The M&M boys haven’t been toppled yet.
But four years into the Giancarlo Stanton trade, only now are the Yankees seeing the destructive potential of his teaming up with Aaron Judge in the heart of their lineup. It’s long overdue.
When Stanton was imported from the Marlins, as Brian Cashman’s Plan B for missing out on Shohei Ohtani, the immediate thought was the damage he’d do with the 6-7 Rookie of the Year already wearing pinstripes. The measuring stick, obviously, was the season of 1961, when Roger Maris (61) and Mickey Mantle (54) combined for the teammate record of 115.
That figured to be in reach, considering Stanton was coming off 59 homers in Miami and Judge had just set the rookie record of 52 (broken two years later by the Mets’ Pete Alonso). Put those two seasons together, and the Stanton-Judge mashup would rank second all-time.
They’re still trying. But after Stanton’s spectacular grand slam powered Saturday’s 5-3 victory over the Red Sox at Fenway Park, the two sluggers did pad a meaningful milestone with a total of 69 homers, four more than their previous high of 65 from 2018, that first season together.
And they tacked on Sunday night when Stanton hit his 34th home run, a two-run shot to left, in the eighth inning, right after Judge had drilled a two-run double to centerfield to take the lead.
Hard to believe it’s taken this long. The difference? Just being able to stay in the lineup on a regular basis. Sunday night’s series finale was the 112th time this season the two have started together (out of 156 games) and the Yankees were 64-47 (.577) in such instances.
Now that Stanton and Judge have remained healthy for the majority of this season — Judge’s July bout with COVID-19 notwithstanding — Cashman’s ’17 dream has become closer to reality. And not simply for the raw power. Judge (142) and Stanton (133) are 1-2 in games played for the Yankees — no small feat given the team’s frequent medical issues — putting them atop the club’s leaderboard in just about every offensive category. Before Sunday's game, Judge was hitting .285 with 36 home runs, 90 RBIs and a .904 OPS. Stanton was right behind at a .275 clip, with 33 homers, 91 RBIs and an .872 OPS.
"It’s been huge for us," Aaron Boone said before Sunday’s game. "In a lot of ways, they’ve really carried the offense for us, especially in the stretches where we’ve played well or turned our season around. The offense has been spearheaded by those two guys. I feel like both of them, at this point of the season, are in pretty good shape physically."
The transformation, from a health standpoint, has been remarkable. Judge played 155 games his rookie season, then was limited by various injuries to 112 and 102 the following two years, and only 28 during the pandemic-shortened 60-game season of 2020. As for Stanton, he logged 158 games in 2018, his first in the Bronx, then only 18 the next year because of shoulder, biceps, calf and quad issues, and 23 games during the COVID-19 schedule.
This past winter, Judge and Stanton reportedly switched up their workout routines, focusing more on flexibility — yoga was mentioned — and less on weightlifting. Whether or not that directly helped this dramatic shift in their recent injury trends is hard to pin down. There also is plenty of luck involved when it comes to a six-month regular season.
But aside from being more careful in the outfield, as Judge always pledges to do, with mixed success, the other mitigating factor is managing the workloads of two linebacker-size baseball players. Despite appearing indestructible, Judge and Stanton have proved to be anything but, and the Yankees’ efforts to keep them upright has got them still destroying baseballs within a week of the finish line.
"The communication is important with those two guys and making sure we’re kind of on the same page," Boone said. "That’s always the rub, throughout the entire year, because there’s never a day you necessarily like to have them out of the lineup. But there are days you’ve got to have the discipline to do it and trust that it’s going to serve us and them well."
The process has worked, and in Stanton’s case, he’s never been more dangerous in pinstripes, despite pushing the Yankees’ risk-benefit analysis by playing 25 games in the outfield. Entering Sunday, Stanton was hitting .316 with 17 homers, 45 RBIs and a 1.008 OPS in 47 games since Aug. 3.
"Just being a little shorter, a little more direct," Stanton said of his swing over that period. "I was making hard contact, but straight into the ground. Now I’m able to get some lift more often."
Probably the understatement of September. And the more the Yankees get of Judge and Stanton, anything seems possible.