The consensus is no one is giving the Yankees a chance to win a World Series title this season. In fact, a good number of baseball wonks picked the Oakland Athletics in the AL Wild-Card game against the Yankees on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
The thought process was the Yankees did not have the starting pitching and pedigree to scare teams like the championship teams of the Joe Torre era.
Here’s why the Yankees have a chance to win it all: Aaron Judge. Forget that he hit .278 with 27 home runs and 67 RBI this season. It’s not because he is the Yankees’ best player. It’s his ability to come up with a dramatic moment in the postseason.
He did it again by hitting a home run in the first inning that set the tone in the Yankees’ 7-2 win over the Oakland Athletics. It was his fifth postseason home run of his young career, and it was his second straight year he homered in a wild-card game. Theres no reason not to think there is more where it came from.
He put the finishing touch of the wild-card game by igniting a four-run sixth inning with a leadoff double.
It’s the type of edge that gives the Yankees an advantage come playoff time. Anytime a player knows how to step up in the postseason, it becomes easy after a while. It could be the case now for Mr. Judge. It may be a sample size, but it seems this is just too easy for him.
Judge brings a fear factor when he is out there at the plate. Pitchers tend to pitch carefully to him, and that was the case when A’s reliever Liam Hendriks, the featured opener of this wild-card playoff game, faced the Yankees slugger in the second inning.
The Yankee Stadium crowd was rocking as soon as the Yankees star was at the plate. They sensed this was his moment to shine. Hendriks knew it, too when he was nibbling at the plate. After throwing two straight balls on three pitches, the mammoth Yankees slugger hit it out on Hendriks’ 9th pitch of the first inning.
It was like watching a sage veteran taking advantage of a rookie pitcher. He sensed a mistake, and he hit it to the left field stands. To think he is a second-year player that already knows what he is doing. It can only make young teams and young players envious.
Judge has this calm collective approach of himself when he is at the dish. With that physique and ability, it’s easy for him to have it.
Not only he had the crowd going, but he alleviated fears that he may not be effective with that sprained wrist he has. Maybe his wrist still hurts, but does it matter? He can still be effective as he showed Wednesday night, which is bad news for the Yankees’ postseason opponents this month.
Wednesday night’s home run Judge hit not only gave the Yankees a much-needed edge in this wild-card playoff game, but it gives them a shot for the rest of the postseason. It’s an edge the Yankees can enjoy.
Teams win championship when their best players like their best players in the postseason. That’s not an easy thing to do because there are so many great starters and relievers out there at this time of the year. The Yankees are not facing awful pitching that helped them win 100 games this season.
Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez (outside of 2009) and Mark Teixeira struggled to hit in a postseason pressure situation, especially with runners in scoring position. The moment was big for them. It shows how hard it is to deliver in a spot like this, and that’s what makes Judge special in this regard. He has that wow factor to go along with the fear factor when he is hitting.
HIs moonshot doomed the Athletics altogether. They never recovered to the point they were counting the hours until the game was over and get out of the Bronx, so they can go their separate ways heading to the offseason.
If there is anything to feel good about this postseason victory, it’s Judge. The Yankees can feel good more than ever they can win in October because of his presence at the plate. He’s such a game-changer, and it showed in the AL wild-card game.
He takes the pressure off everyone. Maybe it’s why Giancarlo Stanton hit a meaningless home run against the A’s. Maybe it’s why Luis Severino had an easy time mowing down the A’s. Maybe it’s why Dellin Betances shined in the fifth instead of falling apart like he usually does with runners in scoring position.
The Yankees had that one guy who knew how to rise to the occasion in October in Derek Jeter, which was why they won five championships with him. Now, they have another guy that can do that in Judge. It’s a luxury the Yankees have that teams wish they could have.
Recent stars such as Henrik Lundqvist, John Tavares, Carmelo Anthony, Odell Beckham Jr., Deron Williams and Rick Nash struggled when it mattered the most in the postseason, which is why this area has gone on a championship drouble that is going on seven.
Judge looks the part of ending the Yankees’ eight-year championship drought and the Metropolitan area’s six-year championship drought.
If it comes to fruition, there should be a feature on him on the YES Network’s Yankeeography.