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Home run leader Luke Voit adds power surge to Yankees lineup for this year's playoffs

Luke Voit #59 of the Yankees celebrates his

Luke Voit #59 of the Yankees celebrates his sixth inning three run home run against the Miami Marlins with teammate Giancarlo Stanton #27 at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, Sep. 26, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Yankees made it to Game 6 of the ALCS last season. They’d like to play on a little longer in 2020.

What do they have going for them now that they didn’t in 2019? Gerrit Cole, sure. But other than that, there really aren’t any other big-time additions who will be on the field on Tuesday night when the Yankees open their wild-card series in Cleveland.

Unless you count the 2020 Major League Baseball home run champion.

Luke Voit was injured in 2019 and did not get a single postseason at-bat because of a sports hernia that eventually required surgery. Now, the 26-year-old is (mostly) healthy.

Voit has been dealing with an undisclosed foot injury for most of this shortened season. Still, he played in 56 games and hit .277 with 22 home runs, 52 RBIs and a .948 OPS. Voit and MLB batting champ DJ LeMahieu carried the Yankees through injuries to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, among others.

Both sluggers are back for the playoffs after combining for exactly one home run since Stanton returned from the injured list on Sept. 15 and Judge returned one day later. That lonely homer was hit by Stanton.

Voit has more than picked up the slack. In leading the majors in homers, he joined Yankees luminaries Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Alex Rodriguez.

''I've always admired the Babe,'' Voit said. ''It's just awesome company. That guy hit 700 home runs. That means I got to start hitting like 150 a year to catch up to him. So that's never going to happen.''

Voit went into the offseason thinking not about Babe Ruth, but Mike Ford. Voit had a leg up on the Yankees’ first-base job, but he still had to beat out lefthanded-hitting Ford during both spring trainings to avoid a time-share.

Voit, the Yankees’ No. 7 batter for the July 23rd season opener, ended up an MVP candidate. Ford hit .135 and ended up at the alternate site.

'I've been trying to transform myself into a better power hitter and this year was another steppingstone for me,'' said Voit, who lost 13 pounds during baseball’s four-month pandemic shutdown. ''I've always been a guy, high school, college, minors, I play through stuff. I'm a grinder. I want to be out there. I want to help a team, especially when we were hurting earlier in the year and I had to do whatever it took to be out there. So I was making sure I was getting plenty of treatment from all of our trainers and trying to stay on top of it so I could play through it and not be like killing me.''

Voit has faced Cleveland’s Game 1 starter Shane Bieber twice. He doubled once and struck out once. No current Yankee has more than three at-bats against the AL’s Cy Young award favorite.

Facing Bieber is the first step of what the Yankees hope will be a long journey to World Series title No. 28.

"The expectations are, for sure, to win No. 28," Voit said. "Without a doubt. There’s no other goal in this locker room. Guys don’t care about the accolades. They just want to hold up a trophy and come back to New York with it."

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