Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge Credit: Jim McIsaac

As pitiful as the Yankees were at the plate last season, it was easy to explain why. Half the lineup was often missing due to injuries, and too many who did play weren’t operating anywhere near 100% capacity.

That’s what made these Bronx Bumblers perhaps more troubling from an offensive standpoint. With the exception of DJ LeMahieu, who finally began a rehab assignment Tuesday at Double-A Somerset (then left early with a sore right foot) the 2024 Yankees have been whole -- and they all insist there’s nothing physically wrong with them.

Maybe this group is fine health-wise (who knows, based on the Yankees’ CIA-level misdirection on these things), but they haven’t looked right. And even after the Yankees’ explosive four-run first inning Tuesday night, with Giancarlo Stanton’s double and Anthony Rizzo’s homer splitting those four RBIs, the offense went dark for the next seven innings in the 4-3 victory over the A’s.

In that fleeting moment, we saw glimpses of the Bombers being back. Juan Soto’s rocket single was followed by Aaron Judge’s high-chopper double down the third-base line, only his second extra-base hit in nine games (since an April 14 homer). Stanton then ripped his two-run double into the left-center gap and Rizzo launched a moonshot 385-foot homer, just his second this season.

Entering Tuesday, the Yankees averaged 4.35 runs per game, tied with the Pirates for 15th in the majors. As a team, they were hitting .234 (ranked 20th in MLB) with a .691 OPS (18th), not the numbers anyone had in mind for this $306 million roster.

The three extra-base hits in Tuesday’s first inning alone were more the Yankees’ total in the previous four games (two) but they only got one more hit -- Anthony Volpe’s infield single -- the rest of the night. The A’s retired 20 of 21 before Austin Wells’ leadoff walk in the eighth. Still, the Yankees clung to that first inning for an ego-boost.

“That’s what you’re looking for right now,” manager Aaron Boone said afterward. “Because those are the little sparks that get guys rolling and get them into the flow of the season -- we’re going now. Then things settle in and get a lot more normal.”

Maybe Tuesday night’s fireworks fizzled out way too early. But for a Yankees’ team that was shut out in two of their three previous games, it was a tangible uptick for at least a few big bats -- despite hearing crickets from the other half of the lineup.

So far, it’s been a few stray sparks, and a little smoke. Oddly enough, his one significant lineup change, replacing Gleyber Torres with Volpe has backfired badly, but it was hard to argue with at that time.

Torres was terrible atop the order, and Volpe was unstoppable through the first two weeks. Switching them up on April 10 just made too much sense, even though the Yankees, at 10-2, weren’t in any sort of crisis. All that move succeeded in doing, however, was ice Volpe, who is batting .213 (10-for-47) in the 12 games since the swap, with a .514 OPS (compared with .375 and 1.044 previously).

Not how Boone drew that one up. But what choice did he have? And it’s not like Torres has magically rebounded lower in the order, and after Tuesday’s 0-for-3, he’s now hitting .186 with a .499 OPS. Torres also has two RBIs -- yes, two -- the same total as the hapless Austin Wells and one more than Jon Berti. Torres’ turtling is doubly disastrous for a pending free agent, and his market price is plummeting faster than snow shovels in June.

Back in March, Torres was entering his walk year coming off a 25-homer, .800 OPS season, virtually guaranteeing a monster payday -- somewhere other than the Bronx. But he’s squandering his opportunity to cash in, and hurting a Yankees’ team that was counting on a highly-motivated Torres to provide serious pop from the second-base position.

The worst offender of all has been the most shocking, and that’s Judge. The guy in the No. 99 jersey for this first month has been an imposter at the plate, showing almost zero resemblance to the 2022 MVP, or even the damaged slugger playing on one foot a year ago.

Judge, who was in a 4-for-32 skid with 18 Ks, had much better at-bats Tuesday, connecting on a pair of well-struck fly balls to go along with the double that bumped him up to a .180 batting average and .663 OPS. Both Boone and Judge maintain that the Yankees’ captain is healthy, with no residual problems from his toe or the abdominal-muscle issue that sidelined him during spring training. But if that’s not limiting Judge, then what is? And it’s been crippling for a Yankees’ offense that couldn’t wait to unleash the Soto-Judge weapon this year.

“It’s a long season,” Judge said recently. “I’ve had seasons where I’ve started off worse than this through my career. And I’ve had seasons where you start off hot and then you always hit a rough patch where you hit about .150 the whole month, but it kind of gets mixed in there with the other 500 at-bats. You just got to keep working, keep improving, and we’ll get out of it.”

That’s the expectation. Better sooner than later.


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