Protect Judge

Should home run king Aaron Judge have gone down the lineup to start the postseason? That’s the question on the minds of many as the Yankees found themselves stretched to the limit despite being tagged as overwhelming favorites in the American League Division Series. No less than former Bomber Alex Rodriguez, no stranger to living up to the name, questioned why the presumptive AL Most Valuable Player awardee batted first in the order; he labeled it as “gimmicky baseball,” noting that “Babe Ruth didn’t do it, Barry Bonds didn’t do it, Frank [Thomas] didn’t do it, this guy (David Ortiz) didn’t do it, I didn’t do it. It doesn’t exist.”

To be fair, the Yankees had Judge taking to the plate at the outset not simply because he had success in the position heading into the playoffs. Needless to say, the need for him to get as many at-bats as he possibly could to help him in his chase for Roger Maris’ longtime mark was the overriding reason down the stretch. And, creditably, it worked; in the slugger’s final 23 games of the regular season, he had .364/.519/.701 splits and went yard seven more times to ultimately meet his personal objective. The hot hand, coupled with his capacity to get on base and the seeming lack of alternatives, prompted manager Aaron Boone to keep him in the spot.

No doubt, the criticisms would not have mounted had Judge maintained his numbers. Unfortunately, he was atrocious out of the gate; he went zero of eight with seven strikeouts and a walk in his first two outings, leading to Rodriguez and other quarters to question why Boone refused to give him protection on both ends. Contests are played differently in the playoffs, and the Yankees need his power to produce runs. Which, in a nutshell is why he went to his more familiar spot in the order, and how he finally got his first hit and homer, albeit in a Game Three loss, and how he contributed another hit in a Game Four win.

Boone was reflective in the aftermath of Judge’s slump-busting forays, acknowledging that “I kind of just woke up on it.” All things considered, the move is the appropriate one to make. And as the Yankees find their do-or-die match against the supposedly overmatched Guardians rained out, they’re hoping the extra day will enable him to get his bearings back. They need him at his best, if only to prevent their 2022 season from ending in disappointment.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.