Published On: Fri, Oct 13th, 2017

Why the Yankees need Judge to rise vs. Altuve, Astros

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Thomas B. Shea / USA TODAY Sports

In a tale of two MVP candidates, it is absolutely the best and worst of times in comparison.

New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge and Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve are expected to be the front runners for the American League MVP Award, but continue to trend in opposite directions.

Judge had what may have been the most impressive rookie campaign of all time. He led the charge for the Baby Bronx Bombers, blasting 52 home runs along the way, eclipsing Mark McGwire’s rookie record from 1987.

Then there’s Altuve, a customarily pesky out who constantly made contact throughout 2017. He struck out only 84 times in 153 games.

Judge 128 52 114 .284/.422/.627
Altuve 112 24 81 .346/.410/.547
Judge (playoffs) 4 1 4 .125/.276/.292
Altuve (playoffs) 5 3 4 .533/.632/1.133

As good as they both were in the regular season, they have taken two different paths in October. Altuve hit three home runs – two off Chris Sale – in four games against the Boston Red Sox, and was a lock to get on base almost every time he stepped in the box. Meanwhile, Judge’s most notable ALDS contribution came on a defensive play. With an epic ALCS showdown looming, Judge has far more to prove.

All eyes on the kid

Looking at Judge’s year as a whole, it is the stuff of a legend. He hit home runs with no remorse, and drew enough walks to trail only Joey Votto and Mike Trout in on-base percentage. What may be easy to forget is that it looked like his season could have been even better if it weren’t for a miserable second half of the campaign.

Judge hit .329 with 30 home runs in 83 games prior to the All-Star break. He needed the 15 long balls in September to salvage what appeared to be a quickly disintegrating rookie season. His numbers from July and August were so bad, it prompted fantasy baseball expert Ron Shandler to suggest he may have already peaked.

With the Cleveland Indians showcasing its best possible pitching staff, Judge was neutralized at the plate in the first round.

The pressure is on the Yankees

When Judge’s bat goes silent, the alternatives in the Yankees’ batting order just aren’t as potent as the Astros’.

The Astros went 21-8 after Sept. 1 despite Altuve’s reduced presence (he still scored 23 runs). Although Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman failed to hit above .240 against the Red Sox, they pulled through when it mattered, combining for four home runs and six runs scored.

Altuve was the Astros’ most consistent hitter against Boston, but his surrounding cast was just as efficient – only two full-time players posted an OPS below .800 for the series. In comparison, only three Yankees posted an OPS above .800 against Cleveland.

If Judge continues to struggle at a record pace, the pressure falls not only on his battery mates, but on the starting rotation. The Yankees’ pitching staff held the Cleveland Indians in check, but this is a different beast.

Even if Judge’s bat resurfaces, a lot will have to go right if the Yankees hope to play for the World Series. If it doesn’t, they don’t stand much of a chance.

(Photos courtesy: Action Images)

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