the fact that the Boston Red Sox clinched the American League East at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night, the New York Yankees can take solace in the fact that they were able to take two out of three games from their division foe and get their all-star right fielder back into the lineup.
Aaron Judge fractured his wrist back on July 26th, ultimately sidelining him for almost two months. In the span that Judge was out the Yankees looked and felt like an incomplete team. Immediately following the injury, Shane Robinson was manning right field for the Yankees. To say the least, the five foot nine inch Robinson standing in right field felt wrong in comparison to the six foot seven inch Judge. There was clearly something missing.
With Judge out of the lineup, the Yankees went a mediocre 28-23, losing series to the Rays, White Sox, Blue Jays, and Twins along the way. Back on July 26, the Yankees were just 4.5 games back of the Red Sox and had a 4.5 game lead for the first-place Wild Card spot on the Seattle Mariners. The resurgent Oakland Athletics had not even come into the frame yet.
Fast forward to September 21st, and the Boston Red Sox are American League East Champions once again, and the Oakland Athletics are on the Yankees’ tails for the first-place Wild Card spot, just 1.5 games behind.
It’s not enough to equate where the Yankees stand now to Judge’s absence. The bullpen and starting rotation have been underwhelming, and further injuries to Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez made the lineup even weaker. What you can equate to Aaron Judge’s absence is the loss of a critical presence that seemed to bring special energy and buzz to not only the Yankees but to their fans as well. Apart from the advanced metrics, you could feel the lack of energy at Yankees home games when Judge was not in the lineup, and it at times showed itself on the field. At the end of the day, Judge is the heart and soul of this Yankee team, and it should come as no surprise that their divisional hopes were dashed in his absence.
Aaron Judge knows very well how important he is to this team. When asked what the most frustrating part about the injury was, Judge said, “just not grinding with my team that’s the biggest thing, that’s what I love to do. Through the good times through the bad times, I wanna be in the trenches with my guys.”
Aaron Boone knows the same as well, as he told the media following Judge’s first game back that Judge was a ” presence” in the dugout and that there was “an edge” to him. At the same time, however, Judge is a player that is able to recognize that it takes a whole team to ultimately win a championship.
When asked what it means for this team going into October now that he is back, Judge said, “we’re still missing Chapman, I feel like if we get Chappy back at the very end of our bullpen and guys keep swinging bats and start getting hot here we’re gonna be a pretty big force.”
Despite not winning the division and despite the first-place Wild Card spot being in question, the playoffs are about who gets hot at the right time. At the end of the day, the Yankees took two out of three from the Boston Red Sox and could have swept them if not for more bullpen mishaps.
This team, with everyone healthy, has the chance to get hot at the right time. It is going to take a few big hits, like Didi Gregorius’ home run in the Wild Card game last year, and a stroke of luck here and there. With a fully healthy team, the New York Yankees might be an October sleeping giant; now it’s just time to see if they wake up.