What happens when the two best hitters in the world bat back-to-back in the same lineup? THIS



It’s the question almost every manager who has faced the New York Yankees this season has confronted: How in the world do you handle a lineup with Juan Soto and Aaron Judge hitting back-to-back?

There’s no easy answer, especially since Judge flipped the switch on a sluggish start three days into May and whipped out a blowtorch to opposing pitchers. Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli smiled when he was asked about it earlier this month.

“I don’t have anything special here,” Baldelli said. “There’s not an ideal way to attack the guys that are the best in the game at what they do.”

Rarely are the two best hitters in baseball on the same team. But the numbers illustrate that Judge and Soto are not only the top hitters in the sport, but one of the greatest duos ever, already drawing comparisons to legendary Yankees combos of the past, from Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. They complement each other to near perfection, a lefty-righty combination putting up historic numbers by patiently exhausting pitchers with remarkable discipline and loudly punishing mistakes.

Soto, 25, is batting .320 with 17 home runs and a 1.025 OPS in his first season in New York. Judge, the 32-year-old captain, is hitting .302 with a 1.118 OPS and an MLB-best 25 home runs.

The outfielders rank first and second in the majors in OPS, OBP, wRC+, and wOBA. Soto’s 4.3 fWAR is fourth. Judge’s 5.0 fWAR is first. Judge is on pace for 57 home runs two years after smashing an American League record 62. Soto is on track to strike gold in free agency this winter before his age-26 season.

They have been the engine for the best record in the majors and a 112-win pace.

“Those two guys benefit from a balanced, strong supporting cast, but [also] the closeness that has existed within the team … and how they’re communicating with one another and how they’re talking to one another,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Certainly, Aaron and Juan being the best hitters in the sport but different. [One’s] right-handed, one’s left-handed. There’s different matchups that favor different guys, but having another guy that they kind of relate to one another, unlike a lot of us can. I’ve seen that, I think, be beneficial.”

It’s what the organization imagined when general manager Brian Cashman chose to send five players to the San Diego Padres for Soto and outfielder Trent Grisham in December, knowing Soto’s Yankees tenure could end after one season. The price, they deemed, was worth paying to partner Soto with Judge for a championship push.

“This,” Boone said, “is what I pictured and fantasized about since the day it happened.”

The fantasy took longer to formulate than expected. While Soto jumped out to a scorching start, Judge languished over the season’s first five weeks as he transitioned to playing center field every day. Judge emerged from a May 2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles with a .197/.331/.393 slash line. His struggles were analyzed from every angle. Were his mechanics off? Was he healthy? Was he just a step slower?

But Judge has laid waste to pitchers since then. He’s batting .413 with a .528 on-base percentage, 19 home runs, and 15 doubles over his past 36 games. He’s slugging 1.000 with nearly as many walks (31) as strikeouts (33) during the stretch. His 1.528 OPS over the span is more than 400 points better than anyone else in the majors. His 310 wRC+ is 109 points better than anyone else. His 4.5 fWAR is 1.9 better than anyone else.

Meanwhile, Soto’s only rough patch of the season lasted all of eight games in which he went 4-for-31 from May 9 through May 16. The stretch was long enough for the right fielder to take extra batting practice on the field with coaches several hours before facing the Chicago White Sox on May 17. Soto then went 4- for-4 with two home runs in a win.

“I was definitely working on my swing,” Soto said. “Trying to find that feeling again where I was hitting the ball the first month and getting that feeling back and just get that confidence back on.”

The Yankees, as a result, are 27-7 with Soto and Judge in the lineup together since May 3.

“I would say it’s the best 2-3 in all of baseball, and I think they’ve shown that’s the case, day in and day out,” Yankees catcher Austin Wells said. “When they’re in the lineup, we have a great chance to win versus any team in baseball.”

No opponent knows that more than the Twins. The Yankees have already swept the season series from Minnesota, going 6-0 with a plus-20 run differential in two series over the past month. Judge went 10-for-20 with seven walks, six doubles, one home run and a 1.680 OPS in the six victories.

“You have to pitch to them,” Baldelli said on June 5. “You don’t really want to put one on base to face the other one. That’s not a good plan, at least in my opinion.”

Later that day, Soto and Judge combined to go 2-for-6 with three walks, five RBIs and three runs as the Yankees continued their dominance over Minnesota with a 9-5 win.

The club received a scare the next night, however, when Soto exited a rain-delayed affair with left forearm discomfort. Testing was scheduled for the following day. Suddenly, the Yankees’ World Series hopes hung in the balance, but Soto and the Yankees received the best news possible: No structural damage, just inflammation. Soto’s status was labeled day-to-day, but he didn’t play in the weekend showdown against the Los Angeles Dodgers after starting the Yankees’ first 64 games.

Soto’s absence was palpable in two losses to the Dodgers to begin the marquee series, to the point that the crowd was chanting for Soto while Grisham, his replacement in the lineup, was batting in Sunday’s finale. Grisham reversed their feelings with a go-ahead three-run home run, but the fans’ behavior bothered Judge, who defended Grisham and said, “I wasn’t too happy with it,” while noting Soto’s unmatched presence.

“He’s been carrying this team all year,” Judge said of Soto. “And anytime you go up against good teams like this and fans pay to come see us do our thing, they want to see the best out there.”

Four days later, Soto and Judge were back in the lineup together in Kansas City, occupying the No. 2 and 3 spots, in a 10-1 win over the Royals. It was far from the first time — and most likely won’t be the last time — Soto and Judge wreaked havoc on an opponent. The Yankees are banking on them doing it through the end of October.

“You got that sense right away that this is a good thing,” Boone said. “Certainly, that’s played out so far.”



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top