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The Yankees could make home run history

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Could the 2018 Yankees become the first team in history to field four 40-plus home run hitters?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

We all expected the Yankees to put up a monster home run total this season. After all, Aaron Judge hit 52 to break baseball’s rookie record last year. Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius set new franchise marks for homers at their respective positions, swatting 33 and 25, respectively. The addition of Giancarlo Stanton to the team during the offseason made us long to witness him repeat — or at least approach — his 59 homer output again while wearing pinstripes.

Joshua Diemert recently wrote about the Yankees’ chances to break the single-season team home run mark set by the Seattle Mariners, when they bashed 264 in 1997. Coveting this record makes sense, since the Yankees were the team that originally set the bar high when they hit 240 homers in 1961. The Bombers held that record for 35 years, before it was initially broken by a trio of teams in 1996.

The Yankees have a chance to establish another home run record this year, one which has never even been approached. New York can become the first team ever to have four players swat 40 or more homers in a single season.

In 1996, the Colorado Rockies became the first club to have three players produce a 40-plus homer season in the same year. Andres Galarraga (47), Vinny Castilla (40), and Ellis Burks (40) accomplished the feat. The Rockies did it again the following year, with Larry Walker replacing Burks to match the mark along with Galarraga and Castilla. That’s the only two times in baseball history it’s ever been done.

Surprisingly, given their moniker and rich history of prolific sluggers, the Bronx Bombers have never even come close to matching this record. In fact, New York has had a pair of teammates hit 40-plus home runs only four times. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris did it in 1961, with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig having done it three times. The Yankees have never even had four players hit 30-plus homers in a single season. They’ve had a trio hit 30-plus four times, including three straight years from 2003-2005.

Having four players hit 30-plus homers for the first time in franchise history this year seems like a fait accompli. So why not set our sights higher? Through 34 games, Didi leads the team with 10 home runs, and is on pace to hit 48. Sanchez has nine, and is on pace for 43, while Judge (eight) and Stanton (seven) project to hit 38 and 33, respectively. I really like this group’s chances.

First of all, we’re talking about four hitters who exhibit great plate discipline. These aren’t free-swinging, all-or-nothing types. Judge led the AL in walks last year, setting the rookie record in the process. Stanton has typically placed among the league leaders in walks as well. This quartet rarely allows the pitcher to expand the zone, preferring to take the base on balls and pass the baton.

Hitting “only” 40 home runs this year would represent a significant backslide for both Judge and Stanton. Sanchez hit 33 last year while missing a month due to injury. He projects to hit 40, if healthy. That leaves Gregorius needing to make a big jump from his previous career-high set last season.

Didi may be the most complete hitter in the group. In addition to his team-leading home run tally, he also leads the club with three bunt hits and four sacrifice flies. He ranks second with 19 walks and 10 doubles. Although not known to walk a lot, he seems to be taking the free pass a lot more this season. That’s a good sign, particularly with Didi batting third or cleanup to break up the right-handed sluggers. Gregorius seems to continue to improve in every way at the plate, and he should have no problem remaining a force in the heart of the order. Forty home runs by Didi seems doable at this point.

I don’t think any of these hitters have hit their ceilings yet. At 28, Stanton is the oldest. The synergy of having them bat consecutively in the lineup also helps. Having them bunched together like that makes it impossible for pitchers to pitch around all four.

The overall strength of the Yankees’ lineup is also important. With the emergence of both Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar as early Rookie of the Year candidates, the Bombers are on the verge of having a truly circular batting order. Torres just became the youngest Yankee ever to produce consecutive three-RBI games, while Andujar became the youngest to knock a walk-off hit on Friday night. He held that distinction for less than 48 hours, until Torres hit a walk-off of his own on Sunday. Even Gardner, with his sub-par triple-slash line, is among the league leaders in runs scored.

There are simply no easy outs in this lineup. Lineup strength always buoys the best hitters. Judge, Stanton, Sanchez, and Gregorius will benefit from that team strength.

I’m not worried about Stanton’s “slow start.” People associated with the Marlins have said that Stanton typically does this, but once he gets going, he’s unstoppable. I don’t think the early-season home run totals from these four are an anomaly. They’re going to keep bashing.

I’d love to see Judge, Stanton, Sanchez, and Gregorius become the first quartet of teammates to hit 40-plus homers in a season. It’s the kind of thing we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. Plus, they’ll help the team win an awful lot of games in the process. Just as long as they don’t change their plate-approach for the sake of chasing a home run record, though. Remember, the main goal is to see the Yankees do something else that no other sports team has ever done, and that’s win their 28th championship.