The start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season – which epitomises the words ‘reshuffled’ and, in a little under two weeks of action, ‘chaotic’ – has been a tough time for some.
The St Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins have been stockpiling numbers in the Covid column instead of runs, while the Atlanta Braves have lost one of their best on the mound in Mike Soroka just 11 games into the season. Talk about hard luck.
For others, it has been spectacular, the New York Yankees one of them. It feels like they are heading back to the winners circle, but in reality, they never really left.
Three consecutive years the country’s most iconic sporting franchise has been in the postseason, and two of those years they were competing in the American League Championship Series – both losing to the Houston Astros and both going to at least six games. Many teams would take such fortunes at the mere drop of the word post… without even adding season on the end.
2020 is firming as an even better year for the Yanks. Off the field hopes were buoyed by the addition of elite starter Gerrit Cole and the re-signing of left-fielder Brett Gardner in the offseason. On the field they have gained the equal third best record in baseball (they had the best prior to today’s loss to the Phillies) at 8-2 so far, and just rode the waves of an impressive seven-game winning streak. They have the fifth best run differential in the league, and rank first in homeruns and 12th in both runs and runs batted in (RBIs).
At the centre of their offensive success, which has far more potential than what is being produced right now, are the twin MVP award winners on the roster – Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
The pair have long been associated with grunt and glamour, being the two biggest hitters in the game with a host of 25-plus homerun seasons under their individual belts. Their bests came in 2017 – a year before they became teammates – where Stanton ranked first in the league with 59, and Judge second with 52. Their undeniable skill with the bat has been aided by their impressive statures, standing at 6 ft. 7 (Judge) and 6 ft. 6 (Stanton), giving them the necessary force to power home those pitches.
Through 10 games, Judge and Stanton boast the following numbers…
Aaron Judge: .310 batting average, .370 OBP, .857 SLG, 13 hits, 12 runs, 7 homeruns, 17 RBIs in 42 at bats.
Giancarlo Stanton: .300 batting average, .403 OBP, .567 SLG, 9 hits, 7 runs, 2 homeruns, 6 RBIs in 30 at bats.
The most pleasing ones, that can be viewed as legitimate indications to how the rest of their campaigns may play out, are the averages. Both men have improved in batting, on-base and slugging percentages compared to the last two seasons… bar one, Judge’s on base percentage.
Judge’s incredible run of homers has resurfaced the thunderous memories attached to his 2017 season. In the last 10 games he has seven, which is a league high overall, but what remains is his tendency to swing and miss at high volumes. Through his first three years he accumulated a large 501 strikeouts in 369 games. This year he has 13 in 10 so far – which is sitting at an average of a little under 211 in a 162-game season.
More importantly, he looks fresh physically, which has temporarily shuttered injury worries which came about due to his 110 missed games over the last two years. Considering, he still managed 27 homers in each of the last two seasons, which is quite something.
His confidence is clear as a result. “Locked in for me is if I’m going 5 for 5 every night,” Judge told The New York Times.
Team manager Aaron Boone and teammate Luke Voit are taking notice as well.
“He’s really on a mission right now,” Boone told the NYT. “When he got that clean bill of health right before summer camp started and started ramping up, there’s just been an intensity level and an energy level to the work. He’s just a great player that you can tell is feeling really good.”
Voit said he can see shades of Judge’s 2017 form.
“I’m excited to see what he can do in 60 games this year with how he’s raking right now. He’s a guy you don’t want to take your eyes off when he’s hitting.”
For Stanton, injuries have been an even bigger problem, so simply being on the field is a major relief. He played in just 18 games in 2019 as he battled niggle after niggle. To this point the former Marlin has played 150 games or more on just three occasions through 10 seasons, and fears he could be damaged goods and a waste of a huge price the Yankees paid at the end of 2017, were legitimate.
Stanton’s performance coach Eric Cressey helped change his approach by utilising muscle, or ‘force’, in different ways. He is also leaner, by around 20 pounds.
In-game Stanton is making the most of his time at the plate with an improved batting average, helping garner a better on-base percentage as well, which is at a career-best .403 to this point.
For what it is worth, he also whacked the longest homer this year at 483 feet.
“I feel like I’m having good at-bats, good approach, I’ve just got to stay in the strike zone and continue to do that,” Stanton told amNY.
“I had a lot of time to think over last year and I just wanted to cover all my bases.”
And while these can be viewed as premature festivities with another 50 out of 60 games still to be played for the Yankees, they should also be viewed as the complete opposite. Every game is being treated with more importance by teams as there is far less room for error in the revamped season. Every pitch, every swing, every chase, every slide counts for a lot more now. Grand performances have a lot more value as a result.
There is a big task ahead – ending a 10-year World Series winning drought. Considering the history of the franchise and how long professional baseball has been around, anything nearing the top of a ‘most something’ is quite extraordinary.
But they along with their big hitters look up for it, and they have the ammunition to coincide with the confidence.
Sports writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. I have a strong passion for a range of codes, including the NBA, NFL, Soccer, Rugby and more.