It has been a rough couple of weeks. I am in a bit of a state of shock at how quickly the bottom has fallen out, and I can’t remember the last time I was this disheartened. There is a weird gap in my memory from the 2004 playoffs, though. Probably not important. Accordingly, I needed to look for something that has gone right; something that can provide a bit of hope; something to make 2021 less painful. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton staying healthy and together for the first time in three-plus years fits that bill.
When the Yankees acquired Stanton, fresh off his 2017 NL MVP season with the Miami Marlins, it looked like the middle of the Bombers’ order had its twin anchors. Stanton and Aaron Judge had combined in 2017 to hit 111 homeruns. In a hypothetical world where the two had played for the same club, their total would have been the second-most dingers all-time by two teammates. Only Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961 (115 round trippers) eclipsed them.
For the first part of 2018, there was reason to believe the two gargantuan sluggers would massacre baseballs together for seasons to come. And they gave tantalizing glimpses of what that future might hold.
Once the first pitch on July 26th crossed home plate, Judge had played in 99 of the Yankees’ 101 games. But then in the bottom of the first inning, Royals starter Jakob Junis hit Judge on the right wrist with a 93.4 mph fastball. Judge managed to return for 13 games late in the season and Stanton stayed healthy throughout the campaign, but that HBP and the resultant wrist fracture heralded a new Yankees era where Judge and Stanton would rarely be on the field together.
Not to belabor the point, but 2019 picked up where 2018 left off. Judge managed to play in 102 games for the club that season. Stanton though, hampered by strains of … takes a deep breath … his left biceps, his left shoulder, his left calf, his right posterior cruciate ligament, and his right quadriceps, played in a mere 18 contests.
How about 2020? More of the same. In the truncated, 60-game season, Stanton made it into 23 of them. Judge eked out 28. The two sluggers, for the second consecutive campaign, could not put together anything close to a full season. There was, quite honestly, little reason to think that 2021 would be any different.
But a magical thing has happened in 2021, amidst and despite all the injuries and COVID and underperformance and lethargy. As of September 10th, Stanton has played in 118 of the Yankees’ 140 games. Judge, meanwhile, has contested 126 – and that total would be higher without the time he missed due to COVID at the beginning of the second half.
All told, the Yankees’ biggest bois have played together in 105 games so far this season, and with them both under contract for at least one more year, there is hope they can replicate this in the future. Moreover, despite workloads that neither man has experienced in years, both have had mostly consistent success in 2021. The two men hold down first and second on the club in home runs, RBI, OPS, and wRC+.
It’s impossible from the outside to know exactly what factors (other than perhaps sheer luck) have combined to facilitate the two men playing together consistently for the first time in over three years. One possible factor is that the two sluggers trained differently prior to this season compared to previous campaigns. This offseason, they focused less on lifting, Judge devoted lots of time to yoga, and the organization took a specific approach in their training that accounted for their sheer size.
And once the season began, much to the chagrin of a considerable portion of the fanbase (myself included, to be perfectly honest), Aaron Boone employed an NBA-style load management with his two behemoth stars. Considering how mediocre the 2021 club has been outside of its anomalous 13-game winning streak, this strategy raised questions about whether the Yankees either had something to hide or felt no sense of urgency. Despite my initial misgivings, however, it seems to have worked, although correlation and causality are not necessarily the same thing.
One other thing worth mentioning about the two playing together is that they are now sometimes playing the field together. On July 30th, Stanton made his first appearance of the season in the outfield after months of will-they-won’t-they on whether the Yankees would pencil Giancarlo in as something other than a DH. On the same day, Judge started in center field, something he had done sporadically to that point in the season.
Since then, the Yankees have periodically rolled out an outfield of those two and trade deadline acquisition Joey Gallo. The addition of Stanton to the outfield and Judge’s more frequent appearances in center field have — theoretically, at least — enabled the Yankees to put their best bats in the lineup every night, although they seem stubbornly determined not to (sorry, Luke). But that is a discussion for another time.
Not much has gone according to script for the 2021 Yankees. They’re injured — constantly. COVID-19 has ravaged the club. Stars have underperformed expectations by orders of magnitude. The offense has been so missing in action for large chunks of the season there are probably milk cartons with “Have You Seen These Men?” floating around. The bullpen has melted down repeatedly and blown seemingly insurmountable leads.
One of the few things that has gone well … in fact, better than almost anyone could have imagined? The durability and productivity of two of the Yankees’ very best hitters, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Quite frankly, whatever hope New York has of coming out of this tailspin to make the playoffs and of having any shot at a World Series probably rests on the very tall and very broad shoulders of the two sluggers who have been rather steady in a dismal, disastrous, disappointing season.