Aaron Judge is baseball’s most entertaining player, and in the American League, certainly the most valuable. Judge again showed why Thursday night by drilling his 25th home run, a 425-foot blast that parachuted onto the netting above Monument Park.
The three-run shot wowed an appreciative Bronx crowd, as Judge does daily, and gave the Yankees a 5-1 lead in the second inning. With Luis Severino on the mound, this one should have been in their back pocket.
But for all of Judge’s superhuman ability and his list of accomplishments during what is shaping up to be a legendary season, there is something else that needs to be said about him.
Judge can’t do this alone. The other Yankees have to help out.
That hasn’t happened lately, and it didn’t again Thursday night, when the Angels shrugged off Judge’s thunderbolt to rally for a 10-5 victory. As much as this was supposed to be about Judge lifting the Yankees upon his shoulders, the team has played so poorly in a variety of areas that the weight of eight losses in nine games was too great to bear.
“You’re going to have ups and downs,” Judge said. “It’s how we respond to it going forward.”
We don’t anticipate Judge slowing anytime soon, and as he weighs the invitation to compete in next month’s Home Run Derby, he continues to make the remarkable look routine. Thursday night’s victim was Jesse Chavez, who went to a full count against Judge in the second inning before foolishly splitting the plate with a 91-mph fastball.
If Chavez was hoping for that fastball to end up somewhere other than the other side of the fence, he was kidding himself. Judge became the second fastest to 25 home runs in the past eight years, predictably behind Giancarlo Stanton. The Marlins’ mammoth slugger needed only 68 games in 2015. He’s also one of six Yankees to hit at least 25 home runs through the first 70 games, joining Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Alex Rodriguez.
Narrow it further by age, and Judge is one of only three Yankees 25 or younger to hit at least 25 homers before the All-Star break. The other two are Maris in 1960 and Mantle in ’56 (h/t to stat guru Katie Sharp). Judge already is carving his initials next to the immortals while continuing on a pace for 58 homers.
“You feel good when he comes to the plate,” Joe Girardi said. “And it’s not the home runs.”
With Thursday night’s first-inning walk, Judge has reached base in 24 straight games, passing Brett Gardner for the longest streak by a Yankee this year and matching Mark Teixeira from 2015. The freakish power is amazing, but Judge constantly shows why he’s so much more than that. Heading into Thursday night, he led the majors with a 1.132 OPS and was atop the AL in runs (61), on-base percentage (.438), walks (44) and total bases (170).
How are we supposed to get excited for a Home Run Derby when Judge provides more legitimate thrills, in games that count, nearly every night? The problem is with his teammates. Severino — the Yankees’ best pitcher — couldn’t protect the cushion Judge provided and Dellin Betances was nothing like his usual shutdown self. Severino was charged with six runs to break his eight-start unbeaten streak.
“If I need more than three runs,” Severino said, “I’m not doing my job.”
As for the shaky Betances, the two earned runs he allowed were double the total for his first 24 appearances, and he gave up his first extra-base hit, a two-run double by Andrelton Simmons in the seventh. Shoddy defense helped sabotage this one as well, and Girardi acknowledged there’s too much going sideways for his club at the moment.
“There’s a number of things we have to clean up,” he said.
Judge provided his usual muscle Thursday night, but it wasn’t close to enough. These games aren’t just a Derby tuneup. He’s going to require some assistance soon.