Not that it really means anything, but the New York Yankees have lost three of the four games Aaron Judge hasn’t started this season. And they scored one run in those three losses. One run, total, in three games.
Not that it really means anything, or does it?
Not that we can really know what Judge will look like when his fractured right wrist heals enough to allow him to play again (the initial estimate is three weeks), but this is the kind of injury that can linger long after a player returns to the lineup.
“He won’t be 100 percent until 2019, probably,” one American League scout who follows the Yankees said late Thursday night.
The scout has no real way of knowing how Judge will look in September and more importantly October, but that’s not the point. None of us can know until we see him then. The Yankees can’t know, either—not yet.
Hand and wrist injuries are understandably as scary as can be for hitters. Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner suffered a fracture in his left wrist when he was hit by a pitch late in spring training. Turner was out almost two months, and even when he returned he wasn’t the dynamic offensive force he was last season.
Turner, who went on the disabled list this week with a right groin strain, was hitting .259 with a .752 OPS, compared to .322 and .945 in 2017.
Every injury is different. Every player is different. But until Judge is back in the lineup and looking like he has since he became maybe the Yankees’ biggest star over the last year-and-a-half, the questions will remain.
Judge initially stayed in the game after he was hit by a Jakob Junis pitch, but an MRI later revealed the chip fracture in his wrist.Elsa/Getty Images
In a week when the Yankees dealt with their pitching issues by first acquiring Zach Britton to add to an already-strong bullpen and then trading for J.A. Happ to shore up a questionable rotation, the Judge injury threatens to change the course of the rest of their season. That’s not to say it will, because even without Judge the Yankees have an incredibly deep and powerful lineup (and in the one game they won without Judge playing, they hit two home runs and scored seven runs June 5 in Toronto).
But they only have one Aaron Judge.
It’s hard to know how his absence will affect them. It’s impossible to know what he’ll look like when he comes back. After announcing that Judge suffered a chip fracture when he was hit by a Jakob Junis pitch in Thursday’s 7-2 Yankees win over the Kansas City Royals, the Yankees said surgery wasn’t recommended and they “approximate a three-week time period before Judge can swing a bat in a game situation.”
Three weeks would mean Judge would miss 20 or so games, including four next weekend at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees gained a game on the first-place Red Sox on Thursday, but they’re still 4.5 games back in the race to win the American League East and avoid the risk of a win-or-go-home Wild Card Game.
For what it’s worth, Judge has a .455 batting average in his nine games against the Red Sox this season, with four home runs and nine RBI. Not that it means he would have gotten any hits next weekend.
The Yankees will hope they see more big swings from Judge later this season.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
The Yankees have plenty of big hitters. He leads the team with 26 home runs, but even if you took those away, the 137 hit by the rest of the Yankees would be nearly enough to lead the majors (the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A’s are tied for second with 142 home runs).
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman still has four days to go before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, but it’s not like he can take away any uncertainty about Judge by adding another 6’7″ slugger who is also a team leader. He could go get someone who can take some at-bats in the outfield until Judge returns, but he’s not going to find another Judge.
The Yankees are hardly the only team with uncertainty. The Red Sox added Nathan Eovaldi to their rotation, but another loss from blowing a late lead Thursday reminded everyone how much they need bullpen help. The Chicago Cubs are trying to deal with their own rotation questions by agreeing to trade for Cole Hamels, per Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan, but they can’t know what they’ll get from 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant. Bryant went back on the disabled list Thursday with what the team termed “left shoulder inflammation.”
A bad shoulder can make hitting tough, as Judge himself knows only too well. Judge spent the second half of the 2017 season dealing with a left shoulder sore enough that it required offseason surgery. In 46 games beginning immediately after the All-Star break, Judge hit just .176 with seven home runs.
The Yankees went 26-20 in those 46 games, winning at almost exactly the same pace they did for the rest of the season. At least in that span, a diminished Judge didn’t stop them.
It might not this year, either. He might not even be that diminished when he returns from this chip fracture.
We don’t know. We can’t know. And that’s the one point that has to scare the Yankees just a bit right now.
The Yankees season has been so smooth to this point, even though the Red Sox’s equally smooth season has left winning a division title in doubt.
Now there’s uncertainty, 6’7″ worth of uncertainty. And it won’t be answered until we see Aaron Judge back in the batter’s box, looking like himself.
Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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