BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The American League MVP race comes down to Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani.
Both display the numbers to make a strong candidacy of themselves, but when you really think about it, is it really a race?
Ohtani is putting out great numbers at the plate and the mound. He hit 32 home runs and drive in 85 runs. Yes, he is hitting .270, but he has a .360 on-base percentage and .897 OPS. On the mound, he is 11-8 with a 2.58 ERA in 136 innings that he pitched this season. No one can question what he is doing since he is this rare breed that can pitch well and hit well as a two-way player.
But here’s the caveat: He is doing this for a losing Angels team that is playing out the season. There’s really not much pressure for him to do what he’s doing.
The Yankees need Judge to perform well for them to win a game nowadays since the rest of the guys in the lineup are not hitting. To add more pressure for him, Andrew Benintendi is having surgery on his wrist, Anthony Rizzo is on the 10-day injured list after dealing with headaches that may be due to the epidural he received last week in California to treat his lower-back issues and DJ LeMahieu could be on the injured list with a sore right big toe. To add more, Giancarlo Stanton has a sore foot, even though he is not on the injured list.
Judge delivered on Sunday by hitting his 53rd home run of the season, giving the Yankees a 1-0 first-inning lead that would result in a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Dome. For good measure, he had a single in the fifth inning and a double in the seventh inning that would have him eventually score the Yankees’ second run.
On Monday afternoon, the Yankees star came through again by hitting his major league-leading 54th home run to snap a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning, which paved the way for the Yankees to a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
He has homered in five of his last seven games for the Yankees. It was also the ninth time in his career that he homered in three straight games and the third time that he did it this season. Most importantly, his home runs serve to be clutch.
With the Yankees trying to hold on to their AL East lead after leading by 15 ½ games at one time and Judge doing his part to keep it that way, it’s a no-brainer he should be the MVP. Anyone that does not feel that way is being a Yankee hater here. Plain and simple.
With the run he is on right now, he is bolstering his case as he starts Wednesday’s game hitting .302 with a league-leading 54 home runs and 117 RBI along with a league-leading .403 on-base percentage, .682 slugging percentage and 1,085 OPS.
While he is not busy saving the Yankees, he is playing for history and free agency. This is another reason why he should be the MVP.
As we all know, he is a free agent to be this off-season. There’s no question he is going to be the highest-paid player in baseball, and he is not going to accept anything less, and he shouldn’t be. The question is this: Will the Yankees pay up and will he even consider coming back even if they do?
Judge made his case to be the highest-paid player with what he has produced in his Major League career and what he’s doing now.
He picked the right time to make an impression on suitors and the Yankees by going for history this season. He has a chance to break Roger Maris’ AL record of most home runs in a season that he set in 1961. He is on pace to hit 65 home runs.
The Yankees MVP hit his 54th home run through 135 games. It took Maris 139 games to hit his 54th home run.
We should be celebrating Judge right now, but we are not because the Yankees are struggling. Not even Judge and his own team can enjoy this right now. Maybe they both can if the team goes on a run. It’s possible since it can’t get any worse than this right now.
Right now, Judge wants the responsibility to lead the Yankees to the playoffs. He does not want his performance to go to waste. He does not want to end up like Mike Trout and Ohtani. Playoffs serve as a chance to make legacies, and this is what the free agent wants. He wants the opportunity of leading the Yankees to championship No. 28. He would like to be the guy that ends the team’s 12-year title drought that seems like a 35-year drought in Yankee world.
There’s really nothing to like about this Yankees team. It’s a group of lifeless characters. It’s a group of guys that don’t seem to love playing baseball. To think, we actually compared this team to the ‘98 Yankees team earlier this year when they got off to a 61-32 start. It’s an insult to guys like Bernie Williams, Scott Brosius, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter and other guys that played on that team. Those guys played together, and they hated losing.
With this Yankees team, only Judge seems to hate losing while the rest are just passing by. He would be a favorite with the Yankees championship teams from the 90s.
He is going to have to do it alone for the Yankees to make the playoffs and win a championship. So far, he has risen to the challenge.
This is why the MVP race should not come down to the wire. This is why it should be a TKO decision when it comes to voting for the MVP.
It shouldn’t even be a race when you compare the plight of Judge’s and Ohtani’s.
This writer can be reached on Twitter at: @LeslieMonteiro6