Keidel: Should Yankees Be Worried About Aaron Judge?

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Not that it's funny, but it's feeling laughable to the media and masses when Giancarlo Stanton is felled by yet another injury. No one doubts Stanton's talent, but his mounting maladies have kept him from being half the hitter he was in Miami. In sports, they say the best ability is availability. To that end, Stanton has been a disappointment. 

But the team and town are used to it. Since April, 2019, Stanton has injured his knee, bicep, right quad, hamstring, and hamstring. So at least subconsciously, you'd think the Yanks are used to playing without him. 

Not so much with another hulking slugger. Aaron Judge was pulled from a game this week, and then benched Wednesday night. Since he's the best hitter in baseball so far this year it certainly wasn't about his production. When asked what was wrong with his best batter, manager Aaron Boone spoke in opaque terms about  "lower body tightness." When asked to expound, Boone was again vague, saying Judge had discomfort in his "hips to hamstrings to calves." So we don't know if No. 99 will return in a day, a week or a month. And that matters. 

Sure, Judge has had his share of pulls, bumps and breaks. But he is the heartbeat of the Yankees' lineup, if not the entire team. The club gravitates to Judge and gets its mojo mostly from the 6-foot-7, 285-pound home run monster. When he's hot, Judge doubles as a doomsday machine for opposing pitchers, many of whom are clearly anxious when Judge digs into the batter's box. When he gets hot like he has this season - with nine homers and 20 RBI in just 17 games, leading MLB in both stats, while topping the AL with 16 runs scored - Judge can carry the club. 

There's also the fact that Judge is a true Yankee. He was reared in the Yankees' fertile farm system, and ready to go the moment he got to the majors.  He pounded 52 homers in his first season and many feel Judge should have bagged the AL MVP to go with his Rookie of the Year award. Judge is so large and strong, hungry yet humble, there's a Rockwellian quality to him, a gentle giant who sprouted from a children's book rather than the minor leagues.. 

Fans will fairly point out that last year the Yankees made 36 separate trips to the IL, smashing the all-time MLB record. And yet they belted 306 homers, won 103 games and came within a whisker of the World Series, toppled yet again by the Astros in the ALCS (we can debate how Houston got there another time). But some players transcend their stats. While baseball has always been tethered to numbers, it still takes the right amalgam of character, characters, and talent to win in any team sport.  

For most of the regular season, these Bombers can just bomb their opponents into submission and simply outscore them 80 or 90 percent of the time. They are so deep they can pluck Clint Frazier off the scrap heap and in his first game of the season he swats three base hits and launches a home run; they don't even play Miguel Andujar, who was every bit as good as Gleyber Torres when both were rookies in 2018. Indeed, the Yanks don't have Andujar on the big-league roster, booting him to the minors. 

But Aaron Judge is the pillar, the jenga piece that, if pulled, could crash the place in the playoffs. Not just because of his talent. Judge has a Jeterian way of keeping it about the team, not himself. And it's just more fun when you win games while gawking at another moonshot from their biggest player and biggest bat.  Also, with the team's rotation somewhat tattered, they need Judge's power more than ever. 

Maybe the All-Star right fielder will be fine in a few days and will lead the Yanks deep into October. But Judge does have a worrisome list of injuries. He fractured his right wrist in 2018 and missed 50 games. He hurt his oblique and his shoulder in 2019, shelving Judge for 60 games. And now a three-pronged leg problem, from hip to hammy to calf.  

The Yankees (12-6) are on pace for a robust 40-20 record, which will be way more than enough to reach the playoffs - especially with 16 total teams qualifying this season - and likely win the AL East. If necessary, they can reach their first World Series since 2009 sans Giancarlo Stanton. But losing Judge for any substantial time would crater the Yankees' lineup, dampen their scrappy spirit and maybe cost them a crucial playoff game. The Yanks and their fans want the team ultimately judged with Aaron Judge on the field. 

Twitter: @JasonKeidel

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