Will Aaron Judge's Return be Enough?
July 27, 2023
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It looks as if the much-needed and long-awaited return of Aaron Judge is going to happen Friday night when the Yankees open a three-game series against the first-place Orioles at Camden Yards.
The question now becomes, does it even matter? Can the return of one player - even one as dynamic as Judge - really lift an offense as bad as the Yankees’ to a level where they can get back into the fight for a postseason berth? I’m sorry, but I have my doubts because here’s the thing: This is not like a starting quarterback returning from injury, a player who has a role in every single play. Judge can only bat for himself, it’s not like he can also bat for Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton and … name any other underperforming guy you want on this team.
And Judge most likely won’t be playing the outfield so the Yankees will continue to trot out guys in the corners who are about as terrible as I’ve ever seen in the major leagues at merely catching fly balls. Sure, it will be great to get Judge back, but to expect the Yankees to suddenly catch fire and make a run at a wild-card berth seems like wishful thinking unless a whole bunch of others start coming to life.
During Judge’s absence, the Yankees’ offense was mind-numbingly abysmal. They went 19-23, averaged only 3.9 runs per game while hitting .220 with an OPS of .671, sickly numbers by any measurement. Not only that, they went from solidly in a wild-card position to last place in the AL East and currently 2.5 games out of the six-team AL side of the postseason tournament.
Here’s another thing: Judge definitely won’t be 100 percent and there’s a very good chance his injured toe is going to give him trouble. It sounds silly because we aren’t talking about a knee, an ankle, or a shoulder; it’s his big right toe, but the reality is that it’s a pretty essential part of the anatomy for a right-handed slugger like Judge because of the pressure he puts on it while swinging.
Judge has already admitted it’s still bothering him and now it’s all about being able to manage the pain. Read: It’s gonna hurt every time he swings, but he’s trying to come back as soon as possible because he knows his team is on the verge of evaporating from contention.
“We definitely need him,” Rizzo said before Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over the Mets which enabled the Yankees to split the four games of the 2023 Subway Series. “Just for him to be him and the morale, it’s like acquiring (a top player at the trade deadline). Hopefully he comes back and just gets right back to it.”
Judge hasn’t played since June 3 when he got hurt at Dodger Stadium, so you would have to expect he’ll have some rust to knock off, and given what the Yankees are facing in the next week and a half, it won’t be easy. Three games at Baltimore, then a homestand that includes three against the Rays and four against the Astros. Those are perhaps the three best teams in the AL, and by the time this segment of the schedule is over, the Yankees could legitimately be toast in the playoff race.
“It's gonna be a tough week right here and we need to take care of business,” Isiah Kiner-Falefa said. “I think we’re getting the big guy back, so really excited and we’ll see what happens.”
Let’s hope Judge comes back with a vengeance and makes the difference that the Yankees need him to make, but I’m not getting my hopes out of whack.