OAKLAND, Calif. — Aaron Judge will not be the 2021 American League Most Valuable Player.
He’ll probably find his name back on many ballots, though. And that, in its own right, will be a solid affirmation of his triumphant return.
The Yankees’ homegrown slugger clocked another big night Friday at Oakland Coliseum, the closest ballpark to his hometown of Linden, Calif., as his team continued its winning ways to climb the history charts. Judge’s three hits and four RBIs propelled the Yankees to an 8-2 beatdown of the Athletics for their 13th straight victory, the franchise’s best winning streak since Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and company won 13 in a row from September 1-12 in 1961.
What a second half for these Yankees, now 35-11 in their past 46 games and 25-5 in their last 30. What a season, overall, for Judge, who helped prop up his club when few others did in those dark days of April, May and June. On this night, his three-run, fifth-inning homer knocked out losing pitcher Sean Manaea as it instantly increased the Yankees’ advantage from 2-0 to 5-0. He added a ninth-inning single for the final insurance run.
“I feel like this year, and obviously he’s been pretty hot lately, but he’s had less stretches where he carries us and less of those couple weeks where he really struggles,” Aaron Boone said of Judge, who reached base for a 19th straight game. “I think he’s probably playing at his best right now. He’s physically in a good place. Really focused from a game-planning standpoint. He has a really good idea each and every day of what he’s looking for in the box. I feel like he’s executing his plan in the box. He’s playing really well.”
The 29-year-old’s 28 homers give him his highest total since his record-setting rookie year of 2017, when he went deep 52 times; he tallied 27 round-trippers in both 2018 and 2019. His 70 RBIs likewise are his second-best total for a season, surpassing his 67 of 2018. As for his .291/.383/.532 slash line, the batting average stands as a career peak, while the other two rates rank in the middle of the pack for him. Those numbers’ most important attributes come when you hitch them to his games played, 114, his second-highest total after 2017, with 34 games remaining on the schedule.
After three straight seasons in which Judge experienced lengthy runs of inactivity due to ailments sustained during game action, the outfielder’s only extended absence this season occurred when he tested positive for COVID-19 last month, causing him to miss nine games.
The success and sustainability of Judge, as well as his fellow behemoth Giancarlo Stanton — whose fourth-inning solo blast off Manaea traveled an estimated 472 feet, broke a scoreless tie and increased his run of going deep to four straight games — reflects very well on second-year director of player health and performance Eric Cressey, whose primary tasks had to include getting more out of the pinstriped twin towers. A less successful health project, Luke Voit, continued his revival with his own solo homer in the fourth.
Throw in the elite work of Gerrit Cole, who struck out nine over six innings to reach the 200 strikeout mark for the fourth time in his career and lower his ERA to 2.80 (he presents as a strong candidate to win his first AL Cy Young Award and get some down-ballot MVP love, too), and the Yankees are receiving great value from their greatest players, certainly an easy path back to the playoffs, although Judge has been by far the most consistent of the trio.
None of these three, nor anyone else in a Yankees uniform, can match Shohei Ohtani’s unprecedented two-way brilliance for the Angels, nor Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s breakout with the Blue Jays. Judge shouldn’t sweat that too much, though. His prior two seasons created more questions than answers about his player profile. Now he has reasserted himself as one of the game’s best, with one guaranteed month and one desired month to further boost his profile with free agency beckoning after next season.
Not a bad consolation prize for both him and his employer as they continue to fly high.