Aaron Judge's blistering start anchoring New York Yankees' new-look offense
The Yankees' youthful triumvirate of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Aaron Judge was supposed to shoulder the offensive load for New York at the start of 2017, but two-thirds of that equation have been limited with injuries in the early going.
Sanchez, last year's Rookie of the Year runner-up, will be sidelined for the next month with a strain in his right brachialis muscle; and Bird, the heir apparent to Mark Teixeira's first baseman's job, has played in four of the team's opening eight games of the season due to a sore foot and illness.
But the one component in that power trio who has exceeded expectations is the mammoth outfielder Judge, who enters play Thursday with home runs in each of his last three games.
The 6-foot-7 behemoth is slashing .308/.379/.692 with three home runs, seven RBI and six runs scored over his first eight games as the everyday right fielder, and has made a habit of bashing baseballs with staggering force.
On Wednesday, he punished an inside pitch well over 400 feet and into Monument Park to help seal an 8-4 Yankees victory, and the Bombers' first series win of 2017.
"Aaron Judge is becoming must-see TV," David Cone remarked from the YES Network booth after Judge went deep. "You do not want to miss any at-bats he has."
Yankees Most HR, 1st 8 Games of Season (24 or Younger)- James Smyth (@JamesSmyth621) April 12, 2017
4 Mantle 1956 (24)
4 Murcer 1969 (22)
3 Jeter 1999 (24)
3 Aaron Judge 2017 (24)
Upon his arrival at each successive level through the minor leagues, Judge has repeatedly demonstrated a similar sequence: struggle, adjust, thrive. After a challenging 27-game rookie stint for the Yankees last year, in which Judge struck out 42 times in 84 at-bats, it looks as though he's becoming one of the toughest outs in the Yankees 2017 lineup.
Judge's huge contributions early in the season have already helped the Yankees overcome a 1-4 start to the year, and have been made that much more important by the absences of Sanchez and Bird.
In spite of his individual achievements, Judge has continued to focus the attention elsewhere, glorifying his teammates, praising veterans and accepting minimal credit for his efforts.
"I'm just trying to make good contact right now," Judge told Meredith Marakovits after Wednesday's Yankees win, "but today was all about [Jordan] Montgomery."
With Judge, one of the Yankees' most highly touted homegrown youngsters, New York has found a player who appears to be significantly more comfortable at the Major League level than he was just a year ago, as well as a potential piece of the team's nucleus for long-term success.
With the return of Bird and Sanchez to the lineup, along with the productive efforts put forth by the offense already this season (New York currently ranks third in the American League in runs, with 41), the Yankees could be on the verge of assembling another dynamic group of players in the Bronx for both the short- and long-term future.
"It's all about winning," Judge said after Wednesday's game. "Any time you can help out the team, compete and win a ballgame, that's what it's all about. That's why we play."