Aaron Judge #99 of the Yankees bats during the first inning...

Aaron Judge #99 of the Yankees bats during the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, May 9, 2023. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Yankees’ blueprint, for the past three decades or so, has followed a roster-building mantra that GM Brian Cashman borrowed from a chief front-office mentor, the late Stick Michael.

The playbook involves recruiting “big, hairy monsters” for a lineup that “walks and mashes,” as Cashman has described it to me in past conversations.

There is an Achilles’ heel to that plan, of course. What happens when you run out of monsters, and what’s left is considerably less scary.

The Yankees are getting a glimpse of that this season, and the 10-game snapshot of life without the biggest one — Aaron Judge — is a place they’d desperately like to avoid in the future. The reigning MVP returned Tuesday night, but shared the stage as the Yankees again rolled over the pathetic A’s, this time by the score of 10-5.

Everything the Yankees try to do, their formula for success, is embodied by the hulking Judge, whose demolition of the league a year ago included the dethroning of Roger Maris as the AL’s single-season home-run king. And whether or not Judge does the smashing himself at the plate, the intimidation factor of his presence tends to trickle down to the rest of the lineup.

Judge went 0-for-3 Tuesday night, but still picked up a pair of RBIs, the first when the A’s booted a ground ball that helped spark the Yankees’ five-run third inning. He also added a sacrifice fly in the eighth after Anthony Volpe’s leadoff triple. Gleyber Torres hit his second homer in as many nights and Jake Bauers launched a 420-foot blast into the A’s bullpen, the Yankees’ 14th home run in their last eight games.

“It feels good to have the offensive production we’ve had,” Anthony Rizzo said.

Without Judge, these Yankees have trouble filling out their pinstripes. Plus, Giancarlo Stanton has been on ice since April 16 with a hamstring strain, so the Yankees have been forced to operate on low-power mode for this early part of the season.

That’s not going to work for a franchise accustomed to living on the longball, and the Yankees being three games over .500 (20-17) isn’t terrible, all things considered. Before Monday’s fireworks, the Yankees averaged 1.18 home runs per game, which ranked 11th in the majors, after being No. 1 a year ago at 1.56. Their .684 OPS was 24th overall, just a tick below the A’s (.685). These are not numbers we’re used to seeing from the Yankees.

It’s not possible for the Yankees to abruptly change their identity, nor can they survive without Judge, as Hal Steinbrenner recognized in giving him that record $360 million deal. If Judge isn’t smacking balls over the wall on a regular basis, the rest of this pinstriped engine doesn’t function consistently, and manager Aaron Boone isn’t about to pretend otherwise.

“You know me, I always love seeing the ball go out of the ballpark,” Boone said Tuesday afternoon. “Most good offenses hit the ball out of the ballpark — contrary to some of the stuff that gets pushed out there. The good ones hit it in the seats a lot.”

Boone was referring to criticism that suggests the Yankees tend to be too homer-reliant on occasion, but it’s not like they have much of a choice. He explained how they’ve had to find other ways to win lately, especially with Judge and Stanton on the shelf, but the Bronx doesn’t flex all that well without the deep threats.

During Judge’s absence, the Yankees went 4-6 and hit 12 homers. They were in the bottom third in runs (35) and OPS (.669).

Even with Judge back, the Yankees still have work to do. They were 25th in runs per game (4.08) — a big drop from a year ago when Boone & Co. ranked second (4.89) to the Dodgers (5.17).

Once Judge starts bashing baseballs again, a feeling of normalcy should return to the Bronx. These past two nights — with the Yankees feasting on the A’s terrible pitching for six homers and a combined total of 17 runs — should serve as a springboard for the weeks ahead. Or at least a good primer for the upcoming rematch with the division-leading Rays.

This time, with Judge on board, the Yankees should look more like themselves again.


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